Oh Lord, Heal Our Land

This article originally appeared in The Global Voice, Issue 34, March 2007. You can read the whole edition here.

Then the LORD God formed man (‘adam) of the dust from the ground (‘adamah)...
— Genesis 2:7 RSV

We are more connected to this earth than you’d think. Observe the Hebrew word play purposefully connecting man (also translated humanity) and ground (also translated land).

This connection between humanity and the land becomes a powerful motif in the Scriptures. There are almost 300 verses were the words ‘humanity’ and ‘land’ are in the same phrase. It is in the land that God provides for humanity shelter, food, clothing, and purpose. The blessings of God were often connected to the prosperity of the land, and in contrast, the curses to the land’s demise (Deuteronomy 27-29).

Modern urbanization has preferred concrete over grass, electricity over sunlight and air conditioning over a breeze. When someone hears the word ‘land,’ images of flags, iconic scenery (the Pyramids, Mount Rushmore, Grand Canyon, etc.) and patriotic songs are often associated. When someone hears ‘prosperity of the land,’ economics are sure to come to mind.

When God speaks of land, he speaks of that which he has given humanity as a gift. Genesis 1:28 And God blessed them… “Be fruitful and multiple, and fill the land and subdue it; and have dominion…”

When God speaks of land, he speaks of that which doesn’t belong to a government, but to him. Psalm 24:1 The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those (humanity) who dwell therein…

When God speaks of land, he gives us a reflection of our moral and ethical behavior. 2 Chronicles 7:14 If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.

The condition of our land is reflective of our moral condition. If the land is sick, we are sick. We are doing something wrong. It’s not just a ‘sin’ problem as understood by the theological presuppositions that Christianity would like to claim as cause, such as original sin or fallen nature/world. This problem extends beyond resolutions through a prayer of confession or creedal agreement. It’s a sin problem in that humanity has not heeded the voice of God and cared for our neighbor in such a way that God prospers the land. We’ve neglected the widow, the orphan, the immigrant and the foreigner. We’ve taken advantage of the poor to our own gain and the earth testifies to this accusation and God is the sovereign empowering the earth’s response.

With the ‘Global Warming’ phenomenon now gaining national attention, people cannot ignore the condition of our land, our earth — our gift from God. As Christians, we have a responsibility to God and humanity to care for this place. Popular theology has ignored our ecological responsibility to care for the earth and in doing so has shown little regard for future generations.

As I sit under the clear blue sky, under the shade of a small tree, writing this piece, I can’t help but notice the trash blowing by me in the wind, the smog being produced by the industrial plant down the road and the odors of the massive landfill that manages our waste in the other direction. I think about my kids and wonder if they will be able to enjoy clear blue skies and fresh air? I wonder if they will know what it’s like to sit under a tree and just look up into the beautiful sky and think about the Lord?

I used to live in California and I can remember having to check the daily post by the university I attended to see whether or not it would be safe to be outside and breathe the air. A majority of the days it was dangerous. The L.A. skyline would be hazed over by the smog of the industrial plants and the valley itself would fall under the shadow of the same smog cloud. Will this be our children’s future? Who will take responsibility for this?

We are more connected to this earth than you’d think. If we took better care of it, we would see how caring for our land is caring for one another. May the LORD help us so that one day, generations down the road, our great, great grandchildren will experience the beauty of the Lord’s creation and the fellowship of His people in peace. Oh Lord, heal our land…