Our role in God’s creation story

Our role in God’s creation story

As believers we are aware of our responsibility to look after God’s creation – it was after all God’s first command to man. But our relation with the earth is violated, precisely because of alienation between us and nature. A well-known Senegalese environmental activist Baba Dioum expresses it strikingly. “In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand and we will understand only what we are taught.” A first step toward the rehabilitation of our relation with the creation is to become familiar with the bigger story and well-being of God’s creation.

The Earth is billions of years old

Man is a latecomer on planet Earth. We have been here for only 0.004% of the Earth’s lifetime (4.3 billion years). The natural world – the sea, micro-organisms, plant material, insect life, etc. has been developing for millions of years to create an atmosphere, fertile surface soil and a reliable climate system wherein a diversity of organisms – and also man – can live. Images of the complexity and opulence of the creation or the splendour of the cosmos fill us with amazement and gratitude.

 “Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it.” – Chief Seattle

Profit above man and nature

But today we live in a man-made world where we daily see the ingenuity of man and are no longer in direct contact with for example: the soil in which our food are cultivated or the cow from which our milk comes or the forest from which this paper is produced. A consumer and profit-driven culture is in the process of unravelling the complex web of life (the fine balance in ecosystems). By putting values like profit, production and comfort above the interest of man and nature, huge damage is brought to the creation and especially to the poor and vulnerable people.

In 2010, 400 000 people died as a result of the impact of climate change. These mortalities are mostly attributed to malaria, diarrhoea, heat exhaustion, malnutrition and extreme weather phenomena – which affects the poor, women and children in developing countries the most.

Because man uses more and more soil to cultivate plantations, to construct buildings and roads and to exploit minerals, the habitat for non-human species is becoming less. The huge impact that man has on earth by for example climate change, causes species to die out 1 000 to 10 000 times faster than the natural rate. This rate of extinction is on scale the size of the extinction of the dinosaurs.

What went wrong?

The root of the ecological crisis is not an economic or a scientific problem, but rather a spiritual problem. Man got estranged from nature and no longer perceives it as a sacred gift that has intrinsic value. In Genesis 1 we read that after each creation day God took pleasure in his creation – he said it was good! It was good, even before man was created. Every part of the universe therefore has value – not because it is useful to man, but because God created it with care and delights therein.

Genesis 1:31: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”

Righteousness for all

Furthermore, the ecological crisis is also a matter of righteousness. Already man and nature suffer and die as a result of the unlimited pursuit for more – more cars, more houses, more clothes, etc. The result of this continuous growth is climate change, extinction of species, droughts and floods. As believers we are called to regard our neighbour with compassion – this neighbour also includes nature. In Romans 8:22 we hear that the whole creation sighs and longs for redemption. Our task is to comply with these sighs and to stand together with God on the side of the defenceless – those who do not have a voice.

Romans 8:22: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”

When we see the ecological crisis as a cry from our neighbour (man or nature) we cannot help but listen with compassion and to respond with righteousness. This righteousness does not only involve being an intercessor for others, but also takes a critical look at our own life style.

A well-known theologian Leonard Boff says the following about the gap between rich and poor in our world: “The opposite of poverty is not wealth but righteousness.” Wealth, as defined by people in developing countries, is not possible for all on earth – hence also not justified – but a more righteous life is indeed possible.

Questions for discussion:

  • How many different animals and insects have you seen today? Do our cities, towns and housing complexes also provide space and homes for other species, e.g. birds, bats, owls, bees, etc.
  • If everything in the universe has inherent value, how do I evaluate practices like factory farms, battery chicken farming and the destruction of ecosystems for economic gain?
  • In your house, are there more people than bedrooms, the same number of people as bedrooms or more bedrooms than people? Do you think there are enough space and resources on earth that all can live the same lifestyle as we do?
  • Where does the food come from that I eat daily? Is it imported? Does it come from a factory or factory farm? Are the labourers, animals and the environment treated with dignity on these farms?
  • Where is my garbage going? Where is the nearest dumpsite and who lives next to that dumpsite?
  • Is it more important to possess my own car/property in the future or to have a healthy, communal park or vegetable garden where my family and I can walk about and play?
  • How many cell phones have I had? How many articles that I buy are used once only, for example: plastic bags, paper, packaging, beverage cans, milk cartons? Can I replace it with an alternative?

Practical tips and resources

  • Live simply so that others can simply live.
  • Eat vegetarian once per week. Read more about the Green Monday campaign at greenmonday.co.za.
  • Support local as well as international environmental conservation, e.g. SAFCEI, WWF and A Rocha.
  • Reconnect with earth – take time to experience awe in God’s creation.
  • Raise your voice for those without a voice – not only for the poor but also for the vulnerable in the creation. Participate in an environmental impact assessment process (EIA).
  • Measure you carbon footprint. SMS “CO2” to 34017 (R2 per SMS). Or at trees.co.za/carbon-offset/carbon-calculator.html.
  • Read more about climate change. realclimate.org
  • Tips for sustainable living – see Cape Town’s Smart Living Handbook at www.capetowngreenmap.co.za/smart-living.
  • Find out which fish species is endangered before you eat: co.za
  • Use fewer waste products, e.g. plastic bags. See www.aquarium.co.za/content/page/rethink-the-bag.

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