For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. – Romans 8:19-21
I recently finished reading the second installment of Margaret Atwood’s MadAddam trilogy, The Year of the Flood. It’s an excellent book and an excellent series, though the quality of Atwood’s writings is not my focus here. One of the key characters of the book, a cult leader by the name of Adam One, asked a pointed question which I’ve not been able to shake from my mind due to its eschatological implications.
Adam One’s group is a religious movement that blends science and religion with a heavy focus on environmentalism and veganism. They hold a deep reverence for scientific research, tempered with strict religious ethics, meaning they are in direct opposition to the culture around them. Therefore, their saints are a mixture of religious mystics and leaders in scientific discovery, a wonderfully tense and eclectic mixture of the harmony they see between science and faith. However, despite their efforts at being green and vegan, they find themselves dying at the hands of a pandemic created by the very corporations they oppose. Adam One, however, welcomes death, viewing the extinction of humanity as key to God’s plan to renew the Earth, saying, “There have been some religions in the past that have said that God would return and get rid of the old Earth and create a new one, but why would God give us a new Earth when we have treated the current one so poorly?”
Adam One’s thoughts on humanity and its troubled relationship with the Earth are not as uncommon as you might think; it dates back as far as the ancient Greeks, who weren’t exactly confident that man’s existence was such a good thing. These days, however, we seem to to be pretty damn sure that we’re the best thing to happen to this planet since the last Ice Age. Nevertheless, Adam One’s question haunts us. Why would God give us a shot at a new world when we’ve done such a piss-poor job with this one? Should he even consider such a thing?
People often say that God doesn’t give up on humanity, say it has something to do with grace and love, but then why did God “give up” on countless extinct species of animals, his creations, at the hands of humanity, also his creations? Creation was subject to destruction by mankind, and waits to be set free from this bondage. That passage in Romans above is often interpreted to mean eagerness, excitement, but in light of man’s oppression of the created world, I feel as if it could be read with less positive tones.
We’ve all heard the classic problem of evil: “How can a good God allow bad things to happen?” Evangelicals have many answers to this question, most of them involving some sort of divine plan that we just need to trust God about, but the saddest part of this question is that it’s very misdirected. What we often mean when we ask it is “How can a good God allow bad things to happen to us?” Our own suffering notwithstanding, it’s a very self-centered question to ask. What we ought to be asking is, “How can good creations allow/cause such bad things to happen to the rest of God’s creation?” We can’t simply throw our hands up and hope no one notices the blood dripping from them; we remain at fault for much of the evil in this world, and our tendency to throw the blame back on God is a flat-out denial of our own guilt.
God’s question to Eve following her and Adam’s consumption of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was, “What have you done?” This question echoes throughout the course of history, with every life taken in cold blood (what have you done?), every species that goes extinct (what have you done?), every oil spill (what have you done?), every man-made disaster (what have you done?). The Fall fractured more than just our personal relationships with God (as if that were all that were on the table for redemption), it fractured our relationship with the Earth. It’s as if we’ve added an addendum to Genesis 1:31; “And God saw all that he had made and it was very good. [Then Man saw all that God had made and said, this belongs to me alone and I will use it for my gain]”
I agree very much with Adam One that we do not deserve a new Earth when we have done such a bad job caring for the one that we have. You may think me radical, perhaps extreme, but if we are so undeserving of the love of God we’ve squandered on our selfishness, would we not be equally undeserving of his other gifts as well? If you can take God’s love and grace seriously, why can’t you take God’s tangible gifts seriously as well?