A classmate tried to argue that trees are replaceable. And in a certain, very specific way, he was right. But in so many other ways, he was just plain wrong.
When many of us talk about humanity’s relationship to creation it’s like that. There is an element of truth in it, but… It also reveals how irresponsible we are and reveals a far deeper problem.
It was high school, so I’m not sure my friend thinks that way anymore. But I’m sure he does.
We were all having a conversation about preservation. There was a huge wildfire which had destroyed old growth pines near Grayling, Michigan. We were also talking about the massive deforestation in our region and the burgeoning recycling movement. And his response was
“We can just plant more trees.”
This response to thousands of years of natural development, the building of complex ecosystems with immeasurable diversity which cannot be achieved by simply planting some trees reveals either scientific ignorance or a narrow vision of creation. Even if we aren’t so stupid as to plant a single type in neat rows, centuries’ old forests aren’t replaced in two decades.
If we see our forests only through the eyes of utility, we miss their majesty, their complexity, and most importantly, their necessity.
We often take the instruction in Genesis 1:28 with such selfish eyes:
“Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
seeking to subdue the earth and control it.
But our creation, its forests are for more than paper and building material. They are a diverse and evocative system of wild opportunity.
We weren’t created for utility.
It’s a narrow and dangerously naive worldview to see creation through a lens of utility and function. For it’s a short leap to all the rest of creation.
The complexity of our ecosystems, reduced to how we can use them. The complexity of our weather patterns, animals, our landscapes, and the minerals in the soil, reduced to numbers on spreadsheets.
To people. As numbers. Typologies. Facebook profiles sold to advertisers. Our blessed humanity reduced to trivial and the mundane, exploited for profit.
The leap from utility to exploitation is a puddle. The leap from humanity’s relationship to God and all that God loves to our trashing our planet should be as vast as the oceans.
Any treatment of Genesis 1 which sees clearcutting, plastic gyres in the oceans, and fracking as stewardship of creation is terrible theology.
Especially when we do so without reading Genesis 2-3. The older creation story reminds us of the humility of the human relationship to God and creation. That our job isn’t to screw up creation and exploit it, but to till the dirt because we come from the dirt.
But there’s a more dangerous theological idea.
It’s the idea that our impact on the world has no consequence: either for the planet (it’ll fix itself), upon humanity (we can’t really screw it up permanently), or upon ourselves (I’m good with God, so God’ll protect me from our mistakes).
These ideas are escapes from our present predicament and justifications for our actions. And the height of irresponsibility.
For those who read both creation stories with eyes toward stewardship in any sense of the word, then the notion that we can trash the place and escape from it unscathed is a rejection of God’s command. So for the legalist, this alone should give them pause. For it may be they who are punished (and can’t escape)!
I’ve known otherwise thoughtful and diligent thinkers struggle with this idea. They wrestle with God’s intervention and massive reorientation in an epic event. And they fall into two groups:
1. Escape in rapture.
The idea here is that they are able to escape from creation to heaven at the second coming of Jesus. It’s a popular and widespread ideology. It’s also not biblical; scripture describes the opposite of what rapture preachers teach.
Rather than escaping from a world of sin and destruction to a new world of perfection, our existing world will be restored and unified. Which leads to the second group.
2. Escape by superbeing.
We may be tempted to see God as superbeing who would prevent us from destroying the planet. So then we can’t actually destroy creation because God will just save us. Or that the promise of restoration will deal with our sin nature and our inability to protect the planet ourselves.
These two ideas are terrible theology. They both reduce human responsibility and restrict the ultimate mission of God. And they reduce our relationship to God to its most immature level.
It seems to say: humans are garbage and God takes out the trash.
One of the things I’ve argued before is that we need to run some of our theology through Occam’s Razor. These complex and ornamental theologies try to speak of the great power of God and the total depravity of the human condition. And they may seem reasonable. But they require such elaborate theological arguments to maintain.
Or they are full of excuses and rationalizations for why we should do things we would otherwise know are wrong. How else could those who are full of focus on personal responsibility when it comes to economics and social issues justify taking no responsibility whatsoever for their environment?
The problem isn’t a lack of scriptural support for a theology of love for creation. It’s our lack of tradition for such a theology.
The simpler idea, and the one closer to our stories: the creation story, to the liberation story, to the prophets, and the gospel: is that we’re in a loving relationship with our creator. That God created everything and called it good. Providing for us.
But just as we don’t put our latrine next to our water source, our relationship is interdependent. We don’t put God to the test. We love God and our neighbors as ourselves.
Which means we don’t destroy what protects and feeds us. And we seek new ways to show our love for all life God creates.
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This is from a series on Choices. We have plenty more choices to make!