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Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rejoice!
By Rebekah Simon-Peter
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2010 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.
We have forgotten who we are.
Now the land is barren
And the waters are poisoned
And the air is polluted.
United Nations Environmental Sabbath Program
The Days of Creation
The story of Creation in Genesis thrills me. I love its majesty and intimacy. On the one hand, God called forth the entire creation through the spoken word. On the other hand, God surveyed it with delighted satisfaction and called it good. In simple but elegant poetry, Genesis 1:1-2:3 describes what the psalmist celebrated: "The earth is the LORD's and all that is in it, / the world, and those who live in it" (Psalm 24:1).
The word genesis, in Hebrew and Greek, means "beginnings." Beginnings refers not only to its placement in the Bible but the beginnings of heaven and earth itself. Even more important, Genesis describes the primary relationship between Creator and creation.
We can see that most especially in the first week of Creation. Over the course of six days, God created the entire naturalworld including humankind. It is a diverse but interdependent web of life.
On the first day, God created light and separated day from night. Interestingly, this was not the kind of light given off by sun, moon, or stars. They were not even created until several days later. This light is the very presence of God that makes all life possible. "God said, 'Let there be light'; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good" (Genesis 1:3-4a).
On the second day, God separated the waters above from the waters below by creating the sky. "God said, 'Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters'" (Genesis 1:6). In the ancient Near East worldview, this sky (or dome or "firmament") was thought to be a solid element that held the rains back from flooding the earth. It was of particular importance because water was the ancient symbol of primeval chaos, the very enemy of order. Mastery over water belonged to the Divine. In fact, Genesis opens with the image of "the spirit of God ... hovering over the waters" (Genesis 1:2, New International Version). The King James Version emphasizes the immensity of this chaos by pointing out that "darkness was upon the face of the deep" (Genesis 1:2). If light equals life, then this chaos was a state deeply devoid of life or order; but God's creative speech tamed and transformed the chaos.
On the third day, God separated dry ground from the gathered seas. The land then produced seed-bearing plants and fruit-bearing trees. "God said, 'Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear'" (Genesis 1:9). Having separated the waters above from the waters below and containing the chaotic seas, God then called forth a wild profusion of trees, flowers, grasses, fruits, and vegetables. The dark, deep, watery chaos was transformed into a verdant scene bursting with self-replicating life. "And God saw that it was good" (Genesis 1:12).
On the fourth day, God sparkled the heavens with the sun, moon, and stars. Here is light that we can relate to. These luminaries not only give light and separate the day from the night, but they act as "signs to mark seasons and days and years" (Genesis 1:14, NIV). God's artistry was growing increasingly beautiful, increasingly complex. "And God saw that it was good" (Genesis 1:18).
On the fifth day, God caused the seas to swell and swim with oceanic life and the skies to fill with the winged songs of birds. "Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky" (Genesis 1:20). The self-replicating nature of creation expanded. It was not just vegetation that reproduced, but fish and birds as well. This was a fertile world indeed, one that was meant to produce and reproduce—life abundant! "Be fruitful and multiply," God commanded the fish, "and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth" (Genesis 1:22); and "God saw that it was good" (Genesis 1:21), just as we do.
On the first part of the sixth day, God spoke and filled the land with animals. "'Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.' And it was so" (Genesis 1:24). Throughout these six days of Creation, God spoke into being a wondrous web of life. Out of chaos, God created light and dark, day and night, sky and earth, precipitation and flowing waters, seas and land, plants and trees, seeds and fruit, fish and birds, sun and moon and stars, daily and seasonal rhythms, and animals and their young. All of it was punctuated by the joyous refrain: "And God saw that it was good" (Genesis 1:12, 18, 21, 25).
However, the creation was not proclaimed "very good" until God created humans. In an act of divine delegation, God created male and female in God's own image. Then God blessed and directed them with these commands: "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth" (Genesis 1:28). We are co-creators with God; we are to rule over this harmonious order for the good of all creation.
The fruitfulness of creation was complete and so was God's joy: "God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good" (Genesis 1:31). One can imagine God's vibrant delight and satisfaction with this beauteous, harmonious, self-replicating creation.
Finally, on the seventh day, a number signifying wholeness and completion, God rested. Like an artist satisfied that a masterpiece is complete, God blessed and hallowed the day. All was well.
