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(You hear that expression from time to time, "if you love this planet"; but really, how can we love a planet? It's a rock, and saying "I love a rock," -- no matter how beautiful it may be -- can get into a weird area really fast. But in this portion, we see how love does figure in the picture.)
What's the difference between “using and enjoying” and destroying? Both involve consuming something, but to destroy something is to consume it so it can never be restored. We are only to use and enjoy the rest of Creation to the extent that we can replenish it. Does not pollution result from our using creation beyond our ability to replenish?
That’s where love comes in.
If you love me, keep my commandments.
And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever;
-- John 14:15-16
People are Destroyers by nature: we burn, we kill, we pluck things in their prime; that's why we have to be commanded to replenish what we use of the earth. God does not command us to do things that come to us naturally, and that includes the First Great Assignment. It’s part of the base animal “fight or flight” response in which we say, “I need to protect myself (or feed my family or get shelter), and no matter how many fish and birds are killed, I’m going to get it.” The underlying theme of God’s commandments is, “trust Me and no one else to meet your needs.” Failing to do that is the root of all sin.
Having dominion over the earth is not in our nature, which is why it’s so hard to comprehend. We can be overwhelmed by the power of natural disasters and the size and ferocity of the beasts of the earth are overwhelming to us. God sees it otherwise. So it’s not a question of whether we love the earth: if we love Jesus, we will take care of the earth; as that relationship builds, it’s inevitable that our behavior will change. Consider Zacchaeus, the little tax collector described in Luke 19, who climbed a tree so he could get a better look at Jesus. Jesus invited Himself over for dinner, and by the time they reached Zacchaeus’ place, Luke tells us the tax collector, speaking of his renewed life in the present tense, had already repented.[i]
Notice, too, that Jesus spotted Zacchaeus because Zacchaeus had made the effort to see Jesus directly. When we do the same, God honors that commitment by bringing the transformation we need.
As with Zacchaeus, Jesus does not stand over us, pointing out our every sin. He did not do that with the woman taken in adultery; He did not go into deep thought about what sin Lazarus might have committed, that he would have fallen ill and died; He flat-out rejected the idea that either the man who had been blind since birth or his parents had committed some terrible sin; for Jesus, it's all about glorifying God, not revisiting sin.
And so it is in our relationship with Him and our impact on His creation. When we receive Jesus joyfully, as Zacchaeus did, we know what we've done wrong, and we're already moving in the right direction.
In other words, our current environmental crisis has less to do with SUVs or GHGs or CACs than it has to do with GOD.
In our repentance, we must move from being destroyers to being replenishers, but we can’t do that without changing our entire mindset. “Be not conformed to the world,” the Apostle Paul writes, “but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind ….” (Romans 12:2[ii]) Being conformed to the world means adopting solutions and attitudes that seem right to us or follow another person’s particular point of view or a consensus of like-minded individuals. Only when we allow ourselves to be led by God do we truly change our thinking. We pray, “how can we do this without destroying what You have created?” and then wait on the answer. He will show us: it may seem like a less dynamic or immediate response to the situation, but when we consult with God, the answer is both the right answer and the timely one.
[i] Zacchaeus is one of my favorite characters in the Bible. We meet him as Jesus is passing through Jericho en route to Jerusalem. Z. is a crooked tax collector who is so short, he has to climb a tree in order to get a look at Jesus. And Jesus … looked up and saw him and said unto him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for today I must abide at thy house. And he … received Him joyfully … and said “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.” I think it’s significant that Zacchaeus is speaking in the present tense, despite his well-earned reputation for ripping people off. In the time between Jesus’ spotting him up the tree and arriving at his house for dinner, Zacchaeus has already repented and changed his whole way of thinking and living.
[ii] Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:2)