God gives protection to all creation

Published March 1, 2008

The Resurrection gave the disciples hope at a time of deep despair.

Can our understanding of the Resurrection give us hope to confront the great issue that we face in our time, global heating and climate breakdown? Can we bring our great biblical resources to help us change how walk on God’s earth? How do we live a risen life in the crisis as we know it today?

First of all we must acknowledge that the way we now live, as individuals and corporately as a church, adds to the problem. We Canadians are great greenhouse gas emitters and our extravagance causes other kinds of environmental deterioration as well. We should assess our “carbon footprint,” and make plans to reduce it. Our church’s proclivity to apologize and make compensation after causing the damage will not work here.

Yet neither we as individuals nor organizations like our church can do much to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without strong leadership, including disincentives like a carbon tax, from the federal and provincial governments. Alas, our governments are far behind those of Europe, and even some states. No government anywhere has yet brought in a climate change program as tough as that recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (of which Canada is a member), i.e., an 85-per-cent reduction in emissions.

We should press for vigorous action on the climate crisis-as soon as we have made a commitment ourselves to act.

That our laws are so weak on most environmental issues reflects our broader materialistic, secular culture. Can we as Christians help by going back to our roots, the biblical command to care for creation? The earth is the Lord’s, says Psalm 24. We have the right to use it, but we are accountable for that use, as stewards, not owners. In fact we treat God’s earth as resources for private gain. Psalm 36 tells us that God gives protection “to all creation,” and many psalms show God’s love for the great diversity of His creatures, not merely those of monetary value.

Our moral values reflect the concerns of the age when they emerged. The crisis of global warming is recent, from the industrial revolution’s use of fossil fuels for energy, beginning with coal and greatly increased with the discovery of oil and gas.

What obligations do we have to the young and future generations? It would be a criminal offence to steal from a (rich) child’s trust fund. Why is it all right to use up the resources all future children will need? What right have we to leave polluted soil, air and waters, and the best energy source gone? Why are these not issues of family values? Neither our laws or broader morality recognizes that non-renewable resources do get used up and can never be replaced. But while there is no specific “Thou shalt not drain acquifers or burn up the last barrel of oil,” our responsibility to God, the Creator and owner, is clear. Jesus is the way in his modest lifestyle as in so much else.

Roman Catholic theologian Thomas Berry brings hope with his bold message, naming what we need to do “great work” before us. He calls for an end to the “radical discontinuity” between humans and other beings on earth: “We own property in accord with the well-being of the property, and for the benefit of the larger community as well as ourselves” (The Great Work: Our Way Into the Future).

We must learn how to mirror God’s beneficence and care for all creation in our own lives, to love others, do justice and walk humbly with our God in His world.

Christ’s promise is for life abundant. A prayer after the Eucharist reminds us that God can do more than we can ask or imagine. Young people especially are needed to help work out how to act on those claims in our lives and church. If you share these concerns let your parish, diocese and other concerned Anglicans know.

Lynn McDonald is professor emerita at the University of Guelph, a former member of Parliament and environment critic, and a former chair of the church’s Public Social Responsibility Unit.


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