I am reprinting an article which was published in Cathedral Connections the Magazine of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral Spring /Summer Edition 2016. The article is titled Theology of Creation and is written by the Reverend Doctor Phillip H. Whitehead an Episcopal Priest, Professor and Theologian. I have had the privilege of knowing Father Phillip for about thirty one years and was further privileged to serve as his Lay Reader Chairman during his rectorship at Saint Michael and All Angels Church in Columbia, South Carolina. Father Phillip’s article presents information which is important for us to ponder in this time of ever increasing climate change. I was particularly struck by his observation that
It is the negative influence of human activity on the earth and its atmosphere that suggests a new geological epoch, with human beings as the geological destructive agent.
As one who loves hiking, canoeing and camping and who has treked through the Blue Ridge and witnessed the devastation that acid rain has wrought I pray that we may all take heed of Father Phillip’s words and venerate the beauty of our world by taking great pains to preserve it at whatever the short term cost economically.
THEOLOGY OF CREATION
by Phillip H. Whitehead, M.Div.,S.T.M., D.Min.
“The Doctrine of Creation is an essential teaching of the Christian Faith. Jewish, Christian and Islamic teaching give preeminent authority to these words in Genesis: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth …” A multiplicity of biblical passages witness in song, poetry, metaphor, liturgical forms and theological statements throughout the Old and New Testaments there is revealed a profound and beautiful Theology of Creation.
Creditable theologians have written extensively on how the Christian community interprets God, humanity and the cosmos. Because of the realty of evil there has been considerable neglect in humanity’s responsibility to care for a magnificient, ever-evolving creation. Theologically speaking the same love that brought creation into being, expects of the created human being, made in the image of its Creator, to care lovingly for all that has life.
Colin Waters, the leader of a new international team of scientists, is quoted on Reuters.com as arguing that the world has entered the Anthropocene, or human epoch, marking the end of the Holocene, or present epoch, which began some 12,000 years ago as the planet thawed from the ice age” This comment supports the thesis of the New York Times bestseller entitled The Sixth Extinction, which, along with other, scientific sources, affirms that rapid technological advancements and massive population growth dating back to the mid-20th century have tipped the planet into this new age. Staggering increases in the production of materials like plastic, aluminum, and concrete are changing the face of the planet, with human infrastructure now covering half of the Earth’s surface.
In addition, fertilizers used in agriculture have doubled the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous in the soil. Radioactive fallout from nuclear weapon tests have settled into ice and sediments and will remain detectable for 100,000 years. The burning of fossil fuels has doubled the amount carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and warmed the globe.
It is this negative influence of human activity on the earth and its atmosphere that suggests a new geological epoch, with human beings as the geological destructive agent. However, even if the Anthropocene epoch is or is not recognized, more important for Christians is the reality that Creation is a gift from a loving Triune God. An ancient cultural story in the Book of Genesis presents a God , whom as “Father” creates, as “Son” loves, as “Spirit” sustains us from the very moment God spoke the words: “Let there be!”
Eucharistic Prayer C, Book of Common Prayer, p. 370 is one of hundreds of Christian liturgical, scriptural, and theological descriptions of the God we believe brought forth Creation: God of all power and ruler of the universe, you are worthy of glory and praise . At your command all things came to be : the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, planets in their courses, and this fragile Earth, our island home. By you will hey were created and have their being.
For Jews and Christians there is an initial story of creation in the Bible that was inspired by ancient writers to describe the world as they experienced it in their day: flat, floating on water, with the sun, moon and stars suspended from a blue dome. Living plants and animals were made over a period of six twenty-four hour days. It is written, as one would expect, reflecting the natural and social order with which they were familiar. Succeeding models of the universes, vast space and billions of galaxies came later, consistent with new knowledge following Ages of the Enlightenment, of reason, and of Science.
Science is the gift of reason that allows us to break things down into their parts so that we might understand the finite wonders of nature, Theology (“God thought”) is putting things back together so that we may comprehend their meaning and their relationship to God and life.
In more current thoughts and ideas about the Theology of Creation within the teachings of the Christian faith, we need to concentrate on three balanced and three essential perspectives:
First, we need to study the doctrine of Creation with great respect increasing knowledge of the natural order;
Second , we need to study nature and cultural stories for insights into the importance of relationships with the Creator, the Created, and the concept of love that brought all, things into being;
Third, we need to be sober and intentional bout the implications of our caring and ethical responsibilities to and for creation.
On a positive note: Churches can design liturgical service, studies, and related activities for both children and adults to teach and emphasize a Theology of Creation in special seasons of the Chruch year. As a start I would recommend A Catechism of Creation: An Episcopal Understanding. It is produced by The Committee on Science, Technology and Faith of the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church and is available on the internet. It is a superb statement of Creation Theology, with Scriptural references and readings.
Postscript: Father Phillip has always been prescient with regard to how Theology relates to our daily lives. Please read this and seriously consider its admonitions. The future of our planet and therefore the future of our children and grandchildren hangs in the balance, will you vote to preserve our planet no matter what the short term economic costs which would make you a “true” conservative” of will you eschew your role in preserving God’s creation and serve the great God of mammon, short term profit in money or money’s worth?