Monday, September 25, 2017

When Christians understand that Jesus is the Saviour of the world, being environmentally conscious should not be an option. It is an imperative.

John 3:16 is arguably one of the most well-known and oft-quoted scripture passages.  For those who are still unfamiliar with it, Jesus says here that “for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might have eternal life.”  I don’t believe that most Christians have any issues with the latter part of this verse, because eternal life is our shared ‘end-game’, to use a current colloquialism. 

It is the first or former part which I believe is often overlooked and largely under-highlighted and emphasized.  God loves the world.  The Greek word used for ‘world’ is where English gets the word ‘cosmos’.  God doesn't just love humanity and humankind.  God loves the world and all it contains.  God does not just love human beings and humanity.  To not see this is to fall into the danger of dualism, where there is a great emphasis on the contrast and distinction between opposites, for e.g. darkness and light, black and white, and matter and spirit.  Mani, a third-century Persian believed that there were two sources of creation, one good and the other evil.  Man’s spirit, he believed, came from God, and his body was from the devil.  Because of this belief, man’s spirit or the spiritual nature of man was not only given way more emphasis, it was done so at the expense and detriment of the body.  Mani’s teachings were called Manichaeism, and has in the development of Christianity, been seen to be rather problematic largely due to its extreme dualism.  If we understand John 3:16 in the way that is not dualistic, it has to open up our minds to the truth that not only is the body not to be negated, but that the world as we know it needs to be saved as much as our spirit. 

While I am not advocating any form of extreme tree-hugging as Christians, I am in today’s reflection asking that as Christians, to see the need to treat mother earth with more care than we have been in recent years.  After all, there is ample evidence that this planet we call home has been experiencing the terrible effects of climate change.  Temperatures have risen and the incidents of life-threatening hurricanes bringing untold turmoil and upheaval in the lives of millions are becoming far too common.  Mother nature has been revealing her less docile and gentle side lately, and it is not a stretch of the imagination to say that we are partly to blame. 

We only need to take a leaf from St Paul’s letter to the Romans where he writes how not only we human beings, but the physical creation and our physical universe and order are ‘groaning’ as we all wait for the redemption by Christ.  It is by no means a stretch of the imagination to see that the physical world is as much a part of God’s plan for heaven as it is for us.

Knowing this serves to do a couple of things.  Firstly, it gives us great incentive to change from being users and consumers to being caretakers and stewards.  If this notion that every one of us who inhabits this planet is actually its caretaker and steward is offensive or deemed insulting in any way, it could indicate that we have nurtured a rather harmful and disquieting truth that we have developed within us a sense of unhealthy entitlement.  St Francis of Assisi’s well-known Canticle of the Sun, composed in the early 13th century saw him having such a great sense of love, reverence and respect for nature. 

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly is this – knowing that we should respect the environment requires of us Christians to not only have a proper relationship with God, but relate to the physical world differently.  There is a morality to the way that we relate to this planet.  There is much talk about how much of a carbon footprint we are leaving behind as we live out our lives, and this carbon footprint is intoxicating the world and the atmosphere.  Dumping toxic wastes into the sea and mindlessly using plastic that takes about 1000 years to decompose in landfills is wrong on a moral level.  A recent documentary I came across told of how a study of fish, shellfish and molluscs in places like Canada, USA and Indonesia revealed the presence of plastic and fibres, raising concerns of their adverse effects on human health.  Clearly, what we are throwing and casting onto the oceans are affecting our health and very existence.  We may be poisoning ourselves without realizing it.

It takes a universal change of mindset to want to act with a renewed purpose.  It probably starts from small things – like taking your own shopping bag to the market or grocery store and recycling where possible.  Our spiritual life is never one that is sustained by huge acts of Christian mindfulness.  Rather, it is one where we take small steps and make little changes to our lives.  At the end of the day, it is our souls that we are hoping to see saved.  Apart from leaving a carbon footprint as we live, we also ought to consider the Jesus footprint that follows our paths. 

If we truly believe that Christ came to save the world, those small steps that we take to save our souls need to be just as diligently applied to saving the world.  Migration from one country to another is an option when we are unhappy with what our country offers us.  As we only have one planet, our moving away from it is not an option at all.    

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