The Earth is home to approximately 8 billion unique human beings, an estimated 320,000 plant species, and 20 quintillion animals (20 billion billion). 

The sheer diversity of life on the Earth is staggering. From the smallest frog in the world (measuring .27 inches), to the enormous blue whale; from tiny plants like Wolffia globosato (smaller than a grain of rice), to trees that blaze in the fall and provide sticky sweet syrup in the spring, and minuscule hummingbirds, some of which fly more than 4,000 miles a year. How can one planet possibly support all this life?  

The short answer is God. 

The long answer is God too. 

Our heavenly Father knew exactly what every living thing would need to survive and created the Earth with these needs in mind. He is not only a good God who provides well for his creatures, but spectacularly imaginative. Consider the following. 

Trees are a right-side up version of lungs: both functionally and visually. They “inhale” carbon dioxide, our waste, and “exhale” oxygen which we need to survive.

Flowers and flowering fruit trees need their pollen to be spread from plant to plant. Bees need the flowers’ nectar to make honey. As the winged insects gather that nectar, they fertilize plants and trees, something that mankind could never accomplish on the same scale. 

Our moon causes tidal movement (which prevents coastal waters from becoming stagnant, and redistributes both toxins and nutrients), reflects about 12% of the sun’s light (“the lesser light to rule the night,” Genesis 1:16), and stabilizes the earth via its own gravitational field.  

There are many similarly symbiotic relationships on our planet and though we tend to take them for granted, they are all quite miraculous. This should provoke several responses in us. 

Our Response and Our Responsibility
Perhaps first and foremost, our response to this wonder is worship. Far too often, we confine worship to corporate singing on Sunday mornings—but it is so much more. Worship is living in an attitude of adoration, gratitude, and humility and knowing who to thank. It’s recognizing that the One who created us and everything around us is beyond our imagination and our control. To live a lifestyle of worship is to choose wonder as a perpetual state of being. 

Theologian C. S. Lewis wrote about creation as a portal, or a threshold that beckons us into the presence of God. The beauty of a sunset, a mountain vista, a newborn baby, or a dahlia in full bloom all have the capacity to break down our defenses, crush our cynicism, and move us toward awe. Whether we’re offering them on Sunday mornings or during a weekend hike, our hallelujahs are essentially THANK YOUs, in all caps, followed by infinite exclamation points.  

But our response needs to go beyond gratitude and worship. It should compel  us to fulfill the mandate given to humanity in the Garden: “Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge! Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.” (Genesis 1:28, The Message) “Be responsible” or “take care of” accurately represents God’s call. This is quite different from what mankind has historically done. In This Here Flesh, author Cole Arthur Riles writes, 

In Genesis, when God gives Adam and Eve authority over creation, it is not permission to do whatever they want; it’s an honoring. It’s permission to be the mouth and hands of justice, protectors of every created thing. Over time, we’ve taken this role to look more like domination than cultivation. Instead of resting the land, we over harvest it, we exhaust it. Instead of marveling at the tree, we make plans for its utility. We are a people more concerned with ruling than loving (pp 133-134).

I’m convinced that God wants us to enjoy and revel in his creation: to paddle down scenic rivers, climb mountains, and eat lots of perfectly ripe peaches. I also believe that he wants us to respect, care for, and do everything in our power to heal the damage that mankind has done. That’s a daunting ask. So daunting that we might be tempted to give up before we even start. 

On a basic level, we need to pay attention to how our habits and lifestyles affect the planet and its inhabitants. Few of us are policy makers or industry titans, but that doesn’t mean we’re without power or agency. All of us can do something. There are small things, like composting (see below) and supporting regenerative agriculture. But perhaps more significantly, many of us may need to shift our paradigm. 

We live in a capitalistic culture that encourages unreflective buying and creates consumers out of us. Every day we are bombarded with thousands of ads trying to seduce us to spend our hard earned money on stuff—much of which is poorly made by exploited workers. Before making your next non-essential purchase, consider if you truly need the item or if your buying is reflective of a deeper need (e.g., for beauty or comfort or to alleviate boredom). 

Consider how you might shift from being a consumer to being a creator and healer. If we are all made in God’s image, then we are also endowed with the ability to create and heal. Creating and healing should help us to become more grateful and less covetous; more responsible and less apathetic. 

Many years ago our family traveled to Colorado for a summer vacation. Friends generously allowed us to stay in their mountain home. This was pre-AirBnB so we saw no photos in advance and had no idea what to expect. When we turned into the development, our spirits soared. As we walked into their home, you could hear audible gasps. It remains one of the most beautiful homes we have ever stayed in. 

The great room lived up to its name. Twenty foot ceilings, soaring windows with mountain views, and a huge stone fireplace. There was a fully stocked kitchen with marble countertops, a custom dining room table, and king-sized beds. I cried. When it was time for us to leave, we took extra care and precaution to make sure that we followed all the owners’ instructions for closing up the house. Our gratitude motivated us to care for that home and respect the owners’ wishes. 

I think that’s God’s hope for how we view and treat the home he created for all of us. By respecting, protecting, and helping to heal the Earth, we not only obey our heavenly Father, we demonstrate our love for him.

Helpful resources:
Ms. Green’s column
Check out Wendell Berry’s books or Leah Kostamo’s Planted: A Story of Creation, Calling, and Community

On composting: Composting requires minimal effort and offers measurable results. According to the EPA, “food scraps and yard waste make up approximately 30% of what goes into landfills.” Composting not only reduces landfill waste, but also cuts down on methane production and enhances the soil. Many outside composting bins cost less than $100. (There are now small electric versions that work inside apartments and many cities offer curbside composting.)

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