What you're about to read is a sermon I wrote for Earth Day this year.
Here, at the beginning, please know that:
At one of the Christian colleges I attended, I wrote a paper against Earth Day. In that paper, I made the case that Earth Day is wrong--a satanic scheme to turn Christians away from God. The kind of people who celebrate Earth Day, I said, are benighted, godless, immoral, and just plain weird.
I wrote: "The Bible says the earth will burn up anyways. The only thing that matters is that we live lives of obedience to God. Those who preach the environment seek to lead us astray from what God says is important."
What, exactly, did God say is important?
At the time, I would say the most important things to God were abstaining from the sins of alcohol, sex, and tobacco and going to the right church.
Oddly, it was my struggle with one of those sins--sex--that began to change my mind about Earth Day. I grew up in a Christian culture that made sex feel like a very dirty thing. And so, as a college kid who involuntarily thought of almost nothing but sex, I felt dirty all the time. I was so ashamed of my sexuality, I actually sought out a man who said he could cast the "sex demon" out of me.
He failed. I thought about sex just as much after the "exorcism".
"It's not a demon," I thought. "It's me! I'm doomed!"
I went on living with this shame for several years until Bobby Valentine, a pastor friend of mine, pointed me to a scripture that saved me.
"Brad, go read Genesis 1," he said. "Then, come back and tell me: What is the first command God gives human beings in the Bible?"
It wasn't hard to find God's first command to human beings. It's right there in Genesis 1:28: "Be fruitful and multiply."
Bobby asked me: "You know what that means, Brad? It means God's first command to human beings is to have sex. See? You're made for sex and God expects you to have sex. Why feel dirty about wanting to do something that God commands you to do?"
And that did it. From that point on, I no longer felt ashamed of being sexual.
But helping me find healthy sexuality was only one of the things reading Genesis 1 did for me; it also changed what I believe about the relationship between God and Earth.
As I read Genesis 1, I noticed a refrain repeating over and over again: "And God saw that it was good."
What did God see as good? Earth and all therein.
I grew up believing God made Earth like Olympic host cities make stadiums: Disposable venues that get used for a short period of time before abandonment or demolition.
But Genesis 1 tells a different story. That refrain--"And God saw that it was good"--sings a song about an artist (God) thrilling in his artwork (Earth). The beauty and wonder of it all is getting to him and he is nearly giggling with joy and love.
Read Genesis 1 aloud and let the imagery enchant you and the rhythm move you. You can almost hear God's breathless whisper: "Oh, this is good. This is so, so good!"
Nothing about Genesis 1 even hints that God is building a disposable venue for human competition. No, he's getting carried away with his creativity and love for it all.
It is impossible to really read Genesis 1 and say that Earth does not matter to God.
It clearly does.
And that brings us back to the sex part.
The last thing God makes in Genesis 1 is human beings in his own image.
What does that mean? In his own "image"?
It means God makes human beings godlike. Everything we see God do in Genesis 1 is something that God gives us the power to do, too. God gives human beings the power to create and imagine. He gives us the power to care, to love, to rejoice.
And he gives us Earth--his Earth.
As soon as God declares his delight and his love for Earth, he gives it as a gift to the human beings he made in his own image. As he gives the gift, he says:
"Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge! Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air and for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth."
In short: Love it the way I love it. Care for it the way I care for it. Enjoy it! Treasure it!
To believe Genesis 1 is to believe that this is God's commission to the human race.
This was radical the first time I understood it.
But it was also such a relief.
I grew up in a church where preaching whiffed of burning sulfur. We talked about hell all the time. Our god was foul-tempered and thin-skinned. He was "all business" and enjoyed "throwing the book" at us. Yeah, maybe he made the world, but he forgot about it as soon as humans were on the scene. God was too busy sniffing out 19-year olds who were trying with all their might to not think about sex. Earth was just kindling for the fire that would burn up all the sinners like me.
Genesis 1 saved me from that god. What a relief to discover that God is an artist with a soft spot for birds and flowers! What a relief to discover that God thought sex would be a really awesome thing for people to have! What a relief to discover that God doesn't make anything to use once and throw away; he saves everything...including you and me.
Thinking about it this way changed Earth Day from a "pagan" day to a sacred day.
Jesus Christ himself tells his apprentices that to look into the heart of God, they need to look at nature. Earth Day, then, is not just a day to celebrate and contemplate Earth; it is a day to get to know the heart of God by getting to know God's Earth.
Christians like me shouldn't keep Earth Day to be "P.C." or to placate that one aunt who wears Birkenstocks and eats homemade granola. We keep Earth Day because thrilling in the beauty and wonder of Earth is one of the easiest ways to thrill in the heart of God.
Earth Day is also a reminder that we as a human race have work to do--divine work that is obedience to God's original command: Love my Earth the way I love it. Care for it the way I care for it. Treat this gift the way a precious gift ought to be treated.
If we want to be like God, Earth Day shows us how. If we want to be part of God's life (and want God to be part of our lives), Earth Day shows us how.
In a calendar full of religious holidays and observances, few could bring us any closer to knowing who God is and what God is about than Earth Day.
"For God so loved the world..."
The truth is, for God every day is Earth Day.
Shouldn't that be true of us, too?
BT Irwin, executive director, Voices for Earth Justice