‘And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.’
~Genesis 1: 9-13
This passage in Genesis reminds us of the pure dependence God’s people used to have on agriculture – on seed-bearing plants and trees. However disconnected we have become, it is vital to remember that nothing has changed in that regard – we remain dependent on agriculture, most of us just don’t see it on a daily basis.
In the Old Testament, the way God’s people lived on the land and cared for it was hugely relevant to how they lived out their faith. They knew that the land belongs not to us, but to God: ‘The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it’ (Psalm 24:1).
This chapter of Saying Yes to Life, challenges us to consider whether we see the earth as God sees it – as good, beautiful and a reflection of his creative genius. Ruth points out examples of how some traditions of the Church have formed an opposite, negative, view of the world we inhabit. One way this root of negativity is demonstrated is through the notion that the church’s role is to exclusively preach the gospel. This leads us to a challenging question: How might we preach the gospel differently if we were to view creation as sacred in its own right?
Ruth asks: ‘Do we perceive the wider world primarily as a resource for us to use as we wish, or do we regard it primarily as something that God loves and is precious to him?’ (p.57).
Perhaps this is something we need to reflect on. It seems clear in Genesis: God’s appreciation of his creation as ‘good’ allows us to see the land with its plants and trees as sacred. God saw that each part was good, on its own, unrelated to any other part. We humans do not make the earth beautiful; the earth is beautiful in its own right.
So how can we better appreciate it?
Well, we could start with the trees.
Trees play a vital role in our world, through their role in protecting soil, absorbing CO2, and providing habitats for wildlife. Deforestation is a huge issue, with over half the world’s tropical forests destroyed since the 1960s. This is mostly done for subsistence farming, and for beef, soy, and palm oil. Deforestation destroys biodiversity, worsens climate change, disturbs water cycles, disrupts lives and livelihoods, and results in human rights abuses caused by companies engaged in this work.
Experts are now calling for more foresting work and urging us to move to a re-wilding approach which focuses on the large-scale restoration of our ecosystems, often re-introducing key species to manage the environment.
Ruth tells us in this chapter that the Ethiopian Orthodox Church views forests as a site of contemplation and prayer, as well as burial sites, and so while the rest of the country has suffered severe deforestation, rural churches have instinctively looked after the forests around them. Perhaps this is the role of the church in these times – to steward and care for our surroundings.
So, what can we do to protect our trees?
- We could certainly be avoiding products with palm oil.
- We could make sure the wood and paper products we buy come from a sustainable forest or from recycled paper.
- We should be reducing the amount of paper we use, and use recycled paper where possible. Perhaps your household or church could use recycled toilet paper?
- We could look into offsetting our carbon emissions through organisations like Vita.
- We could also simply be planting trees whenever we can!