“The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.” (Romans 8:19 NRSV)
It seems to me that we have come to a crisis in the life of the Church and of the world. For the Roman world, a similar crisis was met by the Christ event as the life, death and resurrection of Jesus released new energy and insights that sent an emerging Christianity around the planet. The parable of “the last judgement” in Matthew 25, for example, has inspired countless people with the realisation that the risen Christ can be seen in the faces of poor and disadvantaged people.
John 3:16, is of course, another seminal verse. A bible society representative once tried to interest me in a new bible translation, but: “for God so loved the people of the world…” negated any chance of a sale! “Cosmos” is a rich Greek word which, if we as the Church are going to have any part in solving the present crisis faced by our planetary ecosystem, must be given its widest and deepest meaning! Much of the Church has traditionally abandoned the world by preaching heavenly salvation in the life hereafter.
But the Bible itself contains rich veins of ecological gold, which have inspired many writers in the past century. A house group in my parish has, over some three years, studied life-changing books by Bruce Sanguin and Ross Smillie, who both parish ministers in the Uniting Church of Canada – parishes which can only be described as ecological, rather than as evangelical, liberal, traditional, post-modern… These two parishes, incidentally, have many members in young age groups.
Scientists tell us that the maximum diversity and richness of our planetary life in recent geological history, was reached in about AD 1700. Since then – as we all know – many species of life have become extinct, biodiversity has diminished, pollution has made many waterways unusable, ice is melting, sea level is rising, the climate has warmed and weather events have become more extreme, and so on.
For humanity – even in our own country – the rich are getting richer and the poor, poorer; world population has increased to a level probably unsustainable by using the planet’s natural resources. City dwellers take refuge in air-conditioned steel and glass sky scrapers, shopping malls and vehicles; the soil is largely covered by concrete and asphalt and it is only extreme storms that insist on being noticed! Governments are becoming increasingly nationalistic at the expense of the environment and of long-term consequences.
This is the stuff of the new crisis that threatens life and society as we know it. We need to re-establish contact with the earth on which we live and depend. We need to be more open to the pulse of nature – by listening to the plants in our gardens as rain breaks a drought, by marvelling at the old trees and deep soils in a bypassed pocket of bush, by standing on Mount Victoria in a Wellington southerly, by absorbing the accumulated wisdom of indigenous peoples and others who have lived close to the land or in marginal environments, and so on! We have much to learn from books such as A Sand Country Almanac by Aldo Leopold, set in mid-western USA and first published in 1949. Of particular importance to us in Aotearoa New Zealand is Geoff Park’s, Nga Uruora [the Groves of Life], Ecology and History in a New Zealand Landscape, published in 1995.
The spirit of the risen Christ who continued to teach the apostles and disciples in the early Church, is the same spirit of love that inspires the evolution of our planet. The challenge for Christians today in recognising and responding to the crisis facing our world is to see and join the Cosmic Christ in the life of natural ecosystems.