Relish, Redeem, Rest
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. The three ‘R’s have become such a famous phenomenon that they even have a song. This ecological motto was coined around the time of the first Earth Day, in 1970. It has been helpful in adopting wiser ways to consume. For Christians, however, living more sustainably has to be understood in terms of our relationship to the creator God, as well as to creation. I want to suggest a new motto relating to creation care which builds on three biblical themes: Relish, Redeem, Rest .
This is an invitation to enjoy God’s creation in all its components. A call to see, taste, feel that what God has created is good . It as an invitation to be curious, to learn about creation and experience it. Following God’s example in Genesis 1, we understand: ‘God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.’ It is important to take the time to look at the stars and learn about galaxies and dark matter. It is important to marvel at the craftsmanship that goes into manufacturing a violin with which the virtuoso plays vibrant music. It is important to wonder about quantum physics and try to understand it. It is important to fail to understand things as well, and wonder at who created a world that is beyond our understanding. Only then, having experienced the value of creation and realised how much of God’s character is infused in it and having turned our wonder into worship to the creator, only then can we really care. It is the starting point as well as a daily discipline: to relish God’s creation every single day.
The God of creation is the God of salvation. His redeeming power that raised Christ from the dead is the same power that will liberate creation from ‘its bondage to decay’ (Romans 8:21). It is also the same power that allows believers to participate in the redemption of the whole of creation. This takes the shape of a relentless passion to see broken people restored back to wholeness. It is additionally the deep conviction that God has a way to do so without it being at the expense of the rest of creation. It is thus also a fervent diligence to promote restoration to the whole of creation, from the charismatic rhino to unglamorous insects. It takes into account entire ecosystems in a holistic fashion. Finally, it is a principle that does not accept a throwaway mentality. From the kintsugi artisan, to the aficionados of compost and the grandpa who says ‘Don’t throw this toy away, I can fix it’, the ways to express God’s redeeming love for the discarded are numerous and varied.
Rest is based on the biblical principle of Sabbath (meaning rest in Hebrew). In the Ten Commandments, God orders us to cease our work every seventh day and to rest. This rhythm exists to set a limit to our work and more generally to our activity. We thus remember that we are more than what we do and focus on being, instead of doing. Furthermore, it is a rest that is not lived at the expense of others. Indeed, servants were also to rest on that day, as well as farm animals! (see Exodus 20:8-11) Brueggemann defines the Sabbath as resistance, ‘because it is a visible insistence that our lives are not defined by the production and consumption of commodity goods.’ [*] Taking into account all the facets of Sabbath rest, we see how this invites us to keep our consumerism within the generous margins given by God. This might lead us to reduce our consumption. It should also drive us to see that the whole of creation is given proper rest, animals as well as land. Finally, it reminds us of the believer’s hope of eternal rest with God. Practising the Sabbath may take the shape of a day or a moment set apart regularly to stop and enjoy the present moment, to rediscover simple pleasures and fellowship, helping us regain focus on what is meaningful in our lives. Sharing a home-cooked (possibly home-grown) meal with family, friends and strangers, relaxing in a hammock, walking in the forest may all represent Sabbath through an attitude that gives thanks to God and acknowledges him. This Sabbath is a gift for us to enjoy.
Relish, Redeem, Rest is a tripartite invitation to practise creation care in a way that encompasses all the goodness of the Gospel. It is not a difficult task, but a life-giving one, one that is good and enjoyable, in the image of our Creator.
[*] Walter Brueggemann. Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017. xiv.