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Environment and Development A Challenge to Our Lifestyles - 3. Creation and the Human Vocation in Creation


Although many churches have recently taken a clear stand on the ecological crisis, we are aware that the churches have generally been slow in responding to the threats to the environment. Except for the calls of a few prophetic voices, the churches have not been quick to sense the impending ecological disorder. Even today many churches do not recognize the urgency of a Christian response to the dangers and risks humanity faces. We are convinced that the Christian tradition both in the Bible and in the teaching of subsequent centuries provides a basis and inspiration for an adequate theological and spiritual response. We are aware, however, of the fact that in recent centuries these resources have often been obscured by many churches. Through their teaching and witness, some churches have too often supported the notion of the human conquest of nature. Not without reason, in the eyes of many Christianity has legitimized the domination of creation by humanity. In this respect there is need for a return to the roots of Christianity in Scripture and Tradition and for a thorough renewal of theological thinking.

As we face the present ecological crisis we realize that we have sinned. Before God the creator and before our fellow human beings we confess our failure. We know that only through repentance, forgiveness and reparation will a new departure become possible.

As Christians, we may differ in our approaches to the theme of creation because of our differing traditions, teachings and theological assumptions. But as we engaged in exchange at our consultation we discovered that despite different theological frameworks we are agreed on certain perspectives and emphases. Whatever the starting point, we affirm:

  1. God's continuing presence in Creation. God has not only called the universe into existence, God is present in its continuing life. We believe in the triune God Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God the Father who created the whole universe has revealed himself in Christ and is present through the Spirit at all times and in all places. God the Spirit who communicates the Gospel today was already present in the act of creation and continues to be the sustainer of all life. God cares not only for human beings but for all creation (Ps. 147,9). Destruction of creation is therefore disregard of God' s presence: it is sin against God.
  2. the human vocation to live in communion with creation. Human beings are not called to dominate the Earth but "to cultivate and guard it" (Gen. 2,15). In recent times the emphasis was often placed on God's command in Genesis 1,28: "fill the Earth and subdue it". This phrase was interpreted to mean that human beings were called to "conquer and complete creation"; they were to be stewards in God's creation. We have come to realize that this interpretation needs to be corrected. The primary calling of human beings is to praise God and to serve the human community in obedience to God's creative will, lifting the world up in an eucharistic offering. They are part of the created world and are destined to live in companionship with all creatures. Humans must be respectful of the fragile equilibrium of creation.

We all agree that in order to provide an adequate response to today's ecological crisis a new understanding of the significance of the human person needs to be grasped. Created in the image of God, human beings enjoy the gift of freedom. They are therefore capable of having a destructive impact on creation as well as making a positive impact. Through the misuse of their freedom and the fall they become a cause of suffering and conflict. As they allow themselves to be renewed by God's grace, they can live in peace with creation. The healing of creation begins with personal purification and with healing within community. The theme of the Second European Ecumenical Assembly, "Reconciliation Gift of God and Source of New Life" is therefore relevant to this question. God's gift of reconciliation in the first place establishes peace where there is antagonism and hostility among human beings; but it is also the basis of a more respectful relationship with creation.

As we discussed the role of human beings in creation, we once again became aware of the profound relevance of the biblical commandment regarding the observance of the Sabbath. This commandment occupies a central place in both Testaments. The commandment establishes an explicit relationship between God's act of creation and the human use of time. "You have six days to labour ... but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God ... that day you shall not do any work, you, your son or your daughter, your manservant or your maidservant, your cattle or the alien within your gates; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them, and on the seventh day he rested." (Ex. 20,9-11). The seventh day is God's permanent invitation not only to humans but to all creation to participate in God's joy. Through Christ's coming the Sabbath has acquired additional meaning the celebration of the seventh day has shifted to the first day. We now celebrate Christ's resurrection from the dead, the gift of new life in anticipation of God's kingdom.

In the Old Testament the rhythm of Sabbath extends to the sequence of years. Sabbath and Jubilee years provide an occasion to restore the communion with God, with one another and also with creation. (Lev. 25) At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus, referring to the tradition of the Jubilee year, "proclaims the year of God's favour" (Luke 4,19). He brings the deepest intentions of the Sabbath and the Jubilee years to their fulfilment.

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