Despite majoring in English, as a primary school teacher, I’ve had to put in a fair bit of work developing my knowledge of children’s literature. I’m sure you’ll agree, an appetite for Chaucer is sadly lacking among today’s Grade 4 students, and you don’t read Hemingway aloud to children in whom you’re trying to instil a healthy sense of optimism toward life.
Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax has become one of my favourite books for young readers. In this modern parable, we meet the Once-ler, who gradually builds a business empire, but razes a forest of Truffula trees to do so. The Lorax stands up to the Once-ler and speaks for the trees, as they have no voices of their own.
Christians believe that the trees and everything in the natural world are God’s creation. As Psalm 24 states, ‘The earth is YHWH’s* and everything in it’. In fact, the first responsibility of humanity(as the images of God) mentioned in scripture is to care for creation. But if that’s true, why do many Christians appear so reticent to speak up for the environment, even criticising or mocking people who do?
More than a few Christians imagine that we’ll someday be whisked away from the earth to enjoy a disembodied existence on some far-off spiritual plain, at which point this ‘evil’ world will teeter rapidly toward an eventual destruction. And what’s the use of worrying about the planet when, in the end, it’s going to be detonated by some kind of divine neutron bomb?
Of course, the biblical evidence supporting such beliefs is scant at best (questionable readings of prophetic texts, a short-sighted interpretation of 2 Thessalonians 4, and a solitary verse in 2 Peter 3). On the contrary, the entire Bible consistently affirms the goodness of God’s creation. Rebirth, renewal, restoration: these are the themes that appear again and again throughout scripture when it speaks of the future of this world, its landscapes, its ecosystems and its people.
Paul said it best, noting that the whole of creation eagerly waits to be ‘liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God’ (Romans 8:21, NIV). Does this sound like a universe anticipating its regeneration, or preparing to be thrown on to the cosmic scrap heap? #
Maybe We Just Don’t Notice
Renee (the love of my life!) should be writing this piece; she derives joy and energy from the natural world, greeting it with perpetual amazement and wonder. Renee says I don’t notice things. More accurately, she notices that I don’t notice things, and duly notifies me of that fact. As we walk through our picturesque corner of Australia, she points out trees in blossom, the sounds of the frogs in the nearby pond, the endless blue of the sky…and sadly, my mind is often too preoccupied to pause and become aware of the simple beauty that’s present all around me in those moments.
I suspect that many Christians are a bit like me in that way. We have pet ‘issues’ that occupy so much space, there hardly seems room to concern ourselves with the richness of the created world and potential dangers that may threaten it. Yet if it is indeed ‘YHWH’s earth’ as the psalmist sings and as we profess, can we not pay respect by enjoying it and caring for it as God intended?
Guilt by Association?
The most obvious reason, it seems to me, that a number of us treat environmental concern with suspicion is its association with the political left – and those aren’t ‘our kind of people’. Maybe that’s why so many of us see conservationists as New-Age, hemp-wearing, granola-crunching undesirables. Or why we scoff at the rather substantial evidence emerging from the scientific community of our (at least partial) culpability for climate change. Or why we’re so ready to listen to conservative politicians, when they tell us that we can’t risk ‘slowing down the economy’ by adopting planet-friendly initiatives. Or why we think it’s our God-given right to drive 38-cylinder SUVs instead of taking the train.
Has it really come to this? We shouldn’t be dismissing those of a particular political persuasion when they agitate for environmental action, we should be thanking them for aiming to protect God’s creation. And we should be joining them in these pursuits!
When all is said and done, many of the disagreements around climate science, logging, recycling, plant and animal conservation and nature reserves miss the point. ‘This is [our] Father’s world’, as the well-known hymn says. Shouldn’t we want to see it cared for? Shouldn’t we want to see far less refinery smoke being pumped into God’s air, sustainable fishing and farming and logging of God’s oceans, land and forests, renewable energy that makes better use of the resources God has bestowed, recycling that reduces the size of rubbish dumps on God’s earth? Should we even have to ask these questions?
Perhaps we do. Perhaps if we allowed these questions to renew and reshape our perspectives, we would once more see the world as a gift, one that is too valuable to be treated with selfishness and carelessness.
If we did, I’m certain God would approve. And the Lorax. Maybe even Hemingway.
* In the Hebrew Old Testament, ‘YHWH’ is the divine name. It’s usually translated ‘LORD’ in English Bibles, but I prefer the original language. Plus, it just looks cool.
# For a discussion of these issues from someone far more knowledgable and intelligent than me, I recommend N.T. Wright’s books and essays, particularly Surprised by Hope.