The earth is the Lord's and everything in it

LDCF member Cllr. Nigel Jones gives some reflections on God, humanity and the environment.

Since 2004, I have preached a few sermons on the link between the things of the spirit and our environment. In my preparation for these, I have discovered how bound together are our relationships with God and with the Earth. It also affects our understanding of where and how God is to be found, so that this is not only a matter of obeying commandments to look after the Earth, but to realise that God can be found through our relationships between humans and between us and the Earth.

Christians are familiar with St. Francis of Assisi, whose daily living included a connection with nature as a means to be with God; his respect for the natural world has caused many to call him the patron saint of Ecologists. Another less well-known advocate of the same thinking was Hildegard of Bingen; in the 12th century she wrote of Christ: “The Word is living, being, spirit, all verdant greening, all creativity. This Word manifests itself in every creature.” It is thought she was the first to use the word “viriditas” (greening power) to describe what she called the animating life force manifest in the natural world. While this is not the same as those in the ‘new age’ movement who advocate worship of nature, it does help us to see that God can be found through nature and therefore nature requires our great respect. We should also remember that humans are part of nature and as Hildegard wrote “without it we cannot survive”.

Christian Aid and Tear Fund and Islamic Relief have all now said that our problems of poverty are closely linked to our environmental crisis. In 1992, the World Council of Churches issued a statement declaring the peril we face on planet Earth if we do not change our ways; importantly it said that it was not simply an environmental issue, but a matter of social justice and spirituality.

In 1991, a UN conference called for a new ethic for sustainable living: “Establishment of this ethic needs the support of the world’s religions, because they have spoken for centuries about the individual’s duty of care for fellow humans and for divine creation.”(Caring for the Earth; a strategy for sustainable living; Switzerland:Gland 1991) Sir Ghillean Prance, world-renowned ecologist and a worshipping Christian identified many years ago that a few recent Christian missionaries had insisted on a ‘western’ style capitalist approach to the use of the Earth as part of their evangelism among primitive tribes and the consequence was disastrous. He also linked it to a ‘bold form of Christianity’ that to find God, everyone had to do the same as us. He wrote “Christ did not come only to rescue a few believers in him from this world. He came to renew creation, to restore humanity and nature to full communion with God.” (‘The Earth under threat; a Christian perspective’, Wild Goose publications 1996)

To help you reflect on these things, I will end with some Bible passages which are often not given the attention they deserve:-

Colossians 1 - Christ is the image of the invisible God; Christ is the primacy over all creation. In Christ everything in heaven and on earth was created; the whole universe has been created through Christ and for Christ; for in Christ, God in all fullness chose to dwell and through Christ to reconcile all things to God, making peace through the shedding of blood on the cross—ALL things, whether on earth or in heaven

Romans 1 - All that can be known of God lies plain before their eyes; indeed God has disclosed it to them. Ever since the world began God’s invisible attributes, that is to say God’s everlasting power and deity have been visible to the eye of reason in the things God has made. 

Genesis 9 - Whenever the rainbow appears in the cloud, I shall see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and living creatures of EVERY kind on earth. 

Jeremiah 12 - How long must the country lie parched and all its green grass wither? No birds and beasts are left, because its people are so wicked because they say ‘God does not see what we are doing’. 

Hosea 4 - There is no good faith or loyalty, no acknowledgement of God in the land. Therefore the land will be desolate and all who live in it will languish with the wild beasts and the birds of the air; even the fish will vanish from the sea. 

Isaiah 24 - The earth itself is desecrated by those who live on it, for they have broken laws, disobeyed statutes and violated the everlasting covenant. 

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