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Why Should We Care for Our Environment? - A Theological Reflection Ants and Acacias - Genesis 1

by Rev. James Pat Watkins, SEJ UMW Green Team Member

The first point of this chapter is that God is the creator of all things.  Humans are pretty smart.  But we cannot make things out of nothing.  We can clone a sheep, but we have to have a sheep to start with.  We cannot create a sheep out of nothing.  Only God can do that.  Everything that is in existence was created by God’s word and God’s spirit.  The sun, the moon, the stars, in all their splendor, cannot create.  Even though every living thing has the power to reproduce, we do not have the power to create something out of nothing.  God is the creator of all things.  We live in a God-made world.

Second, creation is responsive to God.  Creation does what God tells it to do.  The earth is invited to bring forth vegetation, and it does, but not until God speaks.  The waters are invited to bring forth swarms of living creatures and they do, but not until God speaks.  The sun is invited to rule the day and the moon the night, and they do, but not until God speaks.  Humans are given the responsibility of having dominion over all of creation, but not until God invites us to do so.

In the days in which the Old Testament was written, a king was said to have dominion over his people, but that meant his first responsibility was to take care of the poor, the elderly, the orphans, and all those who didn’t get a fair chance at life.  That was the meaning of dominion.  As parents, you have dominion over your children.  You have the power of life and death over them, especially when they’re young, but you‘d never think of killing them.  Dominion does not mean domination.  Dominion does not include killing.  It involves caring for life and especially caring for life that is struggling in some way.  I can’t imagine God creating something and then inviting us to destroy it.  Our role is that of a caretaker.  We rule creation as God rules, out of a sense of love and compassion.

Third, creation is orderly and structured for a purpose.  God takes chaos and forms it into orderliness.  This is orderly, believe it or not.  Everything has its place and everything is related to everything else.  All creatures are dependent upon each other.  In South America there is a tree called an Acacia.  It has really big thorns on it in which ants like to live.  Its nectar is sweet so the ants can get some sugar.  And its leaf tips have pods full of oils and proteins that ants need.  These acacia trees give ants a home and give them complete nutrition.  In return the ants defend the tree against invaders.  If other insects or even large animals, like deer or cattle or humans come to harm the tree, the ants will swarm on the invader and sting it and run it off.  These trees live in the rain forest.  Consequently, competition from vines and other vegetation can be a problem, so the ants cut off invading plants that might threaten their home.  They keep other plants from growing near the base of the Acacia so the Acacia can have plenty of moisture, nutrients, and light.  What’s even more amazing is that when ecologists remove the ants from the Acacias, the Acacias die.  And when we cut down the Acacias, the ants die.  These two seemingly unrelated creatures are totally and 100% dependent on each other for their very survival.  Why?  I have no idea.  They just know that they depend on each other for life.  Why?  Because it works.  Because that’s how God made it.  I could tell you a hundred more stories just like this one.  God’s creation is orderly.  All parts are related to all other parts.  When one part suffers, it has ripple effects throughout the rest of creation.  As author Larry Rasmussen puts it, “All the createds are relateds.”  We live in an orderly creation, ordered by God because it works.  God did not invite us to dis-order creation.  God invited us to take care of creation, to preserve order.

Fourth, creation is very good.  In fact God called it good five times before humanity was created.  Remember that.  For me that goodness is beauty and peace.  Creation didn’t arise from a struggle between good and evil.  There was no battle or conflict.  Creation came as a result of God’s divine voice.  God created out of a sense of joy and shares an intimate relationship with all the creatures.  That’s grace!  Violence is an intrusion into God’s joyous, beautiful earth.  God didn’t create it to be violent.  We live in a peaceful and beautiful creation, full of God’s grace wherever we look, a creation that is very, very good.

Fifth, creation is home to all of God’s creatures, not just some of us.  In fact, God created humans on day six, the same day in which God created the land animals.  God didn’t give us a special day.  God didn’t bless just us; God blessed all creatures.  We all share the same house.  We were all given the same food to eat, according to that first creation account, which was a vegetarian diet by the way.  We live on a planet that we must share with all of God’s creatures.  Why?  Because that’s how God made it.

Calvin DeWitt has some fairly harsh words for Christians who don’t understand this point very well.  He says, “Honoring the Creator in word, they destroy God’s works in deed.  Praising God from whom all blessings flow, they diminish and destroy God’s creatures here below.  The pieces of this puzzle do not fit!  One piece says, ‘We honor the Great Master!’  The other piece says, ‘We despise his great masterpieces!’” 

Sixth, creation culminated not in the creation of humankind.  Creation was made complete by the Sabbath.  The climax of the story is the seventh day, not the sixth.  The seventh day says, among other things, that creation does not depend on us.  We can take a day of rest and the world will not fall apart.  It keeps us from getting too big for our britches.  God was confident enough in his work to rest.  We can be confident enough in God to take a Sabbath ourselves, to give creation back to God.  We live on an earth not of our own making, one that has been blessed by God and one that belongs to God.

God is an artist.  Only an artist could create a sunset.  An engineer or a scientist could never make such beauty.  If we have a desire to know God, to be in relationship with this divine artist, then we are obligated to know something about God’s masterpiece.  We walk into a museum, see a painting, and exclaim, “Look, there is a Rembrandt.”  We identify the art with the artist, with its creator.  It is exactly the same with God.  In order to know God fully, we have to know God’s creation.  If you want to know anything about Rembrandt, you have to study his art.  Rembrandt didn’t paint pictures so they could be destroyed.  And neither did God.

My prayer for you is that you would open your eyes and gaze at the most beautiful forest you have ever seen.  Stare at a sunrise with your mouth hanging open.  Examine an orchid and allow its beauty to take your breath.  Stand in the middle of the Redwood Forest and realize the majesty of a cathedral that God built.  And then realize that you are just as beautiful a part of God’s creation as anything else.  Allow yourself to rediscover God the Creator who created an inner beauty in each and every one of you and also an inner beauty in every other part of the entire universe.  Amen.

Date posted: Jun 22, 2005