Paradise Lost

For those who have not heard or read the speech Al Gore gave last week on climate change stop reading this and go here immediately.  As I am sure is true for many who heard it, this speech evoked many patriotic emotions in me.  I thought of the iconic moments in our nation’s history when citizens came together in unprecedented ways to work for the common good.  I do not think the Vice President was too bold to challenge us to believe that now is the time to once again embrace our national narrative of self-sacrifice in the face of tremendous obstacles or that the climate crisis is an insufficient cause around which to summon all our courage and ingenuity.  It is my profound hope that like WWII or Civil Rights we will be able to look back at this moment and say that once again we overcame our bitter divides and accomplished what many thought impossible.  But as inspiring as our national narrative is, it is not the foundation of my hope for the future of the planet.  Rather, my hope is grounded in my belief in the Creator who makes all things new. 

I had the privilege of hearing Vice President Gore give his now famous slide show last January at the New Baptist Covenant.  Listening to his impassioned plea, it was clear that this is more than a moral issue for him; it is a matter of faith.  “We are heaping contempt on God’s creation!” Gore cried out to a captivated audience.  It was then that I realized that the call to fight climate change comes not only to the world’s sole super power, but even more so to those bold enough to claim the name children of God.  If we as a nation need to respond to a world in crisis, even more so do people of faith need to protect a despoiled creation.

Thinking about humanity’s relationship to creation in the context of faith (and for many of us there is no other way to think about this issue) naturally brings to mind the opening chapters of Genesis.  It is a wonderful story that reminds us of the glorious gift we have been given, the gift of flowers and trees, fish, animals, and birds, the gift of life.  I think too often we become preoccupied with the fact that Eden was lost and forget that we are still surrounded by the intricate and exquisite beauty of creation.  Seeking wisdom wherever it may be found, I was recently reminded of this passage from Pat Conroy’s The Prince of Tides that speaks profoundly to the connection between the creation story and the climate crisis:

“Is it possible that the Book of Genesis is simply another parable, God’s way of warning us of the dangers of the world by telling us a story? . . . When Eve reaches up and touches the forbidden fruit and loses Paradise and is driven from the perfect happiness of Eden, is it possible that God is speaking to us today?  What is it that will destroy our perfect home?  What is it that will drive us out of Paradise and into unknown lands?  What is it that will take away from us everything we have known and loved and thanked God for every single day of our lives?”

Is it really so hard to catch glimpses of Eden in our everyday lives?  I live at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and no matter how often I travel the roads around my home, rarely a day goes by when I am not struck by the realization that there really are still places in the world so beautiful it takes my breath away.  This is the world we are bent on destroying with unsustainable lifestyles.  We have been given the whole world with the command to enjoy it, sustain ourselves by it, care and tend for it, and respect the limits set upon us.  There was one tree Adam and Eve could not eat of and live.  There is one course facing us – perpetuating our dependency on carbon-based fuels – that if we continue down will make the earth all but uninhabitable.  After thousands of years lamenting the decision of two willful people, will we now as an entire body of believers make the same mistake?  If we continue to ravage the earth for fuels that are unsustainable, then we can no longer point to Adam and Eve as the cause for our eviction from Eden.  If we do not repent and repair our destructive habits now, then it is we who are to blame for Paradise lost.

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