The recent encyclical from Pope Francis is a call for Christians to be good stewards of creation. Climate change, the vast majority of scientists agree, is the result of our use of fossil fuels. The pope points out that our consumptive lifestyles also contribute to the groaning of creation. Not only are the poor disproportionately impacted; the future of our planet is at stake. We cannot be complacent.
Christian teachings have played a role in the fouling of creation. God’s words to Adam in Genesis 1:26 to have dominion over the earth have been understood to mean that humanity can use and abuse the earth’s resources for our own benefit and profit, without regard for others or the long-term implications. The Book of Revelation that claims that Jesus is coming soon and God will create a new earth has been interpreted to mean that we don’t need to take care of this one. Certainly Christians in developed nations have embraced consumerism in ways that contribute to the problem. The early church fathers would identify the deadly sin of greed as feeding our consumptive ways. And beneath greed is fear of not having enough.
My embrace of the pope’s wisdom does not mean that I embrace all the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. I do not. (I also do not embrace all the teachings of the United Methodist Church!) I don’t consider that I have all the answers or that you need to agree with me. My job is not to tell you what to think, but to invite you to think.
John Wesley understood that we are to bring reason (along with tradition and experience) to the study of scripture. I understand reason as including the sciences, as well as wisdom from other denominations and other faith traditions. (For example, Native American spirituality offers us another voice in the stewardship of creation for the well-being of future generations.)
Scripture invites us to ponder these issues deeply. In Genesis 2:15, God tells Adam to till and keep this glorious gift of creation. As a child, I heard those words as affirming the work of farmers. Now I know that those words are directed to all of us. To keep is to be a good steward of that which we have been entrusted. Over and over in the gospels, Jesus warns us about the dangers of money and possessions that own us rather than us owning them. Or, to put it another way, we are called to simplify our lives, our spending, our possessions in order to make more time for loving God and loving neighbor. Certainly how we care for the earth is one way of loving our neighbors.
Care of creation is a complex problem that requires complex solutions. It is an extremely difficult thing to consider changes to the ways we live our lives. No one person can do it all. But we all can do something. If we don’t, who will?
On the journey with you,