The Grief of God
Some five chapters later, however, the scene is radically different. God was in despair. Like a lover betrayed, the Creator had become disillusioned with the creation. It was not the trees or fish or sky causing problems, though; it was humanity. Adam and Eve had disobeyed God and eaten of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. God cast them out of the garden of Eden with just the clothes on their backs. Later jealousy and murder entered the scene when Cain killed his brother Abel. Strife, ego, and pride were not far behind.
By Chapter 6 of Genesis, God is fed up. The earth was filled with violence, and every inclination of the human heart was evil. God was grieved to have made us at all! So with a pained heart, God made a drastic decision: to be done with humanity and, by default, with the rest of creation. Human beings are so intimately interconnected with the rest of creation that we cannot exist apart from each other. The health and wholeness of one depends upon the integrity of the other. Humans had sinned not only against God but against the creation. As a result, the creation itself was corrupted.
In a terrifying move, God set about unmaking what had been made and allowed the created order to revert to chaos. Water, God's opponent, was let loose. For forty days and forty nights, God caused it to rain. It was a non-stop, torrential deluge of water: a flood such as the earth had never seen before. However, before putting an end to it all, God made a covenant with the one person who still had integrity: Noah. "Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation; Noah walked with God" (Genesis 6:9).
God instructed him to build a large boat of cypress wood that would survive the coming chaos. "But I will establish my covenant with you," God said to Noah, "and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons' wives with you. And of every living thing, of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female" (Genesis 6:18-19). Then God shut them in the ark that Noah had built and proceeded to decreate.
The Process of De-creation
Remember that on the first day God created light and separated day from night. In the midst of this deluge, though, day and night became practically indistinguishable. Light was blotted out. While the moon, sun, and stars had not stopped shining, there was so much rain that the light could hardly be seen. Light as a precursor to life was gone as well. Without light, the interdependent web of life started to unravel.
On the second day, God tamed chaos by creating sky, separating the waters above it from the waters beneath it. However, in this nonstop torrent, the sky all but disappeared. "On that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth" from beneath and the "floodgates of the heavens" above were "opened" (Genesis 7:11, NIV). With water flowing from every direction, the horizon between sky and earth was effectively erased.
God separated the land from the seas so that dry ground might appear and vegetation grow on the third day. However, the Flood submerged everything—from the lowest valleys to the highest peaks. Not one blade of grass was visible. Not one treetop broke through the water. Not one mountain crest pierced the seas. For 150 days, earth itself was submerged. In fact, it would be more than a year after the Flood began that dry land would reappear. Chaos was returning.
On the fourth day, God created the sun, moon, and stars to guide the seasons; but even the seasons were undone in that year of de-creation. There was no longer any distinction between "seedtime and harvest, / cold and heat, / summer and winter" (Genesis 8:22, NIV). It was just one waterlogged day after another in this time of submersion and survival. Without seasons, the ordering of life was disrupted.
Remember the fifth and sixth days? That was when God filled the waters with living creatures, the skies with great winged birds, and the land with animals and human beings. Practically all that biodiversity was wiped out by the Flood. With no place to nest and no vegetation to eat, even birds will have died off. Perhaps the fish survived, but even they would have been affected by the absence of light.
All but eight humans and the pairs of reproducing creatures were drowned. The web of life was in tatters. God's artistry was unmade. Chaos had won.
After 150 days, though, something astonishing happened. God repented. God turned from de-creation to reconciliation. Just as in the beginning, when "a wind from God swept over the face of the waters" (Genesis 1:2), God made a "wind blow over the earth" (Genesis 8:1) so that the waters subsided. "Never again!" God declared within his heart. "Never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done" (Genesis 8:21, NIV).
Later God established a covenant with Noah, his descendants, and "every living creature" with him: "Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth" (Genesis 9:11, NIV). The rainbow is God's sign to all creation of this eternal promise; and the rainbow is with us still, a sign that God's covenant with creation is still in operation.
Tragically, while God's promises to us have been kept, humans are now doing the very things God repented of. After the Flood, God reaffirmed the goodness of creation—in spite of human sin—and reestablished order over chaos; but chaos is reasserting itself. The trees, fish, and sky are not causing problems; humanity is, for we are unmaking and decreating what God called good. As the National Council of Churches letter to church and society declares, "We have become un-Creators."
Un-Creators? This is a strong word, especially for those of us who love God with all our hearts, minds, and souls, and our neighbors as ourselves. However, the evidence shows that through our sheer numbers and unsustainable ways of living, human beings are now overriding the delicate balances of the natural world.
