‘God in his love for us lent us this planet’, so goes the opening line of Fred Pratt Green’s hymn (StF 727). In the opening chapter of the book of Genesis God calls upon his newly created human beings to subdue the earth and have dominion over the living creatures (Genesis 1:28). As humans we have been given the responsibility to bring nature ‘under control’; to have authority over it. It’s an ancient view of the world that allows us to see our role as farmers, herdsmen and gardeners. To work with the land, the plant life and the creatures so that we can have somewhere to live, to be safe and to be fed. There is a simple beauty about the way humanity and nature are called to work together in harmony.
But we have grown as a people. We have taken more than we need and we have ravaged the earth for the sake of our own luxurious living. And some have even taken these words from Genesis to justify the destruction we have wrought upon our planet. They have understood the words ‘subdue’ and ‘dominion’ in their harshest sense. To overcome with force, to actively and powerfully control, to bend to one’s will. We are now at crisis point. We have drilled and cut into the earth, we have burnt it and cleared it of life-giving vegetation. Our over-reliance on fossil fuels in the past two hundred years has opened the way for irreversible climate change.
As we marched through the streets of Stroud one Friday morning alongside hundreds of school children, in solidarity with children across our planet, the message was clear. We must stop, we must rethink, we must change the way we live on this earth, and we must do it now. When God created his/her world s/he saw that ‘it was good’ – and it still is an amazingly beautiful place. At this time of year, we celebrate the wonderful gifts of harvest that have been produced. We consider the goodness of God’s creation. But we cannot simply celebrate what we have been given without responding to the needs of our brothers and sisters whose harvest fields are being turned into deserts, whose lands are being flooded and drowned, and whose water supply is melting away. We have a climate challenge on our hands. Our behaviour must change today.
I will always remember my brother and I being left alone as older teenagers while our parents took a well-deserved week’s holiday without us. Clearly our job was to look after the house and not have any wild parties while they were away. I can’t really remember being in big trouble, maybe my brother got it all as the older sibling; but mum and dad couldn’t have missed the broken coffee table, the ripped wallpaper, the wine stains on the carpet or the corkscrew scratchings in the oak dining table. We had failed in our duty of care. We had sought our own entertainment; we had thought we were the only people who mattered. Who cared that it wasn’t solely our home? Who cared that the neighbours were kept awake (either by the noise of the music or the fights on the front lawn, or the arrival of the police)?
Like the irresponsible hosts of a party in someone else’s house, humans are wrecking this planet and killing their brothers and sisters (and countless other creatures) in the process. God calls on us to do more, to repent (change the way we think), to seek God’s kingdom. To live the command of Christ to love one another. We must celebrate our harvest, for God is good. But as we do, we must seriously consider changing the way the world works so that there will be many more harvests to come, for our grandchildren and their grandchildren, but especially for the poorest communities on earth.
Are we ready to meet the climate change challenge?