God’s Original Gift
There is an interesting coming together of different segments of society around the issue of climate change. For some time the scientific community has been virtually united in their warnings that humans are doing significant damage to their world. Their voices have recently been joined with the booming voice of Pope Francis. The Pope has brought new vigor to the concern that we do something about damaging our earth before it is too late.
His recent encyclical, Laudato Sí (“Praise to you, Lord)” is a wonderful spiritual resource for all of us who want to see the theological argument for changing our ways in our care of the world in which we live. I am particularly interested in chapter five of his encyclical where he lays out the spiritual call for a different way of living. That chapter begins by quoting an earlier Pope, John Paul II. Pope Francis quotes an encyclical from an earlier Pope, John Paul II in 1979, Redemptor Hominis (“Redeemer of Humanity”), Pope John Paul “warned that human being frequently seem ‘to see no other meaning in their in their natural environment than what serves for immediate use and consumption.’”
This quotation basically accuses human beings of being self-centered and, therefore, sinful. As much as folks may not like the word, “sin,” it does seem to me to be a fact. I don’t really care whether we use the word, sin. We can find another word to describe the same phenomenon. I am clear there is such a thing. People do bad things. All of us occasionally have done bad things. No one is perfect. And most of us consistently have done bad things to our environment. Again, I know that I have. The point both popes are making is it is time for us to stop doing bad things to our world. I agree. But I know bad habits are hard to break.
Pope John Paul II called for a “global ecological conversion.” That is a pretty good way to frame it. We all know about religious traditions that call for spiritual conversion. When I was growing up in Indiana, I knew some of my friends who would go off to some kind of church camp and experience a conversion. I have seen those kinds of contexts where people do experience a conversion. I certainly do not deny the power of such a moment, even if that has not been my own personal experience.
I think Pope John Paul II is calling for a massive global conversion on the part of all seven billion people on earth. This is certainly not the place where we can blame the devil…or any other reason outside of ourselves. Humans are culpable on this one. Fish and rabbits are not sinners; human beings are. The global ecological conversion has to be executed by us. The big question concerns our willingness to do it. Will we?
I honestly don’t know whether humans will do anything before the situation gets worse and we are forced to do it. The bad thing is someone my age can do nothing different and get away with it. That is sad, because it means my generation can continue to be the problem and never have to pay the price. Our grandkids and beyond will reap our just rewards. That is not fair. So let’s do something now---at least begin.
Once more Pope Francis quotes his predecessor, Pope John Paul II. John Paul says there is “little effort to ‘safeguard the moral conditions for an authentic human ecology.’” That sounds fairly sophisticated, but basically means there is moral demand for humans to tend to the ecology of our universe. Not to do so means we are immoral. I dare say, most of us do not think we are being immoral.
That is why I think this encyclical from Pope Francis is so important. The Pope says “The destruction of the human environment is extremely serious, not only because God has entrusted the world to us men and women, but because human life is itself a gift which must be defended from various forms of debasement.” That quotation contains a profound truth. Human life is a gift. And certainly the world in which we find ourselves is also a gift.
I like to think of myself as a gift---God’s gift to the world. And you are also a gift. But I am also a gift with a condition put upon it. The condition is that I and we take care of the world which is also God’s gift to us. As Pope Francis puts it, “Authentic human development has a moral character. It presumes full respect for the human person, but it must also be concerned for the world around us…”
That puts it very simply. To develop as a human means to develop moral character. And part of our moral development is to tend to each other and tend to the world around us. Now is the time to begin practicing. We will begin by taking little steps. My hope is we learn to do this without being forced to do it.
I know I will be most helped if I have a sense of being part of a community. I want to be part of a community of folks who understand themselves to be gifts of God and want to take care of the “garden” God gave us---the world. Hope you join me!