Oil spill raises questions
about our responsibilities
The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.
-Psalm 24: 1-2, NRSV
The massive oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico is an environmental and economic catastrophe, as well as a political potboiler. But it is also very much a theological issue.
Most who have seen the images of polluted seas and marshes, oil-drenched wildlife and fouled beaches have recoiled in a mixture of heartsickness and anger. For people of faith, the images take on an even more profound meaning, and thus evoke a special kind of mourning.
If we believe that God created the earth and all that is in it, any desecration of that earth brought about by human wants, carelessness or indifference is an affront to its Creator.
The Genesis account of creation in which humankind is given "dominion" over the earth is sometimes used by those who argue that exploitation of the earth's resources without regard for the future consequences is biblically ordained. This is a sadly distorted view of the human role in tending to the natural world.
Scripture repeatedly invokes the notion of stewardship and accountability. What God has given us to care for, God will expect us to look after responsibly, always balancing present needs with those of future generations.
God's provision is here for us to enjoy and be sustained by, and sometimes hard-liners in the environmental movement have given too little emphasis to human need when confronting environmental issues. But on the other extreme, the theological perspective that any concern about the environment is pantheistic paganism ignores the clear call of Scripture to stewardship of all the resources God has given us.
The oil spill offers vivid testimony to the interconnected web of the environment and an economy that sustains families and livelihoods. The fouling of the Gulf Coast's ecosystem will damage the delicate balance between the flourishing of marine life and its harvesting for human consumption, sustenance and enjoyment. The damage to the Gulf waters and shorelines makes their enjoyment by visitors, which in turns provides employment to many people, difficult if not impossible.
Man's capacity to disrupt the balance God set up in his creation has grown with technological and economic advances, and a crisis such as the oil spill offers the opportunity to reflect on our responsibilities to keep the balance in place.
We should ask ourselves:
* What can we do - what must we do - to ensure that the damage is mitigated and the prospect for another such disaster minimized? That's the least good stewardship requires, and the profit levels of oil companies should obviously not be the primary consideration.
* What can we do - what must we do - to adjust our lifestyles and appetites to reduce our insatiable need for environmentally hazardous exploitation of the earth's resources? We need to acknowledge, and where appropriate repent, of the ways that we as individuals contribute to a created order out of balance.
Being good stewards means asking ourselves difficult questions, and acting on the answers God leads us to find.