I’ve been asked on a number of occasions regarding my advocacy for a “green” lifestyle. I have to admit that I have had a hard time trying to justify my sensibilities to various individuals regarding Creation care. While it has seemed intuitive, I understand that just isn’t the case for everyone. Even most Christians, in my experience, have a strong emphasis on “fill the earth and subdue it” over against a sense of stewardship for the earth. Christians tend to think of the earth as something to be used for the enjoyment and pleasure of humans, even to the detriment of the earth -after all, the world won’t end until Christ returns, so why should we even argue for Creation care at all?

This is a difficult question, and even as I have tried to give theological answers to the question in the past, they have been incomplete at best. But the real issue, I think, is that we are all approaching the discussion from the wrong point of genesis. Rather than discussing what our moral responsibility is in regard to stewardship of the earth as humankind’s tool to use for sustenance and creativity, we should be approaching the discussion on the basis of our sacramental life as the church of Jesus Christ.

The issue, then, is a relational issue, not a moral culpability issue! The earth was given to humankind as a gift from God. But to what purpose? The typical answer I hear has something to do with “for human benefit” or “for human sustenance”. Suffer me to suggest an answer that is altogether different: I propose that the earth is given to humankind inasmuch and in the same measure as life itself is given  to humankind by God! Life is not intrinsically meaningful! Neither is it intrinsically sacred. I am well aware that a lot of my conservative brothers and sisters are probably ready to sell me to the US Marines at this point, but please bear with me. I say this, because humans, though possessed of real agency and the power of contrary choice, derive ultimate meaning from outside themselves!

We are all too ready to accept the false dichotomy of the sacred and profane. For thousands of years, humans have understood religion in terms of the material versus the spiritual. This is quite unfortunate, because today, even as Christians in our Western mentality of individualism and inerrancy of subjective experience, we still think of the material realm as the realm of shadows that is merely a reflection–ultimately unreal–of the spiritual. We think in terms of our spiritual life being the ultimate reality, that which exists beyond the unreal and fading material existence. But allow me to suggest something I read from Alexander Shmemann: none of this dichotomy is present in the Bible! Nowhere is the spiritual life and the supernatural realm held up as the ultimate reality! In fact, in the understanding of the ancient Hebrews, we find a holistic conception of the human being, a being both physical and spiritual in which it is impossible to tell where the one ends and the other begins. Thus, we must juxtapose this concept over against the Greek ideal of the spiritual being that is real for the simple reason that it is metaphysical. If we take this seriously, we understand that our existence in this world, on this earth, is both physical and spiritual–in fact, everything that we do is a spiritual act merely because it is an act at all! And if it is an act at all, it is intrinsically related to God, having bearing on humankind’s relationship with God.

So, this existence is the venue, so to speak, whereby God has enabled us to experience Him and interact with Him in relationship. Hence, everything in the Christian’s life becomes sacramental in nature, with humankind (as Schmemann puts it in For the Life of the World) as the priests of the entire system of human existence.

It becomes a simple matter of deduction at this point, then, to relate this understanding of the nature of our reality in existence to Creation care. If our interaction with the earth is itself a sacramental act in relationship with God, then should that interaction not reflect that fact? Should we not interact with the Creation with the same reverence that we interact with other human beings? I think we too often think too highly of ourselves as human beings, as though we are the ultimate Creation, while the rest of the created order is less real and therefore worthy of only passing or bemused recognition. The fact is that without the created order, we as human beings would be unable to experience God and interact with Him in relationship the way He designed for us to do. In fact, human life is only important because it is important to God. I have myself used the terminology “the intrinsic worth of human life”. But the fact of the matter is that human life is not possessed of intrinsic worth -its worth is derived from God.

If I could sum up my argument simply, it is just to say that human life is not the end-all goal and culmination of existence. Existence itself derives meaning in that in it we share relationship with God. Care of Creation is a love decision. It is not our responsibility, but rather, it is essentially what a Christian does in existence because he or she is in right relationship with God through Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit.