FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS:
CARE FOR CREATION
By The Rev. John Flack, member of the Environmental Stewardship Committee
Do you remember the story of God placing human beings in Paradise? The creatures, the plants, the goodness of it all. If you’ve ever been to Northern California, it may not surprise you that there was a town there called Paradise. What else could you call it? Tall pine forests, wine, sunny days. There are mountains to the East, beaches to the West, and never snow. It was straight out of Genesis. Of course, they called their town Paradise.
But Paradise, California, a town of 26,000 people, is no more. It burned to the ground this past week. It burned down in a matter of hours. And it’s only one of the towns destroyed in California from raging fires, uncontrollable and uncontainable.
In that Genesis story, we read that God gives dominion to human beings over the Earth. What could that mean? What is there to be done when a fire rages and blows into your town at 50 miles an hour? What dominion could we have over that? Maybe it would be better to call it an act of God. Maybe it would be better to say nothing could have been done, nothing could have changed it. Bind up the wounds of weary; rebuild. Go on and continue.
But this would be wrong. As David Swain, a climate scientist and lifelong Californian points out, human activity, through the polluting of the atmosphere, has made the summers hotter and longer, drying out the vegetation. Compound the summers over time, and the forests become a tinder box. Climate models have been predicting that precipitation will decrease, and that is coming to pass. Swain also points out that human expansion into high-risk areas of the forests also contributes to disasters like the one we’ve seen.
So our dominion is clear. We’ve mastered the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels, the building of mansions, the conquest of wilderness. Yet this cannot be the dominion God had in mind, and if these fires are any indication, we are just beginning to suffer the consequences. Summers will get hotter and drier and the fires will just get stronger. As the old Spiritual says,
“God sent Noah a rainbow sign/No more water, but the fire next time.”
That time is now.
What should we do
such a time as this,
if there is no more time? There is no more time. Already our Earth is becoming a hothouse. Already we humans, in our dominion, have begun a sixth great extinction. Our only choice, it seems to me, is to accept that we have taken the dominion God gave us and turned it into domination.
There’s another passage in Scripture that comes to mind, less contemplated than in the Genesis story. After Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River, Mark says, in the wilderness,
the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Satan offered Jesus all the tropes of domination: wealth, honor, worship; the signs of imperial Rome, which the regular people knew meant famine and destruction for them. But Jesus rejects domination. And, in his particularly terse way, Mark says he was with the wild beasts. He was with them as Adam or Eve, walking with them and talking with them, as they accompanied him.
Some commentators, both ancient and modern, see Jesus' presence with them as a sign of God’s reign, in which human beings live in harmony with creation, rather than against it.
We have come to crisis, and it demands that we change. It might be scary to contemplate a world in which we have given up our dependency on fossil fuels and worked hard to live within the created order, rather than over it. And yet, Scripture says we can. If we are grafted, as Scripture says, into the body of the man who was with the wild beasts, then perhaps we can be confident that we will.
Our Synod Assembly will focus us next year on
Care for Creation
. But this world God made asks more from us than a synod assembly theme. Caring for creation is part of our discipleship, and so it asks everything from us, in order that we can receive the life of God.
Now is the time for change.