The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; Psalm 24:1 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised)
In this day and age everyone —at different level’s— seems to be troubled about the state of our environment. In itself, it is not a very attractive word, and a few years ago we hardly ever heard it, but today it’s on everybody’s lips. Supermarkets sell products which they call ‘environmentally friendly.’ Voluntary organisations for the conservation of the environment are plentiful. The Friends of the Earth International has 73 member groups and 2 associate member groups. All of the groups together have a total of over 2 million members and supporters around the world, and the figure is still rising. Greenpeace and the World Wide Fund for Nature raise large sums of money every year to spend on campaigning and education. University departments now devote themselves to different aspects of the environment. Two new kind’s of discipline, called ‘environmental economics’ and ‘Ecotheology,’ have emerged. These are all secular organisations or institutions. But do the Christian Church not also have a duty to be interested and should individual Christians not also have a duty to be concerned?
A PROPER CONCERN FOR THE CHURCH
On the surface it seem that the answer might be ‘No.’ It could be said that when a Christian Church speaks out about the environment, it is merely climbing on to a secular soapbox. Christians, we might say, should only be concerned with the spiritual life. Environmental concern seems to be a modern version of the secular idea of ‘progress’. Christians, instead of being preoccupied with their souls and with their ultimate destination, which is eternal life with God in heaven, have been accused of diverting their attention instead to worldly things, intent on the kind of sustainable development that will bring more and more of the world’s produce to more and more people. To use a long theological word, they would be engaged in secular eschatology [eschatology is a part of theology concerned with the ultimate destiny of humanity.]
But this gives a false idea of why Christians have at long last woken up to the fact that they certainly must to be concerned with the environment. There are even secular environmentalists who accuse the Church of being the main cause of our waste of non-renewable resources and pollution of the environment. But this is an entirely unfounded indictment, but, like many such false accusations, it does contain a grain of truth within it. There have been-Christians, for example, who have thought that the natural world is contaminated by original sin and that it has become so immoral that it no longer matters what we do. But such people have always been the exception rather than the rule. The great-majority known that ‘the heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.’ Having been taught through the Scriptures to revere the works of God’s creation. But it never occurred to them (or indeed to anyone else for that matter) that the riches of this world were limited, and that pollution could actually be caused on a national and international scale. It is only recently that human beings have devised the technology which enables us to create these disastrous worldwide effects.
ONLY GOD COMPLETELY COMPREHENDS THE WORLD
If we look at the Scriptures we find plenty of evidence that ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof’. The Book of Job contains some — wonderful verses with reference to God’s work of His creation when God spoke to Job out of the whirlwind:
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone
when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?
Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb?—
when I made the clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band.” (Job 38:4-9)
“Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail, which I have reserved for the time of trouble, for the day of battle and war?” (Job 38:22-23)
It is hardly surprising that, when confronted with all that and much more besides, Job responded with the words: ‘See, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth’ (Job 40:4). Today you may believe that things are quite different: we have no idea how the planet was formed out of the debris of an exploding supernova, how the oceans formed out of hydrogen and oxygen, how the tectonic plates regulate the continents, and how rain, snow and hail come into being. Yes, we may know how these things happen, but we have absolutely no idea whatsoever why they actually occur. They are dependent upon what we call the ‘constants of nature’ —for scientists, the constants of nature have been surrounded by mystique, there is no particular reason why the constants are, well, constant. As for the rain and the snow and the hail, contemporary ‘chaos theory’ tells us of the so-called ‘butterfly effect,’ so that we can never predict with absolute accuracy, because the smallest effect many thousands of miles away, even a butterfly, can have such escalating results that they are literally unpredictable. It is superbly true that ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof’ and only God can fully understand His own creation.
