How Do We Treat the Things that God Made?
Updated: Dec 5, 2019
I spent several months teaching the first three chapters of the book of Genesis to a group of three to five-year-olds. By the end, I could ask the kids what God made and they could shout out all the answers.
"Da heavens and da erf!"
"Plants and trees!"
"Da moon and da stars and da sun."
These pre-schoolers had it down. They could tell me the names of the rivers in Eden and the two trees in the garden. And at the end of each lesson, I went around the circle and called out each child by name.
"Who made Levi?"
"And how do we treat the things that God made?"
"With dignity and respect, acknowledging that they bare the image of their creator!"
Okay, they didn't say that last one, but I think it was implied. Or at least, I know it was implied in my teaching. I didn't teach these little ones the story of the creation so they would have a head start in their apologetics wars later in life. I taught them the story of creation to try to impress upon them that we should love what God loves, and God loves what He makes. I want them to love each other better, seeing their friends as gift from God. As they grow, I want them to see people in the world around them as God's creations, worthy of love simply because of who created them. The poor, the angry, the hurt, and the displaced people of the world are still people that God made and loves.
I tend to teach the lessons I need. I believe in the power of repetition, and at some point, after asking a hundred times, "How do we treat the things that God made?" I became convicted.
We don't treat them nearly as well as we should.
As Christians, we believe that God created the heavens and the earth. We care deeply about this fact, and we will enter into long debates to defend that not only did God make everything, but He also made it all in exactly the way that we believe He made it. We will jump through any hoops necessary to continue to assert this belief. We demand that our beliefs be respected.
But we don't treat the earth like God made it. We don't treat the animals like God made them. We don't treat each other like the handiwork of God, crafted in love. Maybe our assertions of a literal creation would be received more graciously if our lives reflected that the creation we spend so much time defending matters to us.
I grew up in the 90s. I sat in school and learned about conservation, the 3 R's, and the preservation of the rain forest. My parents tolerated me when I parroted these values back to them, but without a lot of words being exchanged, I learned that caring for the earth was not going to be a priority in our home. As an adult, I learned that environmentalism wasn't only a non-priority in my home; it was a non-priority in a lot of Christian homes. It wasn't exactly a stated argument that we, as followers of Jesus, shouldn't care for the earth, but the overall concept was met with exasperation and subtle eye-rolling from most of the adults I respected.
I never examined this point of view; I simply carried on with it. Environmentalism felt a little beneath me for most of my life, and now I have bad habits. I drink from plastic disposable water bottles. I rarely recycle. I don't use canvas shopping bags. I still ask for plastic straws.
As an adult, I've witnessed how much my American Christianity has become entrenched with the Republican party. There were a few key issues that caused my parents, and consequently, myself to vote conservatively, and through the years, the rest of the Republican platform came to feel very Christian also, even though it probably shouldn't have. I didn't examine the platform on a topic by topic basis, questioning how Jesus would feel about each area of the law. The federal system doesn't allow us to vote on each topic, just on representatives who will do the voting for us. I simply picked my leaders based on the big, hot button issues I was told that I should care the most about, and then after picking my leaders, I adopted their beliefs, wholesale, as my own. I didn't have to do that last part, but it seemed to be what everyone around me was doing.
When I take the time to examine my faith - when I carefully consider my beliefs whether they are religious or political, a few things begin to feel obvious. Christians should love the poor, showing them the utmost compassion, and giving generously to all in need. Christians should care for the earth with awe and reverence as a precious gift given to us by a loving creator. Classically, we're bad at both of these things. And I know, you, dear reader, are the exception. Good for you. I believe you. But if each of us is the exception - if we are the ones who are truly loving the things God made, caring for the things He loved, saving the earth and loving broken people who are hard to love, then we have to start being a lot louder in our assertions that this is a Christian way to live. The message that we as Christians don't care about the earth or the people living in it has become our calling card as American Christians. If this representation isn't fair or true, then we need to change the perception by saying more and doing more.
I'm the first to admit that I have not been the exception to the rule. I have done as little as possible to care for the earth, at times even feeling proud of my laziness. My negligent behavior has not been rooted in ignorance, but in arrogance. You see, I had read Revelation. I knew how the world ended. It ended in God's judgment of the earth, not in a great environmental meltdown. I didn't have to care about the earth all that much because Jesus was returning, and God would make us a new heaven and a new earth. The earth didn't have to last for a few more millennia, it only had to last until the apocalypse, and we all knew that would be soon. Just like the apostle Paul, living 2000 years ago knew it would be soon. Remember, he was just as convinced that Jesus would return in his lifetime as we are that Jesus will return in ours. Paul thought he didn't have to fix slavery because our way of life would end so soon, and we justify not having to fix the earth for the same reasons.
I had not carefully examined my beliefs. But when I do, it's odd how much what is described in the book of Revelation sounds a lot like an environmental meltdown: People with festering sores, the sea life dying, the sun's heat growing more intense and burning people, rivers drying up, etc. What if the apocalypse we have read about in Revelation is the direct result of our ambivalence, and dare I say, antagonism, toward the things God has made?
We can't logically deny climate change as lunacy while holding to an end-times belief that describes the earth dying in the exact ways environmentalists predict it will.
For what it's worth, the impact of climate change will be the worst on "the least of these" the ones Jesus specifically asked us to care for. Perhaps you won't mind when the temperatures steadily climb higher and higher. You'll stay inside more and run your air conditioning. When snowstorms grow more intense, and forest fires spread more quickly, you'll have the technology you need to keep you safe. When water and food shortages grow, you will continue to have access to what you need. The "least of these" will not.
These are not future concerns, the poor are being impacted by environmental changes now. We don't feel it yet because our wealth protects us. According to Mercy Corps, "In the Democratic Republic of Congo, shifts in the timing and magnitude of rainfall undermine food production and increase competition for remaining arable land, contributing to ethnic tensions and conflict." Hunger is increasing worldwide. People are being displaced from their homes by natural disasters.
When we don't care for the Earth that God loves, we aren't caring for the people that God loves. We prioritize ourselves and our comfort, letting the poor suffer the consequences of our lack of love.
So, "Who made the poor?"
"And how do we treat the things God made?"
You tell me.
Amy Noel Green is a conference and keynote speaker. She is a writer and game designer who has received international press attention for her work on the video game about her son Joel, That Dragon, Cancer. Follow her at Facebook.com/AmyNoelGreen