How Did We Forget Our First Charge to Protect the Earth? | Sojourners

How Did We Forget Our First Charge to Protect the Earth?

In my time studying at Columbia Theological Seminary, I’ve become convinced of a singular notion: We were created to participate in communion with the whole of creation. Humans are crafted from the same building blocks — carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen — that give life to all creation in our world.

This truth rests, tucked away, in the text of Genesis chapter 2:

4 This is the account of the heavens and the Earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the Earth and the heavens. 5 Now no shrub had yet appeared on the Earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the Earth and there was no one to work the ground, 6 but streams came up from the Earth and watered the whole surface of the ground. 7 Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. 15 [Then] The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

(Gen 2: 4-7 & 15, NRSV)

The creation account opens with a great deal of lack. There are no plants in the fields. There is no rain to fall on the land, nor workers to till the fields. This is where God’s work begins. God graciously creates life where there is need.

God forms the lands, the crops, the fields, and then creatures to fill all of creation. Where there was once no life, God opens Earth’s womb, bringing forth mammals and reptiles, birds and fish, amphibians, and vertebrates.

The story of creation could have ended here, but there was still lack.

So God’s work continues. This time, Earth and God give birth to a new creation together — humankind. This new creation was a combination of Earth and divinity mingled together as one. They bore the image and likeness of God and the Earth because both gave them life.

Their story begins with a lack, too. They are given the task of tilling, keeping, sustaining, and protecting the lands from which they were birthed.

As we look out over our world today, we still see the needs of our lands. We have forgotten our first charge, of keeping, sustaining, and protecting the Earth. We have failed to uphold our task to be good stewards for the whole of creation. We have forgotten whose we are, from what we have been made from, and for what we have been tasked.

The Earth around us is full of lack — lack that we have perpetuated and caused.

There is another old creation myth in the world, one that teaches that we are given these lands to use for our purposes without discretion or stewardship. A myth that tells us we can create lack after lack without any natural repercussions, promising that we can use Earth’s resources until they grow scarce, or run out entirely.

The absence of our care has brought disastrous results. Today, our land needs to produce at least 50 percent more food to feed the projected 9 billion people by 2050. Climate change could cut crop yield by more than 25 percent.  Already, 1-in-5 children die from lack of access to clean water.

While we look out over creation, we must earnestly ask ourselves how we can participate in communion with the lands surrounding us if there is no clean water to drink, food to eat, or creation in which to delight.

We have lost our way and have forgotten who we are, where we have come from, and what we are called to do.

When we think of the Eucharist, we may begin to remember. “This is my body,” Jesus said as he broke bread — bread crafted from the grains of the Earth, tilled by humankind, and produced by humankind. “This is my blood," he said as he poured wine — wine pressed from the fruits of the lands, tilled by humankind, and produced by humankind. It is with a deep intimacy that we reap the fruits of the Earth. It is in this intimacy that we remember where our bread and wine come from. Christ reminds us that both he and we are groundlings connected to all of creation.

Like these first groundlings in Genesis chapter 2, we are God’s groundlings — crafted from this dust of the Earth, made in God’s likeness, charged with tilling and keeping God’s lands. I pray we remember as we participate in this communion, that we are joined by the whole cosmos surrounding us.

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