Creation still groans

Oct 28, 2019 by

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I’ve heard creation care is a liberal agenda that puts its concerns ahead of national well-being. This got me wondering: Was Paul labeled an eco-freak when he heard creation groaning (Rom. 8:22)?

Jane Yoder-Short

Yoder-Short

We often assume Paul’s statement about creation groaning is theological. We connect his words with Genesis and the Fall. It was easy for Paul to leave politics out of his concern about creation. He lived before global temperature charts, industrialization, cars spewing carbon dioxide.

But what if Paul’s words also connected with the prophets and an environmental crisis of his time?

Long before Paul heard creation groaning, Jeremiah heard it moaning from the devastation that resulted from people’s wickedness. Seeing the grass wither and animals swept away, he asked, “How long will the land mourn?” (Jer. 12:4). Was Jeremiah seen as indifferent to Judea’s well-being?

Isaiah declared the earth is defiled by its disobedient people (Isaiah 24). This probably wasn’t a popular idea.

Surprisingly, environmental troubles aren’t just a recent concern. Paul’s time appears to have had its own ecological crisis. Author Sylvia Keesmaat puts Paul’s pronouncement of creation groaning in a fresh context. According to Keesmaat, creation groaning is more than a meta­phor for a fallen world. It is also based upon Paul’s observations as he traveled the stone roads of the Roman Empire.

“Each road itself [was] a carefully constructed environmental disaster, 40 feet wide, 12 feet of foundation, eating up land, cutting off streams, felling for­ests, creating erosion,” she writes, with Brian Walsh, in Romans Disarmed. What was good for Rome wasn’t good for creation or the rest of the world.

Let’s consider trees. In the past, people were aware of the time involved in producing wood. In Paul’s day, trees were a valuable commodity. They ran the Roman kilns that produced bricks, pottery and smelted metal. Trees heated Roman baths and cooked food. Today we think little about the life of trees. We run to Home Depot and buy a 2-by-4 with little thought of trees, soil or creation groaning. Amazon trees are lost to fires so we can import more beef. Who thinks of a tree groaning while eating a hamburger? We sing Isaiah’s words and envision a forest scene where trees are clapping their hands (Isaiah 55:12) while we remain disconnected from creation groaning.

I wonder how Paul would view creation’s groaning today. Would he be surprised by victims of empire and environmental devastation?

How can we connect with creation and move beyond political labels and distortions? Can we open our ears and hear creation’s groaning? Can we hear creation groaning when corporations get rich from environmental exploitation? When our political leaders choose tainted money over regulations that would preserve trees and soil? When our nation’s “greatness” comes at the expense of global neighbors? Can we hear creation groaning, or are our ears filled with preconceived notions?

Paul told the Romans he was convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor climate skeptics, nor liberal agendas, nor political divisions, nor endless corporate greed and ceaseless human consumption, nor anything in all creation will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Well, that’s not exactly what Paul wrote, but he was dreaming of a church where allegiance to Jesus overruled the powers and propaganda.

Jane Yoder-Short attends West Union Mennonite Church in Parnell, Iowa.


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