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Many people around the world spent the 50th annual Earth Day behind closed doors at home Wednesday, sheltering in place in hopes of stopping the spread of the coronavirus. If not for the pandemic, no doubt great numbers of us would be out celebrating the blessings of our beautiful Earth on a beautiful day.
I love the outdoors and our natural environment. One of my favorite pastimes is running the many mountain trails in my home state of Colorado.
From the red rocks of Garden of the Gods to the aspen-lined trails up on Pikes Peak, running in this magnificent landscape puts me in a constant state of wonder, especially as the morning sun casts its first rays and the singing of the birds bounces between the trees. This is the kind of tweeting that can’t be matched by anything typed onto a cellphone.
I firmly believe that Earth’s beauty is proof of God’s existence. As winter gives way to spring, just look around at the trees and flowers. Could all of that come from some primordial ooze?
When I was a boy, I remember our pastor talking about Sir Fred Hoyle, an English astronomer who once said that the odds of life emerging from nothing was the equivalent of a tornado ravaging a junkyard and assembling a flyable Boeing 747.
This Earth Day, instead of championing cataclysmic predictions about creation’s fragility – warnings that regularly fall spectacularly short – we should be turning to creation’s Creator, and give credit where credit is due.
I’ve always been perplexed by how any conversation about the environment – or creation – can be had without discussing the Creator. It’s like admiring a beautiful painting while ignoring or dismissing the painter’s role in it, or savoring a scrumptious meal without acknowledging the cook.
In both the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, we read that God has assigned men and women “dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
Inherent to control, though, is responsibility. As a person of faith, I believe strongly in the fact that I must steward all of God’s resources. Wastefulness is sinfulness – but that doesn’t mean we can’t wisely use all of the Creator’s gifts, including fossil fuels, minerals, plants, the soil, water and wildlife.
As I often rhetorically ask our sons, why would God have given us all of these things if He didn’t want us to use them?
Conservatives are often falsely accused of not caring about the environment, as if we don’t mind breathing polluted air or drinking dirty war. It’s a bogus charge. We want an environment that is healthy for us all – we may simply differ on the political pathway towards achieving clean air and clean water.
Regrettably, for the last 50 years many Earth Day advocates have consistently ignored God’s role in the world’s creation. In fact, in some cases environmentalism has become a secular religion in and of itself – a throwback, of sorts, to nature worship practiced long ago.
As it is, whether you’re religious or not, everybody worships something or someone.
I stand in awe and wonder of the Earth and all its spectacular beauty. I respect it – but I don’t worship it. Instead, I worship the God who created it.
“He has made everything beautiful in its time,” wrote the writer of Ecclesiastes. “He has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.”
As my mother lay dying, just days after she turned 80, she opened her eyes one afternoon and remarked how beautiful the ocean looked from the shore. I was perplexed – we were in a hospice facility in Texas, many miles from the sea.
“What are you seeing, Mom?” I asked, excitedly wondering if she was having a vision of heaven.
“I’m remembering those wonderful days with you down at Point Lookout and Robert Moses Park,” she said, calling back our time many years earlier on Long Island’s beaches. I closed my eyes and could see her standing at the shoreline holding my little hand, her feet in the water and a smile on her face.
My mother used to say she never felt closer to God than at the beach, a place she considered as close to heaven on Earth as you could get.
On this, the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day, let’s acknowledge that the environment is a wonderful God-given masterpiece that is a gift to us all – and agree that only fools squander a generous gift.
And let us pray that on the next Earth Day – hopefully long before then – we will be free to step outside our homes and enjoy the beautiful beaches, mountains, canyons and all the wonders of God’s creation without social distancing, with the coronavirus defeated by the miracles of science and modern medicine.
The best way to mark Earth Day is to use the many gifts of our planet wisely.