Rev. Dr. M. Mani Chacko,
General Secretary, BSI
BIBLICAL VISION FOR THE POST COVID WORLD
Recently two episodes in the TV caught my attention. One was about the cruelty of the humans against animals – giving a pregnant elephant fruits filled with firecrackers to eat, which led to the death of the elephant. The humans fearing that the elephant would destroy their crops, fruits and vegetables committed this atrocious act. It was heart rending to see the dead pregnant elephant being drawn from the waters and taken to the hospital for postmortem.
The other episode which I enjoyed seeing on the TV was the relationship between a two year old girl and an elephant, how she plays with the elephant and vice versa; how the little girl commands the elephant to do certain acts and the elephant implicitly obeys the little girl’s orders; how the little girl goes on a safari on the elephant and many other acts of warmth and friendship.
The above two episodes made me to think of the theme BIODIVERSITY: BIBLICAL VISION FOR THE POST COVID WORLD. BIODIVERSITY was theme chosen for the World Environment Day, which was celebrated on the 5th June 2020. The theme was a call to action to combat the accelerating species loss and degradation of the natural world. One million plant and animal species risk extinction, largely due to human activities. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970. Some recent analysis has revealed that humankind has destroyed 83% of all mammals and half of plants since the dawn of civilization. In a country like India, with world’s second highest population and an increased demand for economic growth coupled with rapid urbanization trend, the process of biodiversity loss is on a fast track, resulting in increased frequency of extreme weather events, successive droughts, lack of drinking water, crop failures etc. This has severe impact on the poor and the agrarian communities, whose life and livelihood depends on nature and biodiversity.
Time has come for the humanity to focus on nature. The world has come to a stand still due to the COVID-19 pandemic. At this time of lockdown measures, the world witnessed a significant reduction in green house emissions around the world and the nature found its “ breathing space”. In a way, nature reclaimed its space! But for how long will it be? How will post COVID-19 world look like? All is not lost and it is not too late. We can reverse the trend of biodiversity loss by reimagining our relationship with nature and acting now to increase ambition and accountability for its protection. But we the stakeholders have to respond collectively. What is our role in preserving nature as a faith community, the Church and as a fellowship, the United Bible Societies?
It is here the Word of God throws some light and guidance. In Genesis 1:1, it reads, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth”. The Hebrew word for “created” is bara and this verb is only use of God’s activity. The other word in Hebrew indicating the act of making/ creating is asah. This verb is also used of God making the sun, moon and the stars, land creatures etc. in the creation story itself. However, the use of the word bara as used in Genesis 1:1, a verb used only of God creating the heavens and the earth assumes significance. The verb asah is the verb also used to refer to the human making certain things. Although the verb asah is used in the Creation story to indicate God’s involvement in creation, the biblical writer puts things in proper perspective by using the word bara first and then asah. The writer is making it clear that the entire Creation is God’s. That is the reason the writer uses the Hebrew verb bara first and then only asah. The writer wants to communicate very clearly that God is the owner of the Created world with all its diverse creation- the land, the sky, the sea, the animals, the birds, the fish, the humans and the list goes on. Creation is an act of God whereby diverse species of life were brought into existence on the planet earth to display God’s glory, majesty and power and also to communicate God, the Creator’s desire is that different species should live harmoniously in an interconnected manner on this earth, sustaining one another, providing and caring for each other, instead of being a threat to each other. Creation is an act whereby God brought things into order and placed them in their proper places with proper functions. The intention of the Creator God, the God of the Bible is that the entire Creation of God, the diverse species should display the glory of God. But when the created order is disturbed by selfish interests in the name of development, the bio diversity gets affected and thus the species become a threat to each other and become extinct one by one. The present COVID -19 pandemic crisis we face is to be seen as a disturbance of the created order of God the Creator. Whether the virus emerged in the lab or in the bird market or from pigs, the fact is, the created order is shaken and the created order is moving into the path of oblivion. Thus biodiversity becomes a challenge!
God Godself creating the world raises the question “Why”? God did not have to create. God could have remained alone in all power and glory. But God did not choose to remain alone but God created the heavens and the earth. Why? The biblical writer points out a few pertinent facts:
1.God is not a myth but God IS. One does not need any scientific proof to argue and prove whether there is God and whether God exists? The very creation in all its rich diversity is the natural proof for the existence of God. It is the natural revelation that God exists and that God IS.
2.Humans are Stewards of God’s Creation in its entirety, both the human and the non-human are part of God’s creation. Human are only a part of God’s creation. It is not that humans alone are created by God and not the other species. No. God created different species with life so that life is visible on earth exhibited by all species of the created order. Human’s responsibility is to care for the creation of God, not to disturb or destroy it. The Hebrew verb radah meaning “dominion” as used in the creation story does not mean “ dominate”, implying the human can do anything he/she likes to do with the other species, the land and the sea but to be responsible stewards, taking care of the whole created order.
3.Bio diversity is God’s design for the Created order and it is to be maintained that way, allowing space for all species, not just the human species, but all – the plants, the birds, the animals the fish, the air, water to exercise its assigned functions in the assigned timings and in the assigned manner, living their life which God has endowed them with in full.
4.God’s creation displays God’s glory, not only that God IS but also that God is a God of power, glory and majesty and God desires God’s creation to acknowledge the same with awe and wonder.
God’s creation is not only “good” but “very good”. At the end of each creation, God would look at the creation and say “good” (tov). But at the end of all creation including that of the human creation, God looked at the entire creation and said not just “good” but” very good” (“tovmeod”).
