There is a story (I’m not sure whether it’s true or not) about the former Archbishop Michael Ramsey. He was, so the story goes, heckled by someone asking him if he could explain the Christian doctrine of creation. Ramsey was not known for his pithy soundbites but he did his best. ‘It means,’ he said, ‘that my being is entirely contingent.’
That one line answer demonstrates both the simplicity and the difficulty of thinking about God as creator. The simple bit is Archbishop Michael’s recognition that he exists because of God. Indeed, the reason why everything exists, the reason why something exists rather than nothing, is God. Anyone who has ever looked in wonder at the natural world and gasped ‘how?’, ‘why?’ is answered in this way: because God is the Creator.
The more difficult part is that this is a very imprecise notion. The history of Christian mistakes about creation is, in my view, a catalogue of attempts to come up with a more precise idea than the one that we have been given.
Some Christians, for example, want to turn the accounts of creation in the book of Genesis into a precise, scientific account of what actually happened at the beginning of time. I won’t attempt to judge the scientific merits of this, but as an example of biblical interpretation it has a lot of problems. The book of Genesis does not pretend to address the same questions that we would like answered, and trying to make it do so does not display a high view of Scripture, quite the opposite.
Other Christians, by contrast, cede too much to the precisions offered by the scientific method, reducing the involvement of God in creation to something rather like the role of the person who lights the tapers of the fireworks on 5th November, one who presses the ‘START’ button and retreats to a safe distance.
In between those two mistakes lies a more challenging truth. God’s activity as creator is continuous, eternal even. In God, all things live and move and have their being. This is not ‘our planet’, nor do we belong to ourselves. It is because we imagine otherwise that we permit ourselves to behave as we do, with potentially catastrophic consequences.
That is why a properly Christian response to the ecological crisis must begin with repentance. We have treated creation as our property when it is not. We have understood our lives as our own project, when they are not. We have imagined God’s status as creator to require our protection when it does not. Only when we understood ourselves, one another, and everything that exists as created and loved by God will we begin to behave as responsible stewards of the amazing natural world that we are privileged to call home.
May God bless you all,