Matthew 6:25 -
“Following Church of England lectionary for the day”
In this week’s Gospel reading Jesus tells his disciples not to worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will have worries of its own, but in an age of climate change and ecological degradation, is it really possible not to worry? Regardless of whether our lives are being directly affected, or whether our concern is primarily about the future of the world, there is much to worry about; (please use illustrations appropriate to your context). In my context increasing attention is being paid to the concept of “eco-anxiety”, a state of acute distress and worry about the ecological crises that have befallen our world. Individuals are aware that as a species we have the potential to destroy the optimum conditions for life on earth, yet as individuals we do not have enough power to prevent them. Worrying can seem to some like the only opinion.
Jesus bases his advice not to worry, on his knowledge of the love of God. God who cares for us more than he cares, even for the sparrows or the lilies of the field. Jesus is clear, that God cares about the sparrows and the lilies a great deal. Trusting in the providence of God can certainly be an antidote to worry and we know that praying is always better than worrying.
When God created his good world, he gave humans great power over creation, but we have wielded this power neither wisely or responsibly. Global inequality and the ecological crisis bear witness to this failure, and both give us cause to repent. Trusting in God instead of selfishly accumulating wealth and possessions just in case we might need them sometime in the future, may well be the place to start.
However, trusting in God’s providence does not excuse us from the responsibility of finding solutions to the threats God’s good creation faces. We cannot simply trust, pray and then sit back and wait for God to resolve everything. Rather we are called to co-operate with God in bringing creation to the fulfilment described in Romans 8.
The alternative that Jesus presents to worrying is striving for the Kingdom of God. Seeking a world of justice and peace, where the integrity of creation is honoured, and each person and creature is recognised as having the dignity that comes from being loved by God. When we find ourselves worrying about the state of our world, reflecting on how we can “strive for the Kingdom” might be a more constructive response.
This familiar Old Testament reading describes how God created the world and saw that it was good. An understanding that the world exists as a result of God’s creative ability and belongs to him, is a consistent Biblical theme and one which motivates us to creation-care. Such a theme will inform our ethical discussions and behavioural choices just as our understanding of being made in the image of God. The reading also includes what is sometimes described as an ecological “text of terror” Genesis 1:28 where humans appear to be instructed to “subdue the earth” and “have dominion over it”. When read against the horizon of ecological destruction, such subduing and dominating must be understood in terms of loving care, rather than oppressive exploitation.
This passage suggests that although Creation was created “good” it has since been subject to decay, but that there will be an ultimate fulfilment in which human beings have a role.
The implied answer to the question “are you not of more value than they?” suggests that humans are God’s favoured species, but that they are not the only part of creation to be of interest to him or enfolded in his love.
A consistent biblical theme seems to be privileging living in the present over planning for the future. cf Exodus 16:13-20, Luke 12:16-21. I wonder if greed may be exacerbated by worry about the future and the felt need to make provision for it which can lead to an accumulation of possessions.
Panu Pihkala Theology of Eco-anxiety as liberating contextual theology
Revd Ruth Newton
Revd Ruth Newton, is an associate minister and theological educator. As member of the Church of England General Synod, Ruth serves on the Environmental Working Group and is vice chair of the General Synod Environment Group.