The Earth is the LORD’s, and all that is in it; the world, and those who live in it.
Today is Earth Day—a day we have set aside for reflection on the beauty and goodness of Creation, and as a reminder of humanity’s continuing obligation for the stewardship of the natural world. It is fitting that we should pause our busy lives from time to time, to consider whether we are behaving in ways that honor Creation, and therefore the Creator, or in ways that abuse, degrade and diminish the God-given ecosystems upon which our lives and well-being depend. It’s fine to call one day a year “Earth Day,” but the reality is that for humans and the rest of our biotic community, every day is Earth Day.
While some Christians have very publicly expressed indifference and even contempt for environmentalism and the Creation Care movement (often linking their opinions with pessimistic doomsday apocalyptic eschatologies) such people stand well outside the historic Christian worldview. Respect for Creation, and a profound awareness of our obligation to act as stewards of God’s natural gifts, has been deeply embedded in our tradition from its beginning. It is unsurprising that some of the leading voices in Christian environmentalism are Methodists (for example, Bill McKibben, Howard Snyder, and Matthew and Nancy Sleeth).
John Wesley taught that God is intimately present in Creation, sustaining the earth itself as if by holding it “in the hollow of his hand.” In the Wesleyan view, God cares for and loves all of Creation. There is therefore no part of God’s Creation that we can abuse or disrespect, without likewise insulting or denying our Creator. “God is in all things,” Wesley insisted, and to see anything as separate from God is “a kind of practical atheism.” When we are informed by the truth that God is in all things, then we cannot simultaneously be believers and willfully abuse Creation.
In his sermon “The Good Steward” Wesley proclaimed, “We are not at liberty to use what he has lodged in our hands as we please, but as he pleases, who alone is the possessor of heaven and earth, and the Lord of every creature.” Because every created thing belongs ultimately to God, we are merely tenants, entrusted with temporary possession of God’s goods and accountable to God for our use of them. Just as we would not willfully trash or destroy things loaned to us, Wesley argued, neither do we have the liberty to abuse God’s creation.
So today, as we set our minds on the dangers our wasteful hyper-consumptive culture has created for the precious God-given ecological balance that sustains and nourishes us, let us keep in mind Wesley’s persistent call that we act as prudent stewards and lead lives of voluntary simplicity, treading lightly and lovingly on our home–the good Earth God has entrusted to our care. And let us also not neglect to offer praise and thanksgiving to the Creator, for this beautiful and amazing planet.
Happy Earth Day!