The Psalmist, in line with the Genesis account of Creation meditates on the God’s work in creation. As he thinks about all what God has made, the Psalmist becomes aware that he has only scratched the surface of what God has done. He throws up his hands in despair about the impossibility of describing it all, and simply exclaims “O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures” (Psalm 104:24). Contemplating the marvels of God’s creation reminds the Psalmist of how little he comprehends of the greatness and wisdom of the Creator. He also marvels at how the Lord sustains every creature God has made, on land or in the sea, by providing each of them with the type of food they need, when it is needed. (104:27-28). The Psalmist also realizes that the Creators’ best gift is life itself. God has given it to all God’s creatures, and it is good and to be enjoyed. But God the Creator is sovereign over life and has the right to give it or to take it. If God choses to turn from God’s creatures, they are terrified, and if God choses to remove their breath and take their life, they return to the dust from which God created them(104:29).When God choses to do so, God sends God’s Spirit to create more life to replenish the earth.(104:30).
The Psalmist concludes by declaring his ardent desire that the glory of the LORD will never cease to be revealed in the natural world and by praying that God the Creator will remain joyful over God’s creation (104:31). These words strike home to us. In an era of pandemic, pollution, environmental degradation and extinctions caused by human sin and greed, can we still see enough of the natural world to catch a glimpse of God’s glory revealed in it? Can God the Creator still rejoice in it? If we are God’s servants, we will work to preserve God’s Creation to let God’s glory shine forth to all
The Psalmist declares that his desire is to live in gratitude to the good Creator who has gifted him with life and with all that is needed to sustain life (104:33-34). He prays that the meditation in this psalm, and all his subsequent meditations on the Lord, will be pleasing to the Lord, the Creator, thus bringing joy to the Creator. The wicked, those who refuse to acknowledge the good Creator and the Creator’s provision, stifle the joy of life by their rejection of God and refusal to acknowledge God’s glory. They bring suffering rather than joy to God’s Creation. That is why the Psalmist prays that they may vanish from the earth (104:35a). But the Psalmist does not want to finish on such a negative note. So, he returns to the words which he began the meditation with and calls on his whole being to praise the LORD, the good Creator. (104:35b).
There is an interesting imaginary film entitled “The Chairy Tale”. The film is about the story of a chair. The chair is in a very small room with one small window for ventilation. The owner of the room comes into the room with a big book in his hands, wanting to finish reading the book in quiet as he had to return the book back to the library the next day. So, he says to himself, “if I go to the small room, there is also a chair and if I need some rest while reading, I can make use of the chair”. He also says to himself “no one visits the room because it is small and also dark without much light and air and therefore, he can finish reading the book without any external disturbance”. In the film, we see him walking up and down the room deeply engrossed in reading the book. After a few hours, he feels tired walking back and forth and so he says to himself” Why should I be so tired? There is the chair, which I made employing a carpenter with my own money for my own comfort. So, I will go and sit on the chair and finish reading the book after taking some rest”. In the film, we see him going towards the chair with this arrogant attitude and is about to sit down. Then the chair, full of dust, a tool, which has been, made for a purpose, which was not looked after for months together, starts drifting away from the man, the owner!So, the man says to himself again “with my money, I made this chair for my comfort and so the chair has to be under by beck and call. Hence I will somehow sit on the chair and take rest”. With this arrogant attitude again, he goes to the chair, this time with a little fear as to whether the chair will drift away from him again and if so whether he will fall down? So he goes to the chair, with his eyes deeply fixed on the pages of the book, without taking time to even look at the chair, attempts to sit on the chair. But this time also, the chair drifts away from him! He goes after the chair and the chair drifts away from him. This action of going after the chair and the chair drifting away from the man continues for some time. Then the man says to himself “Hell with the chair!If the chair, which I made for my own comfort, will not obey my command, I will go and sit on the floor in the corner of the room, take some rest and finish reading the book. He goes to the corner, takes rest and finishes reading the book. He gets up and looks at the chair with great anger, again saying to himself, “This chair is for my comfort. It should serve the purpose for which it was made “. So he keeps the book on the floor and goes to the chair to sit on the chair to show to the chair that he is the owner of the chair and the chair should simply obey his command. This time also he had some fear whether the previous experience would be repeated? But this time, there was no book in his hand. He looks at the chair, smiles at the chair, takes a cloth and dusts off all the dust which was accumulated on the chair because there was no one to keep the chair clean. He again smiles at the chair. The Chair too smiles at him. The man, although with fear goes to the chair looking at the chair, smiling at the chair and was about to sit on the chair. This time, the chair did not run away from him! Rather, the chair remained in its place and allowed the man to sit on the chair, exercising its assigned function. Then the caption comes on the film “The man and the chair lived happily thereafter”!
The variety of life on Earth, its biological diversity is commonly referred to as biodiversity. The number of species of plants, animals, and microorganisms, the enormous diversity of genes in these species, the different eco systems on planet, such as deserts, rain forests and coral reefs are all part of a biologically diverse Earth. Appropriate conservation and sustainable development strategies attempt to recognize this as being integral to any approach to preserving biodiversity. Almost all cultures have their roots in our biological diversity in some way or form. Declining biodiversity is therefore a concern.
During these critical moments we are going through due to the pandemic, let us recall afresh again that God is the Creator and that God has created different species to see them live on the land and the sea and that it is our duty to preserve the diverse forms of life on this planet earth. Bio diversity is the Creator’s design for the Created Order. It is indeed the biblical vision for the post COVID World.
Let us together with the Psalmist and say with one accord “Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, you are very great!
Glory be to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.