Written by Rev. Dr. H. Daniel Zacharias
In a previously published essay1, Dr. Zacharias leads readers through a thought experiment. Today, we invite you to engage with this thought experiment as we reflect on Earth Day 2022.
Imagine yourself waking up one morning after hitting the snooze button a few times. You go about your morning as you usually do, but as you walk into your kitchen, you notice that the plant on your windowsill has completely died – totally brown and shrivelled, with no possibility of reviving. As you walk up to the plant in shock, your eyes are quickly drawn out the window — to see all of the grass totally gone, the trees dead and rotten. You walk out the door in shock, as do the rest of your neighbours. And then you notice the sound … of silence. No birds. No buzzing bugs. No local dogs barking. Panic sets in as all of humanity soon realizes that everything—every animal, every plant, all the way down to the microbes in the soil—everything is dead. All biotic life is gone, except for humans. Sadness and panic sets in, and inside of about a year, all of humanity has died of starvation.
Now let’s imagine a different scenario. Your morning alarm goes off again…but you aren’t there to hit the snooze button. The sun rises on a world, and every human being is gone.
These two scenarios, while apocalyptic and dystopian, reveal something important for us as we reflect on earth day today. In the first scenario, all of the living things that remained (in that case only humans) were doomed. But in the second scenario, all of the living things (with the exception of pets and the animals in zoos or rescue centres) were not doomed. In fact, most of the creation would flourish. Fish stocks would come back, the Rain Forest would slowly begin to restore its borders, the soil would begin to restore itself.
Here is the simple reality —
the earth has always cared more for us than we have been able to care for the earth.
Environmental advocates within the church frequently package their teaching and advocacy under the banner of “creation care.” This is, of course, not a bad thing. But our desire to do creation care needs to first be predicated on the reality of creation’s care for us. Our creation story in Genesis show that this design is purposeful — we are placed into a world in which we are utterly reliant upon God for our breath (Gen. 2:7) and upon the land for our sustenance (Gen. 1:11-12, 30). Environmental stewardship and creation care needs to start with a recognition of relationships and partnerships that we are born into—created into. And these relationships are ones of reliance upon the non-human aspects within the community of creation of which we are a part. Our attitude and our actions should always be born of grateful reciprocity to Creator and to creation. We are the needy ones, with Creator and creation continuously giving to us.
Perhaps you might be able to understand why Indigenous peoples in many parts of the world talk about Mother Earth. This description reminds us that we are in a deeply intimate relationship with the land that sustains us — a relationship that we are endlessly reliant on for life. And it is a reminder that we ought to strive to treat the earth with love and care born of reciprocity and gratefulness. To seek the entire community of creation’s flourishing.
So let’s start by changing the way we think and speak about the earth, so that our language reflects the reality: we are in a dependent relationship upon the living God and the creational community that God has created and placed us in. And perhaps once we think and speak in different ways, our choices and the work of our hands will follow suit. Choices that can change the trajectory that we are on, so that we work towards the flourishing of the entire community of creation, instead of viewing creation only as a resource for human flourishing.
1 H. Daniel Zacharias, “The Land Takes Care of Us: Recovering Creator’s Relational Design,” in The Land: Majority World and Minoritized Theologies of Land, ed. K. K. Yeo and Gene L. Green (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2020), 69–97.
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Danny completed his PhD in New Testament studies through the University of Aberdeen at Highland Theological College, and is a graduate of Acadia Divinity College (ADC), with both his Master of Divinity and Master of Arts (Theology). Previous to this, Danny resided in Winnipeg where he earned his Bachelor of Arts at Providence College. Danny also carries administrative responsibilities relating to distance education and the Hayward lectures. In addition to his role at ADC, Danny is a faculty member of the NAIITS Learning Community.
More than any of these achievements, Danny is most proud to call Maria his wife, Lex, Jack, and Hudson his sons, and Ella-Rose his little princess.
Danny teaches in the area of New Testament and Advanced Greek.