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[ Is the planet trying to tell us something? ]

I have seen many quotes and some funny memes about how Covid-19, the lockdown and other parts of the current situation are the planet’s way of trying to tell us something.  George Monbiot, a writer known for his environmentalism, wrote in The Guardian that, “Covid-19 is nature’s wake-up call to complacent civilisation.”

Following his illness at the hands of Covid-19 the actor, Idris Elba, said in an interview:

“One of the upsides of this whole drama is that we are forced to think together as a race.  Our world has been taking a kicking. We have damaged our world and it’s no surprise that our world is reacting to the human race.  It is no surprise that a virus has been created that is going to slow us down, and ultimately make us think differently about our world and ourselves.

“For me, that’s a stand-out thing that is really obvious. This is almost like the world’s cry out. Like: ‘Hey, hey, hey – you are kicking me and what you’re doing is not good, so we will get rid of you.’

All this can be summed up by the Australian Weekend Sunrise presenter, Simon Reeve, who said, “The planet is trying to tell us something right now”.

As the quotes above make clear, many believe the planet is trying to tell us something.  This is not just with Covid-19, although that certainly heightens it, but with the floods, forest fires, locusts and all the things we have seen over the past year or so.  Throw in the climate change protests and it is easy to see that the current zeitgeist is with that way of thinking.  Is the planet trying to tell us something?

Some might be tempted to dismiss the idea that the planet could tell us something even if it wanted to.  The planet does not speak, as beautiful and wonderful as it is.  Any fault in the world is down to us.  Christians might be tempted to dismiss the idea that the planet might be trying to tell us something.  For some Christians, this would be too close to pantheism, the belief that identifies God with the universe.  Christianity holds that God created the universe and so the two are distinct.  In contrast to the planet trying to tell us something, therefore, maybe God is trying to tell us something?  Naturally, atheists would scoff at the idea that God would be trying to tell us something and, if consistent, that the planet could try to tell us something.

I think the answer is nuanced for several reasons.  First, God is always trying to tell us something.  Romans 1 holds that He speaks to us through creation and conscience, but we choose to supress that and turn away.  Supremely, He has spoken in His Son, Jesus Christ, as recorded in the Bible for us.  The current situation is one where God is continuing to reach out to us, if we have eyes to see, ears to listen and hearts that are open.

Second, although God is the creator and the planet is His creation it is not a static or voiceless planet.  God has given humanity stewardship over the planet to look after it and when we fail, it does not go well for us.  In this way, we can say the planet is trying to tell us something.  The Bible commentator, Bruce Waltke, says, ‘The ecology of the earth is partly dependent on human morality (Gen. 4:12; 6:7; Lev. 26; Deut. 11:13-17; 28; Joel 1-2).’  He is correct and we see this all through Scripture.

Creation and the curse

In the first book of the Bible, Genesis, God created the world and it was very good.  Soon, however, things turned out badly as Adam and Eve rebelled against God.  The punishment given to Adam was to do with his particular area of work.  We read in Genesis 3:17-19:

‘Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.  It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.  By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.’

This goes beyond the planet to other areas of work which can prove frustrating but we can see the principle that because of humanity’s sin what once was a place and means of blessing is now a mix.  Humanity will still eat but there is “painful toil”, “thorns and thistles”.  There is more than could be said but, for now, the picture is clear – our actions affect the planet.

Creation and the land

Later in the Bible, God chooses a people, Israel, to be His special possession and live as His people.  A key part of Israel’s identity is the land God promises to them.  They are to look after it and to give it rest.  We read in Leviticus 25:4, ‘But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord.’

The people of Israel failed to do this and turned away from the Lord and so the land suffered as a result of this.  Eventually God took His people away from the land as punishment so they would repent and turn back from Him.  Interestingly we read in 2 Chronicles 26:21, ‘The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfilment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah.’  A part of the exile was to give the land rest and time to recover.

Creation and new creation

As Christians we look forward one day to entering into the place the land in the Old Testament pointed to, the new heavens and the new earth.  As Christians we live in the tension of having been given new life in Jesus now, but awaiting the day we receive our new bodies and live for ever and ever.  Interestingly Paul tells us creation experiences the same tension.  He writes in Romans 8:18-25:

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.  For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

The planet longs for the day when it too will be made anew.

God is trying to tell us something

So which is it?  Is the planet trying to tell us something or is God trying to tell us something?  The answer is ‘yes’. 😉

It was C.S. Lewis who famously said, ‘Pain is God’s megaphone to a deaf world.’  Although we are all affected by what is going on, we are not all affected in the same way.  Nevertheless, for all of us, there is a chance to think about how we are living, think about the environment and sustainability…and to go deeper to think about where we stand with God – especially when facing real issues of life and death.  Where do we stand with Him?

 

Written by Andrew Larkin, Andrew is one of the leaders at Redeemer Plymouth.

 

 

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