CREATION IS INFINITE, BUT GOD IS SUPREME MONARCH OVER ALL
The prophet Isaiah also spoke movingly about the sovereignty of God over all creation:
“Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in;” Isaiah 40:21-22
“To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing.” Isaiah 40:25-26
“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.” Isaiah 40:28
The view of the universe which we known today is far greater than that which Isaiah described. As a matter of fact, it is so vast that we cannot even be certain whether the universe infinite or not. Compared with the sizeof the cosmos and the length of time since the Big Bang [theory], we are nothing like as big as grasshoppers — we are not even the size of a microorganism! We now possess adequate knowledge for scientists to be able to calculate what happened as far back as the first few minutes of creation. Some have even theorised that creation came into being as a quantum variation in a vacuum, which increased more and more rapidly, and then, as a result of supercooling —all within the merest fragment of a second— the Big Bang proceeded outward and from which everything else has emerged, with hundred of millions of galaxies each with billions of stars in various states of development spaced out over billions of ‘light years’ —the distance that light can travel in one year 186,000 miles per second and 5.88 trillion miles per year.— These scientists could be right, although being only a theory, there can, by the nature of the case, be no proof whatsoever. After all, creation had to come about in one way or another. What they have to explain is why the initial states and the constants of nature that emerged from the Big Bang are just right to bring about the genesis to our universe, furthermore if they had been only minutely divergent, there would not have been a universe at all. It is possible that we are surrounded by countless numbers of undetectable and invisible ‘failed’ universes; whilst our universe just happened to be the one which had all of the right characteristics to bring it to its successful conception. How would we know? What we can say is that, while our faith is in no way dependent upon what the scientists tell us about creation, it is entirely consistent with it —St. Thomas Aquinas tells us ‘For those with faith, no evidence is necessary; for those without it, no evidence will suffice.— That holds good for the universe as a whole, and particularly for our tiny planet Earth, where even more amazing coincidences have resulted in the emergence of life. ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.’
GOD CREATED THE EARTH AND ITS FULLNESS FOR ITS OWN SAKE
The Scriptures tell us God did not solely create the world for our sakes: God takes pleasure in Leviathan, and in making flowers bloom in the wilderness where no human being has ever set foot. It is to Genesis chapter 1 that we specifically turn to when we want to find out the Jewish concept of creation which Jesus, as a good Jew, naturally took for granted. In fact, this chapter is a reworking of the old Babylonian creation-myth of ‘Marduk’ Creator of the World, suitably adapted to the monotheistic faith of Jews. This in itself should tell us a great deal: we are acting biblically if we take the creation stories of our day —and today these are scientific— as long as we properly adjust them to our Trinitarian faith in God the Father who is the Creator, God the Son who is the Logos or meaning behind creation, and God the Holy Spirit who is personally pervasive within it. The first chapter of Genesis is not meant to be a scientific essay, and if we attempt to fit the Seven Days of Creation into twenty-first-century knowledge of evolution, we are misapplying it. But it is inspired because it tells us the key spiritual truths: that God alone is the Creator who, with His Word, causes things to be harmoniously organised. His Word ‘brought forth’ the oceans moving creatures that have life, and flying fowl, and on land Mother Earth ‘brings forth’ living creatures after their kind — beasts and crawling things and finally us, anthropoid’s. ‘The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.’
Humanity is the jewel of all creation, being created in the image and likeness of God. But humanity is only a small fraction of the whole of creation, humanity therefore needs to play its part within the dramatisation of living things. This is wonderfully portrayed in Psalm 104, where we have an inspired meditation on the power and the providence of God in his created world. True, God created herbs for the service of humanity, and wine that makes glad our hearts. But the trees and the birds and the wild goats and conies and young lions all have their place for their own sake; and as for human beings, we are merely told that ‘People go out to their work and to their labour until the evening.’ (Psalm 104:23) Quite rightly the Psalmist comments: ‘O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.’ (verse 24).
Perhaps we would not today wish to endorse all of creation: the spirochaeta pallida a genus of bacteria which causes syphilis, or the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) which causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). No doubt the ancient Jews, without guns or other similar deadly devices with which to quell wild animals, may have felt the same about the lion and the adder. The fact is that God has given his creation the freedom to evolve, and good far outweighs that which has evil effects. God is the Creator of all that is, and there is bo other. And so with grateful conviction we say , ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof,’ and we bow our heads in wonder and worship of the God under whose providence creation has evolved.