“We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now, and not only the creation, but we ourselves…”Romans 8:18-27
Last Friday I woke up with a miserable head cold made worse by the insane decision of Donald Trump to renege on the Paris Environmental Accord. The words that came to mind were “those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.” Then I opened up Facebook and discovered that many others, including leading politicians in the United States, also thought Trump’s decision was insane. I also read on Facebook, that Trump said that planet earth was a loser, a real loser, and that there were many better planets around the universe. To which Angela Merkel apparently responded that she could not wait for Trump to go to one of them. Maybe that is fake news. but it reminds me that there are many Christians who think the earth is in such a mess that they can’t wait to get to heaven. Earth is not our home, they declare. But that is not what the Bible says. The earth is created by God to be our home, and we need to care for the earth as its stewards.
This has been the theme that we have been exploring this past week in the Volmoed Youth Leadership Training Programme, but the message is reinforced by the devastating storms we have had during the past 24 hours, and the even more devastating fire that has ravished much of Knysna. Earth is our home. But fierce winds, hailstorms, earthquakes, fire and flood, remind us that the earth is not always human friendly. Yet without rain we have no water, without fire we have no warmth — nature’s fierce side is necessary for life to exist. Death, as some say, may take us to a better place, but during our life-span we have nowhere else to go, and even if we did we might find that President Trump has already got there. That is why we have to learn to love and cherish this earth. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said:
The earth remains our mother just as God remains our father, and only those who are true to the mother are placed by her into the father’s arms. Earth and its distress — that is the Christian’s Song of Songs.
The distress of the earth to which Bonhoeffer refers is the painful longing of a lover for her beloved. The desire of the earth to be loved and nurtured, by us. To take care of the earth as God’s garden, and to protect the birds of the air and the beasts of the field is central to being human. So for us to abuse the earth and its creatures is a sign that we do not love God.
Last week I referred to the language of nature, the language of the wind, of birds and animals, of the sea. But the language of nature in response to human arrogance is a painful groan and sometimes the sound of angry tsunami or howling gale. St. Paul spoke to this in his letter to the Romans. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now…” The earth longs to bring forth new life as a woman in labour, but is continually abused by human stupidity. The Paris Accord is not perfect, but it is a sign that we are globally responding to the earth’s cry of distress, and affirmingits ability to bring forth life not death. The problem is that there are still too many people who believe that humans have a right to exploit the earth for their own selfish gain, and too many Christians who believe that God’s command in Genesis “to fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion…over every living thing” is a licence for us to do what we like to the earth instead of being its stewards.
What gives us hope is the fact that there has been such a universal rejection of Trump’s decision, such a widespread anger within the United States and the global community at such madness. Trump and his supporters have, in fact, been isolated by virtually all world leaders and countries, and also by many of the cities and federal states in America. All of which indicates that the environmental cause has gained considerable traction around the world, even though there is still an enormous amount to be done to save planet earth. And that is surely part of our Christian witness and responsibility.
Mother Earth, I recently read, “is being crucified and has to experience resurrection.” (Rom 8:22). Which helps us understand what Paul means when he says that creation is “groaning in labour pains until now?” That is, the coming of Christ has given new hope not just to us humans but also to the world as a whole, for Christ did not simply come to save the human race, but to redeem creation and set it free from its bondage to human abuse. If this is so, then those who have the Spirit of Christ should not only care for creation, but also be the agents of creation’s liberation, renewal and redemption. In other words, caring for the earth is not just good environmental policy, it is central to Christian existence and witness. Jesus does not tell us that we should neglect the earth and long for heaven, but to pray and work so that God’s kingdom will “come on earth as it is in heaven.” That is what it means to love the earth as our Mother, for as long as we live it is the only home we have.
John de Gruchy
Volmoed 8 June 2017