The green face of God – part 2
Part 1 of this two-part post enumerated biblical images of the Holy Spirit as the green face of God that Mark Wallace described in his article, The Green Face of God: Christianity in an Age of Ecocide (Cross Currents, Fall 2000, Vol. 50 Issue 3, 310-331). This point focuses on implications of those images for our ecological stewardship, especially on how human abuse of creation causes God to suffer and the necessity for humans to strive to ameliorate and end that damage as a key reparative element of repentance.
Wallace explained why damaging the biosphere causes God to suffer:
From this viewpoint, as the God who knows death through the cross of Jesus is the crucified God, so also is the Spirit who enfleshes divine presence in nature the wounded Spirit. Jesus' body was inscribed with the marks of human sin even as God's enfleshed presence -- the earth body of the Spirit -- is lacerated by continued assaults upon our planet home. Consider the sad parallels between the crucified Jesus and the cruciform Spirit: the lash marks of human sin cut into the body of the crucified God are now even more graphically displayed across the expanse of the whole planet as the body of the wounded Spirit bears the incisions of further abuse. God is the wounded Spirit even as God is the crucified Christ -- as God suffered on a tree by taking onto Godself humankind's sin, so God continually suffers the agony of death and loss by bringing into Godself the environmental squalor that humankind has wrought.
Genuine repentance always involves a good faith effort to make reparations for the harm that one caused as well as a commitment to cease doing whatever one did to cause the harm. The latter can be difficult with respect to harming the biosphere. Few of us can immediately end all of our reliance upon fossil fuels, depend only upon renewable resources, and so forth. We can, however, commit to an annual self-audit to estimate our carbon footprint and then commit to reducing that footprint over the following year. Low-hanging “fruit” that will reduce one’s carbon footprint include driving fewer miles, wasting less food and other products, buying fewer clothes and other items. Longer term options include living in a smaller dwelling, buying vehicles with higher MPG ratings (or electric vehicles), etc.
Repairing harm done to the biosphere is yet more difficult. Few of us can point to specific harms caused by our individual actions. Incidentally, the weak link between individual actions and ecological damage erodes our motivation to repent, e.g., my driving an extra thousand miles does not cause any measurable environmental harm even though the cumulative effect of all humans with autos driving an extra thousand miles per year does cause measurable harm.
Nevertheless, reparative action remains an essential component of repentance; without reparation, transformation from sinner to saint is retarded if not inhibited. So, what can we do?
Historically, when reparations cannot be made to repair the actual damage a person’s actions have caused, reparations have taken the form of striving to repair similar or associated damage. Consequently, examples of appropriate ecological reparations are:
· Contributions to and other support of environmental groups’ efforts to reduce ecological harm through lobbying, public advocacy, education efforts, and immersion programs
· Participation in environment clean up initiatives
· Replanting cleared areas with trees and lawns with xeriscapes
· Opposing public policies to expand drilling for oil and natural gas, construction of new coal fired electric generating plants, etc.
All of these actions not only represent small steps to repair ecological damage but are also personally costly because they require expenditure of one’s time and/or leave one with less disposable income.
Wallace ends his article with this prayer, which I very much echo: “May the Holy Spirit, as divine force for sustenance and renewal in all things, come into our hearts and minds and persuade us to work toward a seamless social-environmental ethic of justice toward all God's creatures.”