When I looked at the calendar this week and saw that Earth Day was coming I rolled my eyes. “The environment” has become so political in the United States trying to save the planet feels more like an exercise in futility than in creating any kind of actionable measures. I am certain mine weren’t the only rolling eyes this year.
Still, I love Nature. I do what I can in my little corner of California with my recycling of plastics and aluminum cans and the lessening of their use in general. I buy in bulk when available, pick up other people’s trash on hiking trails and try to be conscious of the overuse of packaging calling it out in emails to offending companies. But like most people I am not consistent and I over consume and waste when it is not convenient. I don’t want to be a pessimist when it comes to the environment throwing up my hands with a tsk tsk “no one else is doing anything,” but it is painful to listen to politicians, especially the religious ones who should know better, ignore the sacredness of the land in favor of its destruction for “human progress.”
In the Hebrew Bible God is active in Creation. It is a conscious, well-thought out plan that creates this world which is both “good” and “very good.” When the first human is made God gives him the responsibility (Genesis 1:28) to rule over the beauty He has made. Many translations of this passage use the word “subdue” to indicate that Adam and successive generations can rule in whatever manner they want over the land. But the Hebrew word for subdue, kavash, is mistranslated in this context meaning to subdue an enemy as in a military situation. In the JPS (Jewish Publication Society) translation of the Hebrew Bible it uses the words “master it” (the earth) and “rule the fish of the sea…” I see the words masters and rulers as benign; the person doing the mastering or ruling is what makes their administration good or bad, life sustaining or destructive.
In fact, the world could never exist, would likely die, if we subdued Nature or had dominion over it in the modern way we use those words. We use them like we are superior over Nature, but we learn every time we kill off a species of animal that another species relies on it and now it is endangered or when we ruin air quality with pollution or a waterway with poisonous runoff endangering people that we can’t subdue the land, but must understand how it works and honor the process. Mastery implies this: we master something to understand how to work with it.
Pollution, defilement, destruction of habitats in all its forms would make life on Earth impossible. So, subduing it, subjugating it, enslaving it makes no sense and is definitely not Biblical. And it is not just a belief in the God of the Bible that tells of this remarkable Creation. Biology, science, the Big Bang acknowledge a well-planned, well-thought out planet. In fact, it is probably the one thing where the religious, the scientifically-minded and atheists can agree!
Which brings me back to my original thoughts on this Earth Day. If I don’t want to eye roll any longer and if I think “doing something” is still important, what do I do?
I have an idea. It came up in an article I read that referenced the way Nature returned to cities during the first year of the pandemic when most everyone across the planet was in lockdown. It’s a radical step, a very great lifestyle change but if sustainable it might be worth working toward. It would take the whole of human kind to make it successful and I am still thinking through participation: A Sabbath day for Creation. Or, a once a week day off from technology, electricity, fossil fuels and the like to give the planet a rest from human meddling.
I don’t know if I am optimistic enough to trust in a process that asks me to bow out of the busyness of life once a week for a full day. But I believe the environmental crisis is real and I have to do something more than recycle. A weekly sabbath/rest might be it. I am going to take it seriously and find out.
And God saw all that He had made, and found it very good.