Thursday, April 22, 2010

Creation Day

Today is Earth Day, and there’s a common hypo-narrative (story beneath the story) running throughout. Briefly, it is this: “The earth was once a place of pristine beauty and harmony and peace; that is, until humankind came along and messed up things. If we’re going to save the earth, we must return it to its pre-human state by minimizing, and even eliminating where possible, all human interference and influence on the planet.” The metanarrative beneath this hypo-narrative is a theology of an eternal, sui generis, independent Nature which, for reasons of its own (the best and brightest among us suspect “survival of the fittest”) has produced creatures all of whom live in perfect balance and harmony with Nature save one, humanity.

The church, by and large, has accepted the hypo-narrative and adopted the metanarrative, but has done so, I would suggest, without critical reflection or attention to the issue of whether or not these narratives are, at their core, either logical or Christian. Something of the illogic of the above got played out in my own home recently. My wife and I had been eagerly awaiting the broadcast of the highly advertised Discovery Channel series called Life. When the first episode aired, however, my wife’s enthusiasm waned rather quickly. Said she, “It was not what I expected.” I said: “Why?” She said: “I guess just didn’t expect all the gore and gruesomeness.” Said I, “Well, that’s Nature! You’re either the mauler or the meal!” Nature, when we get beneath the hypo-narrative, can be brutal and cruel by human standards. The alpha lion systematically kills the cubs sired by his rival when he assumes control of the pride. Whatever this goddess called Nature is, she is anything but sweet.

That’s why Christians have a different metanarrative. We don’t believe in an eternal, sui generis, independent “Nature;” rather, we believe in creation. “In beginning God created….” We Christians believe in an eternal, sui generis independent “Creator” who has created things other than Himself, including what we call “nature.” Humanity is regarded in our metanarrative as the Creator’s special “creation” in that He put a bit of Himself into humanity (that’s not to say that God has not put something of Himself into creation; rather, it is to say that creation resembles God as a building resembles its designer, but humanity resembles God more like a child resembles its parent). Now, before you rush in and accuse me of providing cover for the crowd that treats the earth with contempt, let me quickly add that the biblical mandate is that humanity has a God-given obligation to act as “stewards” of that creation. Especially in the Old Testament (see the creation narratives in Genesis which are then reflected upon in places such as Psalm 8 and elsewhere), humanity has a responsibility (given the fallen nature of Nature) to tend and care for and “husband” creation in behalf of its true “Owner,” namely, the Creator. What that means practically speaking is that Christians do not consume more resources than they need; Christians work for the health and wholeness of the creation; and Christians do not destroy or otherwise desecrate (the use of the sacral word is intentional) God’s creation. I believe in recycling; I believe in reducing our carbon footprint; I believe in reducing our consumption of resources (of all kinds) wherever possible; I believe in doing everything in our power to reduce pollution on the planet. But I do not believe in these things because I think that by doing them we can somehow “save the planet,” still less because I owe some obeisance to a goddess called “Nature.” I believe these things because I am a Christian, and that’s what Christians do. It is an expression of my stewardship of God's creation as one of His creatures specifically charged with that sacred obligation and privilege.

In the New Testament, this theology of nature takes an eschatological turn. I said above that the biblical theology of nature is that creation, not just humanity, has “fallen” and, as a result, finds itself at odds with its Creator. Consequently, Paul moves the Old Testament “stewardship theology of creation” a step further when he says that “all creation groans in eager expectation for the revelation of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19). You see, creation itself has a stake in humanity’s making peace with the Creator, and so Paul holds out the hope (the eschatological hope) that one day Christ (the “Man” who gets it right and undoes the Fall) will become pas en panti, “all in all.” The author of the Revelation caught a glimpse of that same hope when, far from the belief in some sort of eternal sui generis Nature, he envisions a day when there will be a “new heaven and a new earth...for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21).

But meanwhile, this is our “home away from home,” and no one likes a sloppy housekeeper.


gdogliles said...

I was compelled a couple years ago by an inspiring Christian scholar (Calvin DeWitt of UW-Madison) who quoted Revelation 11:18, "The nations raged, but your wrath came, and the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints, and those who fear your name, both small and great, and for destroying the destroyers of the earth (emphasis obviously mine)." I fear many Christians confuse good stewardship for Gaia worship. - Gerald Liles

J. Travis Moger said...

I'm glad you're in favor of caring for the environment, but it troubles me that you would use guilt by association to link Earth Day with nature worship or materialism. I think there may also be a non sequitur in your argument. Just because you believe creation is "fallen" and that ultimately only God's intervention will bring about renewal doesn't mean we shouldn't try to "save the planet," any more than acknowledging the fallenness of humanity means that you shouldn't attempt to end genocide or cure cancer.

R. Wayne Stacy said...

The non sequitur is not in my argument but in your inferences.

Unknown said...

I was encouraged by the beliefs you expressed in this blog. Thanks for sharing them. I wish more Christians felt that way. I have always been puzzled by the fact that quite a few Christians I know dismiss the idea of environmental stewardship completely. It seems to me a very simple concept to grasp from scripture.