I was a seminary student during the Valdez spill. One of my teachers at that time said that watching images of sea gulls drenched in oil struggling to fly reminded her of Rom. 8: 22: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning until now.” According to scripture, creation itself groans waiting for redemption. Our very human ability to get things wrong, to misuse and abuse things placed in our care, either intentionally or by inattention, causes pain and struggle even for the earth. I am reminded of the same as I watch oil pour out of a broken pipeline into the waters of Gulf of Mexico, and large plumes and swathes of oil drift into coastal waterways.
Our relationship to creation is a spiritual issue. The first three chapters of Genesis make that very clear. God calls into being a beautiful and diverse sanctuary, alive, vulnerable, interdependent. God creates the human being, “adam,” which is related to the word “adamah.” Adamah means earth. “Adam” means earth creature. To be human is to be an earth creature, a person created from the earth. The human being (male and female) are created in the image of God, and are given dominion within creation. Dominion here is not domination, but responsibility as caretakers who embody God’s love and care for all creation.
In Genesis 2:15 God plants the man in the center of the garden with the responsibility to (in Hebrew) abad and shamar. The first word means to work, nurture, sustain and husband. The second means to safeguard, preserve, care for, and protect. (see James Davidson Hunter To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, Oxford Press. 2010, p.3.) The clear biblical understanding is that we are God’s gardeners, stewards of God’s creation. The earth is our home, and we are its caretakers. Care of the earth is one of the ways that we honor our creator.
Sin is about living in harmful ways and about breaking or violating our relationships. We have a way of breaking and distorting our relationship with God, with ourselves, with each other, and with the earth. We groan together, and so does the earth, waiting for redemption. And we struggle together as we do our best to live into our redemption.
There are no easy answers to the issues before us in the Gulf of Mexico. But with God’s help we can look at what we have done, and seek better ways to live well in all of our relationships, including our relationship with creation. Ecology is a spiritual issue and care of the earth a God given responsibility.
I do like what Pope Benedict XVI said in a homily for world peace on January 1, 2010: “If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation.” Pastor Bill