To Serve & Preserve the Earth

The United States is backing out of the Paris Agreement. With no better plan to replace it, I believe this is wrong; a decision rooted in money, greed, and selfishness. I don’t believe this is really about politics. I do think it is a further sign of the erosion of basic humanity and community to a point where we are all looking out for number one. America first, as long as that means me first.

The Paris Agreement is, on the one hand, a plan that takes too long to accomplish too little; overly optimistic, trusting too much the good will of nations to comply. It will cost jobs as it creates others. It will be both blessing and burden in the near term. On the other hand, it is progress in the right direction, and it shows a miraculous level of international cooperation, with 147 nations (make that 146) ratifying the agreement. It may not save the planet, but it will slow the harm. It has been, to date, the best global effort to take our God-given responsibility to care for creation seriously.

As a Christian, as a human being who thinks beyond the present moment, the motivation for cleaning up our environmental act has nothing to do with whether you “believe” the science of climate change or not.  The argument over whether there is a problem that threatens us is subterfuge, beside the point, irrelevant. The argument that it is “bad for business” is beside the point. As people who follow Jesus, these approaches to the issue are wrong-headed on at least three counts.

First, the vocation of all humanity begins in the creation stories that shape us. In Genesis 2:15, we are told that God “took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” (NRSV)  As I translate the Hebrew, I prefer “took the human and placed them in the garden of Eden (earth) to serve and preserve it.” This call is constant and perpetual. It doesn’t apply only when there is a threat to the humans. It isn’t a matter of human need. Creation is to be served and preserved by humanity because God loves creation and gave us this purpose.

Second,  Genesis 1:26 says, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion” over creation. Some interpret this as permission to do whatever we want with creation. God just made everything and then signed the deed for the place over to human owners. You’ll note, however, that no real estate closing appears in this narrative. God is still the owner. We are the caretakers.

According to the first part of this verse, the “dominion” granted to humanity reflects the image of God in which humans have been created. See, in ancient times, humans created little deities in their own image so they would act like humans, their creators. Here, the process is reversed. God, the creator, makes humans in the divine image to represent God. This is no “rape and pillage” kind of God. The image of God has been revealed in Jesus Christ, who came to serve, not be served; who came to do what was good for others, not good for himself. We are to love creation as God loved us. Serve and preserve.

THIS      NOT THIS   bad stewardship

Third, this is about sin. Sin is a broken relationship between you (or the whole of humanity) and God, another person(s) and/or creation. Failure to serve and preserve the earth breaks all three relationships. We diminish and use creation for our own purposes, making it a possession instead of a gift and responsibility; we harm others as life becomes less healthy, less safe, and the future is bargained away so the brokenness is passed from generation to generation; we break our relationship with God because we act in our own image instead of God’s and use up creation as if it belongs to us. 

Over the last couple of days, I have seen ridiculous statements made by politicians and pundits claiming that “God will fix the climate” or that “Faith has nothing to do with climate issues.” I call “nonsense” on that. God has made humanity to serve and preserve this planet and is all about faith – not self-interest.

We’ve been told that this moves responsibility for making changes that help to states, municipalities – even to individuals. I call “nonsense” on that too. This is a matter of global concern. So, Iowa is going to work on this problem while Illinois doesn’t? Kansas City, MO is on board and Kansas City, KS sees it as “fake science?” Louisiana cares for the Mississippi River while Minnesota decides the problem is downstream? This is just bad leadership that makes a problem somebody else’s by fiat.

God will not fail to work and move to see that the consequences of our poor stewardship of this creation do not announce judgment on our inaction. As seas rise and fields flood; as crops burn in the fields and disease advances, may we remember it is not God’s doing, but our own. God will also use the powers of this world to change things, just as God used Persians, Greeks, and Romans to serve the divine will. If that is not our nation, God will use others to lead and bring new life — and they are already stepping up ahead of us. 

In Christ,  Pastor Tim

For more in depth teaching of the church on creation:

ELCA Statement on Caring for Creation

Pope Francis Encyclical on Climate Change

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