COVID-19 and creation

With all the devastating health and economic impacts the COVID-19 pandemic has brought (which I do not wish to minimize), it’s a relief to hear about one positive effect the pandemic is having: In some ways, the pandemic has been good for the environment.

Less traffic, grounded airplanes, and decreased production in factories have improved the air quality in many places. In India, for example, people are seeing mountain ranges in the distance they haven’t seen in decades due to pollution. Satellite imagery over China shows reductions in nitrous oxide and carbon monoxide being pumped into the air. Cities such as Rome, London, Los Angeles, and New York are Average NO2 concentration in northeastern US. From theconversation.comalso reporting improved air quality.

I’m aware there have also been environmental setbacks. For example, cities report the collection of more garbage (including personal protective equipment like disposable masks).

I nevertheless remain encouraged by the news of improved air quality. Again, I recognize COVID-19 has resulted in lost jobs, economic chaos, illness, and death, and I do not downplay those. But I do wonder whether the pandemic is giving humanity a little preview of how, when it comes to the environment, things could be better.

As a Christian, I believe God calls me to care for his creation. It is among the first tasks he gives to the first humans in the first garden. And it’s a recurring theme in the Bible. In addition to mandating a weekly sabbath rest, God also commanded his people to give creation a Sabbath rest: “In the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest… Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines.” God promised that if his people obeyed this command, their land would produce enough in the sixth year to provide for them through the seventh year and beyond. God designed creation so that when we care for it, he will direct it to care for us. I wonder if COVID-19 is forcing us to give the land and sky an overdue sabbath rest.

And that leads me to wonder whether instead of trying to go back to normal, we can investigate ways to create a “new normal” in which we can restore jobs and improve the economy while also carefully tending the land and keeping the air clean. Can leaders in government, industry, agriculture, and business find innovative and profitable ways to run things both so people can work and so creation is respected? I ask myself where in everyday life I can recognize and change my greedy and consumeristic tendencies that harm creation. Can I buy a bit less? Can I reuse things more? Can I travel fewer miles? Can I conserve energy?

In the middle of the pain of the pandemic, there has been an unexpected blessing of the environment faring better than six months ago. Can we receive that as a fresh invitation from God to care for creation? I for one would like the air we breathe to not go back to what we called normal prior to COVID-19.

I wrote this article for Perspectives column
in this week’s
Rock Valley Bee.

One less plastic bag in the ocean

I just read about recent expeditions into the Mariana Trench in the northern Pacific Ocean, the deepest part of the world’s oceans. It’s about 7 miles down at its deepest. Reaching the bottom, the scientists’ cameras and traps both captured remarkable creatures God made that thrive in such a cold, dark, inhospitable environment, including tough amphipods (shrimplike crustaceans), intricate sea anemones, and transparent sea cucumbers.

A retired naval officer from Texas with a love for the oceans landed his submersible at the bottom of one part of the trench to meet shy marine life and see vast, untouched underwater landscapes.

Except, as it turns out, it wasn’t so untouched.

Within minutes of his submersible reaching the bottom of the trench, it found trash. The naval officer told reporters his cameras detected Graphic from Maclean's magazineplastic with writing on it. “It could have been a plastic bag,” he said.

That news, more than the fact that this naval officer had accomplished the deepest dive in human history or that his expedition had broken a slew of other records, made the headlines. How had garbage reached the deepest part of the ocean even before humans?

It actually doesn’t take as much as one might suspect. Like dirt in anyone’s home, junk collects at the lowest points. It’s simply a matter of gravity, and the trenches are as deep as it gets.

Humans are “made in God’s image to live in loving communion with our Maker. We are appointed earthkeepers and caretakers to tend the earth, enjoy it, and love our neighbors” (from “Our World Belongs to God”). Finding a plastic bag at the bottom of the ocean is an indicator we can do a better job of caring for God’s good creation as the Bible tells us to.

To care for creation, for the soil, water, and air God gives us, you and I can start small:

    • Use the city’s recycling bins to their full capacity and bring them to the curb every other week. Maybe we should even ask the city to switch the collection schedule so recycling gets picked up weekly and garbage every other week.
    • Use cleaning supplies with less harmful chemicals.
    • Turn off your car when you stop to run into a store or an office.
    • Plant a tree in your yard.
    • Use a refillable water bottle.
    • And, naturally, in light of the plastic at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, bring your own reusable cloth bags to the grocery store and everywhere else you shop.

These reflections appear in this week’s Rock Valley Bee.
I concluded with noting that I care for creation in a small way
by often biking to the office thereby using my car less.

Good news for all creation

An unexpected word shows up in the Great Commission as recorded in the Gospel of Mark. In the more familiar version in Matthew, the risen Lord Jesus instructs His disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations.” In Mark, the language is even more inclusive: Jesus says, “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15).

All creation? Does that include “hill and vale and tree and flower, sun and moon and stars of light?” Preaching to people is one thing, but how do you preach to things?

I don’t think we’re supposed to begin expecting plants and animals to respond to the Gospel in rational, human ways, but I do think this verse reminds us of how the Good News of Jesus impacts literally everything. The apostle Paul writes of how “creation has been groaning.” In some way, shape, and form, “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into … freedom and glory” in part as God’s people go about their work and in whole when Jesus returns. When it comes to redemption, God has His eyes on all creation, on everything He has made – from enormous blue whales swimming the oceans to infinitesimal quarks within an atom. God’s purposes in bringing new life has an impact on a universal level.

It makes me wonder… Is the way we tenderly care for our pets an expression of Christ’s life-giving presence in us? If God’s purpose is to redeem creation, are we cooperating with that purpose on our farms, or is God going to have to make a lot of repairs because of the ways we’re using His animals and land? Can we make connections between recycling and celebrating the resurrection? Creation graphic found via GoogleDo our industries “preach” to the environment God’s good, life-giving intentions for His world?

In addition to the image-bearing humans God puts in your life, what other parts of creation are you going to bless because the Holy Spirit of the risen Christ is alive and working in you?

I originally wrote this for Trinity’s CRC’s “Grace Encounters” newsletter, a publication of our Outreach Team.