When asked, which was the greatest commandment, Jesus said,
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31)
I contend that we would do well to expand our understanding of “neighbor” to include the earth. The earth is also our neighbor, one upon whom we depend for our very life and well- being and one with whom we need to live in a right relationship.
We and the earth are here because of God’s great creative act. We and the earth belong to God, as the psalmist so wisely stated, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.” (Ps. 24:1)
God has made all things so that all of creation is interconnected. Everyone and everything exists in relationship one with another. Failure to understand that generates problems. One of the big problems we face today is climate change, a problem to which human kind has contributed greatly.
At the core of climate change there is a theological problem.
Actually there are a number of problems. One is our failure to see the earth as neighbor, resulting in an emotional and intellectual disconnect so that the earth is simply a resource to be used in a utilitarian manner. Such thinking fails to understand that the earth is a living thing. The very soil itself, the plants and all that lives and breathes on the earth is filled with life. The lakes and oceans teem with life. Their health and well-being affects our health and well-being. We need to look at the earth, and all that is in it, not as an “It” but as a “Thou”, to borrow language from Martin Buber. All of creation is one great web of life in which everything is connected with everything else. In order to survive and thrive we all must live in relationship with the whole of creation.
Another theological problem is generated by misunderstanding the meaning of “dominion” and “subdue” as used in Genesis 1:28 wherein God says, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
“Subdue” and “dominion” are not to be understood as pressing down and crushing. Nor is it an abusing of earth. Neither is it to be making the earth feel the heavy hand and foot of humankind. And it is most certainly not a raping and plundering of the earth for profit without any thought or care for the earth itself. Rather the words to “subdue and have dominion” refer to a rule and a care of creation. This is made clear in Genesis 2:15. The text reads, “The Lord God took man and put him in the garden of Eden to till and keep it.” The New English Bible renders the text saying, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till and care for it.” Human rule or dominion is to correspond to God’s rule or dominion, which is benevolent and peaceful.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Thus, when we recite the Two Commandments, we would do well to see the earth as neighbor since we and the earth together come from the hand of God.
The Creator God has made all things so they are connected, one with another in a great web of life. That web is nourished and sustained when we love God and love neighbor. The practice of loving the earth as neighbor will guide us into a new day.