Jesus was born to save all Creation. We even sing about this on Christmas Eve – just look at all the nature imagery in “Joy to the World” – but it doesn’t makes sense for most of us. Why (especially if we assume that salvation is only about getting into heaven) would the earth need a savior? The reason is that we easily forget that sin and its effects extend beyond humanity. From what does creation need to be saved? Answer: the effects of human sin.
It’s the week after Christmas and I’ve been reading a lot about creation-care or environmental stewardship in preparation for the class that Eileen and I will be teaching at Hampton Presbyterian Church. I’ve found some good resources and some bad ones. The most enjoyable so far has been Holy Ground: A Gathering of Voices on Caring for Creation. My favorite essay in it so far is by Patriarch Bartholomew of the Orthodox Church. In it he writes, “The Ecumenical Patriarchate believes that the burning issue of the environment must be addressed at its root. And the root of this problem is the root of so many other problems: humanity” (p.33). It is our own human greed and selfishness that has led to the destruction of the earth. He then goes on to quote St. Maximus the Confessor from the seventh century, “we should wage war not against the natural world, which has been created by God, but against those movements and energies of the essential powers within each of us that are disordered and unnatural and hostile to the natural world” (p. 37).
Later in Holy Ground, Brian McLaren makes the same point: “Air, soil, and water show ugly symptoms of our own inner pollution; they suffer because of the greed, arrogance, lust, ignorance and hate that pollute our hearts and cultures” (p.168). Also consider the story Ken Wilson tells in his book Jesus Brand Spirituality of an environmental scientist who told him, “The main threats to the environment are not biodiversity loss, pollution, and climate change, as I thought once. They are selfishness and greed and pride.” (p. 59)
Eileen and I will be talking about practical tips for living eco-friendly lives in each class we teach, but I’m increasingly becoming convinced that not only is creation-care a spiritual discipline, but spiritual disciplines are also a means of caring for creation. What if Sabbath, simplicity, and fasting were the starting points of a Christian ethic of caring for the earth?