At the end of the first chapter of Genesis, God says to humankind: Be fruitful and increase, fill the earth and subdue it, rule over the fish in the sea, the birds of the heaven and every living thing that moves upon the earth. NEB
For many, this verse has given humanity a free rein over all other created things. They are there to serve the needs and wants of humanity. For some Christians this is still taken as a biblical mandate to have no care for the rest of creation. For others, this has been the means by which the blame for the current ecological crises can be pinned on Christianity.
However, it seems to me that both groups have misunderstood the Bible and the human situation. For a start, cultures that had no connection with the bible at all have shown themselves equally capable of misusing the planet. In the New Stone Age, the overuse of soils by farmers in Neolithic Britain led to an ecological crisis. So, if Genesis 1 is a mandate for humans to do what they like with the rest of the planet, this is probably a reflection of what human beings were already doing. We didn’t need God to give us permission to exploit the planet.
As I’ve already said, I think the notion that we’re allowed to do exactly as we like comes from a misreading of the text. In the story, Adam was given the earth to fill and subdue it before The Fall, whilst he was still at one with God, the source of all life. In that state, his work on the earth was at one with it. It was life enhancing and working towards the flourishing and abundance of life. The moment he cut himself off from the source of life his work on the earth put his needs, and more importantly his wants, at the centre of subduing the earth. No longer was his end to work with God, with Life, his purpose became his needs and wants, and them alone.
Why have we as a species littered the earth with the waste products of our consumption? Because, collectively, we don’t care enough, so long as our wants are being supplied. We don’t even care enough about future generations of human beings to collectively think we need to make a change.In the story as told in the bible, there is a solution. It is the new Adam, Jesus, who puts us back into a proper relationship with God, the source of Life, and indeed a proper relationship with all other created things. The resurrection of Jesus is the beginning of a new creation, a new relationship between ourselves and God; ourselves and the neighbours that are all the other created things. In his letter to the Romans, chapter 8, Saint Paul writes:
Creation waits with eager longing for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
To be ‘in Christ’ is to be part of this new creation, and to proclaim the Good News of the resurrection of Jesus is to be, in part, a coworker with Christ in the implementation of this resurrection for all creation.We are free to do as we please; and human beings have chosen to exploit the earth more than it should have been. But is this freedom? If we say freedom is a good; and we do; it should be orientated towards all other ‘goods’. The care of creation is also a good, so then true freedom is orientated towards that end rather than towards exploitation of creation. Goodness cannot be in conflict with itself.
Vicar’s thoughts for February 2017