It’s hard to take the earth for granted in the spring – that first warm breeze, that first refreshing rain, that first crocus peeking out from beside the last of the snow bank – it puts a spring in many people’s step. And so it seems fitting that we celebrate our earth during this time of renewal – Earth Day, April 22, comes right in the middle of this season.
In the book bearing his name, Jonah, too, delights in nature. In this story, while Jonah sits outside of the city of Nineveh awaiting its destruction, God causes a vine to spring up. Perched on a hot hillside in the desert, Jonah is delighted, resting under its shade. Creation is a good, good thing!
Yet God causes that vine to wither – and Jonah is furious. He rages to God about that vine, saying he’s angry enough to die. While this story is admittedly about the Ninevites, their judgment and God's call to redemption, at its centre the story affirms the basic truth that God loves creation – every person made in God's image, Ninevites too, and the earth that sustains them.
God’s love for creation is found in countless passages in the Bible. In the beginning, the decree to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is to care for the earth – when they are cast out, the decree remains. Adam and Eve are to be earth keepers, stewards, wherever they are. In Matthew, Jesus calls us to truly see creation, the lilies of the field, in all of its glorious splendour. This is a reminder that God's creative work continues, that God's love for creation is everlasting.
We can also delight in creation. As we see in Jonah, he delighted in what the earth produced, although he had no part in its creation. He expected the vine to shade him, and as we saw, he gets very angry when it dies.
Like Jonah, we expect the earth to sustain us. We expect endless shade, food and resources, though we had no part in its creation.
Yet it is our earth that is now threatened – by pollution, by ever-increasing consumption. And we argue we have a right to be upset – after all, it is our future generations that will feel the full effects of climate change. Yet as our earth is endangered and our selfish needs are ceasing to be met, how are we reacting? With righteous indignation? Humble acceptance? Or, are we angrily pointing the finger anywhere else but at ourselves?
It’s Earth Day today, April 22. It’s also spring, and the joys of creation are very visible. Maybe it’s time to truly see – not just on Earth Day, but every day – the gift of creation we’ve been given.
And maybe it’s time to realise that our call as stewards of the earth remains, wherever we are. Let’s not let our anger over environmental destruction get in the way of caring for God’s creation.
Karen Diepeveen is CPJ’s communications coordinator.