Stewarding the gift of creation is humanity’s responsibility

Matters of FaithMay 21, 2014 

In a recent newspaper comic, two people were visited by creatures in a spaceship.

Their conversation was simple and yet profound, with the aliens saying to the surprised earthlings: “Remember, you’re from outer space, too!”

It comes as a gentle reminder that the Earth is barely dime-sized against the black sky of an immense creation. It serves as a comic reminder that, while our small orb of a home has its grand place, it also has its limitations.

A large-scale government-sponsored science report on the state of the world recently pointed to some of those limitations. According to the report, life as we know it is quickly coming up against the limitations of our planet. Somewhere between alarmist extremism and skeptic denial, we need to find ways to change what we can and adjust to what we can no longer change.

Both the comic and the report served to remind me of the God-given charge at the beginning of a biblical creation story. In it, humanity is charged with being fruitful, both filling and subduing the Earth. Humanity is asked to steward well the gift of creation for the sake of all creatures, not just for human need or desire.

We have not done our best. Our children and their children will face issues of adjustment and even survival on a scale not seen in millennia due largely to our short-sightedness.

When teaching kids about creation, I use a simple activity to point out one of Earth’s basic limitation. I asked the kids to hold their hands around a globe to show me how far out they thought our atmosphere of oxygen extended. Some held their hands a foot above the globe; some guessed just a few inches.

Imagine their surprise when they discovered that to illustrate the thickness of the Earth’s atmosphere above us, one simply needed to brush onto the globe a thin layer of varnish. How small, how fragile, how irreplaceable that tiny blanket is.

Gerhard E. Frost, a poet I treasure, wrote in “Seasons of a Lifetime” of the Earth’s cry: “Seldom in time has Earth’s cry been so plaintive; the rapist’s spirit so broad. Earth fears our greedy hearts and ruthless hands. When will we honor the Voice that says to subdue is not to plunder, but to woo?”

Kim Latterell is the bishop’s associate for the Southwestern Washington Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He can be reached at latterka@plu.edu.

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