The archbishops have encouraged us to use this Lent to reflect on our responsibility to the environment. Is this the Church trying to catch up with the latest fashions just to seem ‘relevant’ to the world outside?
As Christians we know that God created the earth, its plants and animals, and declared that it was very good. In some of the Psalms we hear God rejoicing in his creation, as creation in turn glorifies God. Moreover, God gave man the privilege of using and enjoying creation, and with it the responsibility to manage creation and to take care of it.
The Old Testament law teaches about the use of land and how we must not exploit it to the limit. Animals, like people, are to have days of rest, fields are to be given years lying fallow, and fields are not to be harvested right to the edges so that the poor can collect some for themselves.
When the Bible was written, most people lived much closer to the earth than we do today. Now most of us live remotely from the land, and we’ve conveniently ignored the effect we are having on our land, oceans, atmosphere and fellow-creatures. The global population has grown, and technology has enabled more and more ruthless farming, fishing and mining, to the point where we’ve outgrown the earth’s capability to absorb the damage we’re doing. We got so used to creating local pollution problems that we didn’t notice how the scale of the problem was increasing. We are now at last seeing how our selfishness and short-sightedness are causing irreversible damage – with climate change, pollution (especially plastics), and forcing more and more species to extinction.
These crises are already having an impact on fellow humans, and many are suffering from much more serious effects than we are. Many countries and communities that are threatened by the climate crisis are among the poorest in the world. This is an issue of human justice as well as respect for creation.
When man rebelled against God, Genesis tells us how it damaged our relationship with God, our relationship with others, and our relationship with creation. We rejoice that on the cross Jesus enabled us to be forgiven and reconciled to God. The church is now recognising that just as its ministry is to preach and live out the restoration of man’s relationship with God and with his fellow-men, it must also live a healthier relationship with God’s creation. As the church tries to demonstrate God’s love for mankind by caring for those in need around us, so we should be demonstrating God’s love for his creation by enjoying it, caring for it, and ensuring that our children and grandchildren will be able to live in and enjoy it too.
So yes, the church is trying to catch up, but shouldn’t we have been in the lead?