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Sounds of spring: A call to sustainability

As I write this, it is February in north central British Columbia’s Bulkley Valley. Outside, more than 60 centimeters of snow cover the ground, and already I am beginning to imagine what spring will be like. Not only will the melting snow reveal the ground once again but I look forward to green grass, dandelions and leaves on the trees. However, the sounds are what I really look forward to: robins singing and red-winged blackbirds trilling. Joseph T. Renaldi, a modern American poet, shares this feeling in his poem, “Hurrah! It’s Spring”:

Many birds are harboring in the trees,
Hurrah! It must be Spring.
Their presence is highly gratifying
As the song birds begin to sing.
I have endured the long, dreary Winter,
And cherish the Spring season anew,
Excited to bid a cordial welcome . . .

The sounds of spring are infectious. Who can help but feel excited to see and hear spring come after a long winter? But does everyone in the Christian community view the coming of a new spring in the same way? Is it a reminder of our stewardly responsibility, or is it just a wonderful experience that our awesome God provides for us while we walk our earthly journey? I believe that when God’s creation comes alive it gives us all new hope and a time to reflect on the creation mandate. For me, each new spring starts by reminding me of the greatness of our God. It is a fitting time to reflect on the words of Psalm 104 that give tribute to the works of the creator, their sustainer.

Creation is God’s voice speaking to us, confirming what Article 2 of the Belgic Confession states – that God reveals himself through nature as “a most elegant book.” All of creation, both animate and inanimate, has a voice, giving praise to their creator (Psalm 66:4 and Psalm 148:5).

Psalm 148 proclaims that all his created works are there to praise him: weather, geographic features, plants, animals and mankind created in his image.
Isaiah 6:3 talks about the earth being full of God’s glory as do Psalms 96:2 and 19:1-4.

The theatre of God’s glory
John Calvin describes the earth as being the theatre of God’s glory. In Ravished by Beauty, Beldon Lane explains, “The theater for Calvin [of creation] thus served as an apt metaphor of God’s action in sustaining the work, luring all creation back to its Maker.”

The apostle Paul reiterates in Colossians 1:15 that creation is not just about humanity but all creation was created for God to his glory.

It seems to me that many have lost this wholistic understanding that all creation belongs and is important to God. In fact, dominion requires that humanity serve God’s creation, not use and abuse it. Calvin deWit calls this the Abad Principle: We are to safeguard and serve what God has created. Secondly, we are to continue and practice the Sabbath principle. Lastly, we are to honour the blessing of fruitfulness that God has given to creation.

Unfortunately, contemporary Christian thinking about creation has often been reduced to an entangled argument about climate.

On the one hand, Pope Francis has been quoted as highlighting the importance of the climate, urging Catholics to take action on moral and scientific grounds. On the other hand, some evangelical Christians, such as Calvin Beisner of Cornwall Alliance, believe that the environmental movement is unbiblical and a false religion.

There seems to be a divided opinion among Christians about our life on earth. Is it only a temporary place to journey while waiting for Christ’s return or is it our God-given home to enjoy and care for until he returns?

Journeying through vs. taking delight
Author Beldon Lane provides an insight into this problem by offering two possibilities to the origins of this contemporary conflict. Lane compares two historical theological models: the Turretin model (based on the beliefs of Swiss-Italian Reformed theologian, Francis Turretin) vs. the Reformed model in the tradition of John Calvin.

Lane says that, “Turretin’s model is primarily absorbed with predestination and God’s overwhelming work of redemption, viewing original sin as distorting every aspect of the created order, [so] there is little reason to seek God in the natural world.” Therefore, the purpose of life is to experience salvation within the context of the correct doctrine and creation is simply an experience God provides.

In contrast to this, Lane describes Reformed theology (after Calvin), “as beginning with creation, discerning God’s glory in all of its wonders despite the ravages of sin, [and so] there is every reason to take the world seriously.” In this view, mankind is here to experience God’s glory through bringing hope and restoration to creation.

Joseph Sittler adds to this, echoing the words of the Westminster Catechism: “The proper starting point for a Christian attentiveness to the ecological crisis is the exercise of delight – the enjoyment of all manifestations of God’s glory in the natural world.” Taking the world seriously implies that humanity should be Godly stewards, honouring all of creation.

A wholistic challenge
Regrettably there are many instances of the opposite happening. One example is soil – is it considered a living organism or just a medium for growth and productivity? Some Christian farmers – who relish the coming and beauty of spring as I do – could try harder to be what environmentalist author Joel Salatin calls “environmentally active farmers.” A friend of mine owns a certified environmental hobby farm. His neighbours, many of them not embracing any sort of Christianity, seem to take more interest in preserving the ecological soundness of his farm, than do other neighbouring farmers who believe in a reformed doctrine world and life view. Many of these Christian brothers and sisters practice instead what Salatin calls a mechanical view of soil and animals. Salatin proposes that we need to practice wholistic farming that recognizes the soil as a living organism providing healthy perennial pastures and crops without the massive use of chemicals. Are we up to this challenge of implementing a wholistic approach?

Another example that highlights a problem in creation is the birds. I love the sounds of birds in the spring as they return to the north. An avid gardener friend of mine commented to me one day, “I am not interested in birds.” I would maintain that all of us should take a deep interest in the health of bird populations. Much like the canary in the cage used by coal miners to warn of imminent danger, songbirds are our modern canaries – our bio indicators – and their decline has global significance. Recent publications by Environment Canada report that in some cases there has been a 60 percent decline in some segments of the bird population.

A decrease in bird populations has serious implications: loss of natural insect control, loss of pollinators and a negative effect on the earth’s ecosystems. I love the sounds of the birds but I also love the rest of God’s creation. The two go hand in hand. What can be done to keep creation’s fruitfulness and variety healthy? In a recent BBC article, “Back to Nature,” George Monbiot proposes the rewilding of urban and rural land to improve wildlife habitat – to dedicate part of our land seasonally or permanently so wildlife gets a chance to thrive, thereby benefiting ecosystems. God’s beautiful creation involves every part of the globe, including our backyards and farms. Are we up to the challenge of implementing a wholistic approach?

A third example of how creation is being affected negatively are insects. Recent research has shown that the application of insecticides known as neonics are proving to be harmful to beneficial insects such as bees. A Rocha Kenya’s Raphael Magamobo talks about the importance of keeping insect populations healthy. “You have to consider the trees and butterflies. In this country [Kenya] we’ve realized that the yields of some of the crops – for example maize, which is a staple food here – have been decreasing. And one of the reasons is that our pollinators – the butterflies, the bees, the wasps – have been decreasing . . . we tell the farmer, ‘It is not just about maize, it is about all these other crops that support all these organisms that will then support your maize.’” Salatin says we can maintain lawns, gardens and farms without the mass use of chemicals to destroy beneficial insects. Are we up to the challenge of implementing a wholistic approach?

Listening to creation’s call
As I look forward to the snow melting and spring returning, I will be anticipating the voice of spring once again to come alive through budding trees, green grass and bird’s songs. I will listen to creation for what it was meant to do – glorify God – and I will reflect on the kind of a steward I am being. Am I making sustainability a priority or am I blindly embodying an industrial/consumerist society?

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