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Holy Everything: Our responsibility to Earth? To keep, guard and preserve it

October 29, 2018 GMT

God believes in the deep and exceeding goodness of creation and invites us to do the same. One way we can honor the profound splendor of the cosmos is by caring about it and advocating for it in intentional ways.

A special report was released earlier this month by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The report outlined the serious consequences of climate change that are already being experienced. As described in the frequently asked questions guide that accompanied the document, “Climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies and the planet.”

The IPCC’s report makes clear that all people in all countries need to act immediately to limit the increase to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius).

As I was trying to wrap my mind around the report and its accompanying documents, I read a short allegorical story about climate change by Kate Marvel. It’s well worth a read: blogs.scientificamerican.com/hot-planet/slaying-the-climate-dragon.

The story is set in a magical kingdom and climate change is portrayed as dragons who become harder and harder to ignore. Marvel’s story is a helpful conversation partner to add to the mix as we seek to understand the severity of the changing climate.

As people of faith, what are our responsibilities during all this? How are faith and climate related? How is the Spirit calling us to respond to the cries of the planet? What resources, tools and skills do we need to follow Jesus into this changing world and climate?

These are questions not just for climate scientists but for us all. Avoidance of the topic and ignorance will get us nowhere. Ninety-one authors and review editors from 40 countries came together to create the IPCC report, and it was based on 6,000 scientific references. The climate is changing. It matters. There is still time to respond.

Following Jesus means we can courageously face the truth and keep going even when it’s hard.

We are at an important moment in which it will be imperative for people of faith to reaffirm our collective commitment to advocating for a more compassionate regard for the planet we inhabit. The Old Testament book of Genesis provides a framework to empower us to understand the gifts and responsibilities that come with being a human on Earth.

In Genesis, we encounter two powerful creation stories; each provides layers of depth and beauty. These are not scientific depictions of exactly what processes took place when the universe began. Instead, these chapters of God’s Word are true poetic gifts meant to enhance our understanding of the creativity and compassion of a God who chose to make creation possible. Wondrous!

The first creation story is described in Genesis, chapter 1. On each of the first six days, God adds something new to creation, and on each day, the Creator proclaims its goodness. On the sixth day, God says it’s not just good but very good. Genesis was first written in Hebrew; the Hebrew word for “very” is “mehode.” It means exceedingly, abundantly, and completely. Reading Genesis chapter 1 is an invitation to experience deep awe and gratitude for the universe and our planet.

In Genesis, chapter 2, verse 4, we encounter a second creation story. This one is magnificent, too. It’s here that we are invited to ponder the role of humans in the midst of creation. In Genesis 2:16, after God creates Adam and Eve, God surrounds them with a lush garden to “till and keep it.” The Hebrew word for “keep” is “shamar.” Shamar is a Hebrew word with many layers of meaning. Its synonyms include observe, guard, preserve, and regard.

When I hear about the seriousness of climate change, I am reminded of a God who trusts in our capacity to guard and preserve our planet. As humans, we are entrusted with the responsibility of shamar-ing the world around us.

The response that is required is multifaceted. It will require the collaboration of individuals, communities and countries. The private and public sector will both play a role in healing our earth. Our household choices will certainly continue to matter, but the responsibility of governments and businesses to change the tides of climate change cannot be understated.

We will all need courage — courage first to look at the reality before us and courage next to respond with haste. I do not doubt God’s eagerness to grant us all the tenacity and determination required.