Just over a week ago, we observed Earth Day. And just over a week from now, we will celebrate Mother’s Day. So it seems appropriate to explore our Biblical and theological call to honor our Mother Earth.
Even with no actual Biblical precept for calling the Earth our Mother, our scriptural history calls us to treat this beautiful planet with love, respect and honor. And now more than ever, we come to understand that loving our Mother Earth is fundamental to fulfilling our Biblical call to justice and compassion for the least among us. From the start we must understand that we are participating in the great story of the Earth, and not vice versa. Earth came first. Nature came first. Animals came first. We came last (Gen.1:1-2:3).
To be clear, the first chapters of Genesis actually contain two creation stories from different sources. And in the second story, the garden (“Eden,” meaning “delight”) is established, and then God forms the man (“Adham”) from the dust of earth (“Adhamah”) and breathes life into him. God brings the already created animals to the man, who gives them names. Adam is then put into the garden and given a partner, created from his rib. In both stories, the implication is clear: the man is the resident caretaker of Eden. He is not the owner.
It is important to clearly remember and understand this. Furthermore, in the second story, Adam is quite literally made from the Earth, so in a sense, Earth truly is his Mother.
It takes very little time for this story to go downhill: The second generation shortly brings woe to the family line, pitting nomadic herder Cain against his agrarian brother Abel. Eventually the human situation degrades to a time of serious violence and destruction, so as to cause God to decide to destroy the earth. However, this is not an ultimate end; it is more like a do-over, in that Noah is chosen by God to build a “rescue ship” of sorts, not for humans, but for the animals. Noah saves not only his family, but mating pairs of all the animals on earth. He shelters them, feeds and cares for them, and ultimately releases them to multiply and re-inhabit the earth. In short, his job was preserving biodiversity.
Through the life and personhood of Jesus, God takes a different angle in the ongoing effort to redeem the human experiment. Jesus is a God-descendant, and a God-self: a sign of immediate presence and unending love sent directly from Heaven to Earth. Images and stories of nature are predominant in his stories and teachings.
Jesus spends much of his time in nature; by the Sea of Galilee, in the small towns and countryside of Judea. He often seeks solitude in nature for prayer and meditation. Jesus also teaches the way of service and compassion. We are always to think of others. To love one another. Nearing the end of his ministry and his life, he tells a parable of goats and sheep, how they will be separated at a time of judgment, and the goats do not fare well in this telling.
The sheep, however, will reap rewards for their acts of compassion: giving food and water to the hungry and thirsty, clothing to the naked, welcome and shelter to the foreigner, care to the sick, and company to the prisoner. Consistently, the call is to care for those more needful of it.
World leaders are in agreement that the climate crisis will only make things much, much worse for the poor, the refugees, the sick, the racialized and disenfranchised. When we rescue our Mother Earth, we rescue ourselves. When our Mother Earth is allowed to flourish, we ourselves flourish as well.
Most importantly, we must change our relationship to Earth – we do not own her, we love and care for her, for she gives us our life. This year, for the first time, I saw Earth Day referred to as Mother Earth Day. Now, more than ever, it is crucial that we seek to truly love our Mother! And to understand that in doing so, we love and honor our Creator in powerful new ways.