When the words of Genesis were committed to parchment, perhaps 50 million people filled the earth. Now, nearly 7 billion people fill the earth. By 2050, it is estimated that more than nine billion people will fill the earth. Yes, we have been fruitful and multiplied and filled the earth—so much so that some scientists think we have reached the earth's carrying capacity. The earth, they say, simply cannot sustain this many people without her systems crashing. Surely the poor among us will suffer the most.
Signs of this are already evident. Not only is our fruitfulness harming the earth that sustains us; but many of us simply do not have enough water, food, shelter, clothing, or work to sustain meaningful lives. "About half [of the world's population] live in poverty and at least one fifth are severely undernourished. The rest live out their lives in comparative comfort and health."
If more than 50 percent of us battle for enough, the rest of us face another problem: over-consumption. Not only do we face obesity, we are depleting the earth's limited natural resources. As we consume, we leave behind an increasingly polluted planet in our wake. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, water and air pollution are two of the four most damaging consequences of over-consumption. One look at the trash that now washes up on beaches—including plastic bags, plastic bottles, tires, and fast-food containers—is dark affirmation of this. The oceans have become our dumping grounds.
The human population is growing exponentially and with it our ecological "footprint" on the earth. We continue to cultivate land on which to grow food, build homes, extract minerals, manufacture products, construct stores, and multiply cities. The impact on the rest of God's creation is like an ecological "Twilight Zone."
"Life itself is vanishing," reports the Species Alliance. "All over the world, animal and plant species are disappearing at an unprecedented and alarming rate." This is not the Rapture; this is the largest mass extinction since the age of the dinosaurs. Biologists predict that fully half of all species on earth may be gone within the next 50 to 100 years.
These numbers leave us in shock. Disappearing species include one quarter of all mammals and one in eight birds. In addition, bees, which pollinate one third of all crops and are integral to our way of life, are dying off. One third of bee colonies in the United States and the United Kingdom have collapsed, even as the collapse is spreading to other countries. At the same time, bat colonies in the Northeast United States are experiencing a similar decline due to "white nose syndrome." Voracious predators, bats are integral to healthy ecosystems since they eat insects, moths, and beetles.
Phytoplankton, a microscopic species at the bottom of the ocean's food chain, is feeling the heat from global warming. While healthy marine life—including krill, fish, and whales— depend upon healthy phytoplankton, their populations are declining with global warming.
God said to Noah about the animals he was rescuing, "Keep them alive" (Genesis 6:20). Under our watch, however, the earth's bio-diversity is vanishing. God commanded Noah to save species; we seem to be throwing them out of the ark.
Our over-consumption seems to have another grave effect: global warming. Carbon dioxide is one of the main contributors to global warming; and as of 2002, 40 percent of US carbon dioxide emissions come from burning fossil fuels. This gas traps heat in the earth's atmosphere, causing the earth's temperature to rise.
While pockets of debate still linger on the role of human-caused global warming, the majority of scientists agree. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an international group of leading scientists, evaluates all the research done on global warming. In its 2007 report, the IPCC said it is more than 90 percent certain that human activity is causing global warming. Their "view has been supported by the world's leading senior scientists, including the majority of living Nobel Prize winners in the sciences." Even scientist Wallace S. Broecker, who coined the term global warming but is not entirely convinced of human contributions to it, warns, "We dare not sit back and do nothing ... [while we] wait for more information."
The earth's temperature has already risen "an average of 0.5 to 1.1 degrees Fahrenheit" over the last 100 years. That does not seem like much. In fact, you may live in a part of the world where that change would be welcome. Yet, one degree of warming is already wreaking havoc. Major Antarctic ice sheets are breaking up, 90 percent of the world's largest glaciers are melting, and ocean levels are rising appreciably. As ocean levels rise, coast lines are affected. At least one Inuit village along the Alaskan coast has already relocated. New sand is being hauled in to rebuild Florida beaches as ocean levels rise. As frozen expanses melt, waters are being let loose. Are we seeing a return of the primeval chaos?
If we continue burning fossil fuels at our current rate, scientists foresee a potential rise of six degrees Celsius in the next century. National Geographic advises that "six degrees could change the world." The impact would range from an ice-free Arctic to a dried-up Amazon rainforest to submerged coastal cities. These changes would devastate life on earth.
Excerpted from Green Church by Rebekah Simon-Peter. Copyright © 2010 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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