On Nature Groaning – Lenten Reflections

Let the field exult, and all that is in it.
Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy
Before the Lord, for He is coming
For He is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
And the peoples in His faithfulness
Psalm 96:12-13

When the earth threw its tectonic fit, the oceans rose to meet the works of our hands. Rising tides crushed ports, flowed through houses, breached the walls of our nuclear facilities. Radiation spilled into fields and retreated into the ocean, contaminated kelp, fish, and produce. In our hubris we believed that we could contain atom-fusing, but concrete and steel are no match for groans birthed in the depths of the ocean. God created the sea to be more powerful and less predictable than we would like.

There is another sea undulating in Northern Africa and the Middle East. This sea of humanity swells as if at high tide. Men in Syria shout for Allah and Freedom, stampede like the bulls in Spain. They pick up rocks and hurl them at the government. The rocks would cry out in praise if given the chance, but wild men have given the stones voices of violence instead. The goats and trees stand in the fields, see a coming war, know that they will be the casualties of it. One olive branch says to the other, “here we go again,” and they brace themselves for destruction at the hands of freedom fighters. The goats have stopped grazing and stand in the fields slack-jawed and innocent. Goats and trees always catch the residual shrapnel.

We were given stewardship of this world, I have read. But I think that in our conquests we have forgotten the value of the good earth around us. The effects of our avarice are apparent, even if accidental. Meltdowns contaminate nature. Wars rip craters into fertile soil and wipe out the wild herds that were created without the capacity for sin. Our lusts contaminate those things that were created to be perfect.

Our sin has consequences.

I am not an environmentalist, per se, but the Lenten Psalms have been thought-provoking. Why do the writers say that the fields will rejoice at Christ’s return? Why will the oceans roar and the sheep dance in the fields at his return? Perhaps the world pines for Christ’s salvation because we, in all of our depravity, have proven wholly incapable of stewarding that which was created holy. Maybe the earth groans as if in labor pains because our sin has impregnated it with the memory of Eden.

And if our sin is that apparent to nature, shouldn’t it likewise be apparent to us?

This is a bit of a difficult topic. Some of you may assume that I am an environmentalist, a “give peace a chance” kind of fellah. But the truth is, the language of the Psalms seem terribly relevant in the world in which we live. So let me ask you, why do you think the psalmists personify nature? Why are we told that oceans will roar, rocks cry out, sheep dance? Does it seem more relevant today than ever before?  Am I over-nuancing this whole thing?

These are honest questions, no agenda necessary.

___________________________

Feel free to flesh this out a bit with me in the comments.  Even if you don’t agree or think I’m missing something.  I’d love to sort some of this out.

**photo credit here.

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11 Responses to On Nature Groaning – Lenten Reflections

  1. Beautiful. Humble questioning.

    I love imagining the deeper mystery that nature holds in relationship to God and humanity. A great triangular friendship, I say – God, humanity, nature.

    For me to not take into consideration how the natural world relates with the other two counterparts, would feel akin to my SELF functioning without one of it’s components – like having a body and a spirit, but no mind.

    The language of the psalmists remind me a lot of the language of the Native Americans in a book I’ve been reading called The Wisdom of the Native Americans by Kent Nerburn. Here is an excerpt that captures the pulse of it’s content: “There are no temples or shrines among us save those of nature. Being children of nature, we are intensely poetical. We would deem it sacrilege to build a house for The One who may be met face to face in the mysterious, shadowy aisles of the primeval forest, or on the sunlit bosom of virgin prairies, upon dizzy spires and pinnacles of naked rock, and in the vast jeweled vault of the night sky! A God who is enrobed in filmy veils of cloud, there on the rim of the visible world where our Great-Grandfather Sun kindles his evening campfire; who rides upon the rigorous wind of the north, or breathes forth spirit upon fragrant southern airs, whose war canoe is launched upon majestic rivers of inland seas – such a God needs no lesser a cathedral.”

    I think the psalmists personify nature because they understand it at an inherent level – they get the triangle. They see the face of God in everything the natural world has to offer and therefore relate to it as if their very friendship with God depended upon the way they interacted with the crying pinnacles of naked rock. Do you know what I mean?

    I would love to put some flesh on these thought-bones, but have run out of time for the moment.

    Provoking post with well posed questions.

    Erika

    • sethhaines says:

      I do know what you mean and I fear that this kind of interaction with nature is lost. Sometimes I think we forget that God breathed the fabric of our world into existence, that all creation points to his glory. And frankly, I’m not exempt.

      These are good thoughts, Erika. I hope you explore them more.

      • To put some meat on it . . .

        If we are viewing nature through the lens of being a very integral part of a triangular relationship (rank notwithstanding – i.e. 1. God 2. Humanity 3. Nature), it helps me understand why she groans. I think she is misunderstood for her role in the friendship and treated like an addendum at best. People don’t understand that when they bleed all over her soil or throw their trash on her surface or rape her resources, that she absorbs the pain of not being a “part” of the relationship; of not being cared for or loved. It’s the same reaction (or response) I see when a person lives their life without an awareness to the spiritual component of their triangular makeup. They groan.

        Have you heard of a concept called “theology of the land”? It’s the idea that the earth absorbs the history it experiences on a molecular level; the land has a memory. The spirits she carries place to place are in direct relation to what the ground has experienced in that area.

        I heard Elie Weisel relate his recent visit to Auschwitz. He says that to this day you will not hear the birds singing over that land because the blood of millions cries up from the soil.

        One can mentally catalog what has happened to the earth since the beginning of time and not need to wonder why she groans or why certain city’s/areas are oppressive in the spirit. In my own town of New Haven, CT, we have dug deep and prayed hard to grasp the “whys” to the heavy nature of this city because we didn’t feel like we would “make it” or contribute fruitfully without a root level appreciation for what she has lived a witness to.

        Sorry if these thoughts are scattered or random. It’s hard to write and homeschool at the same time! 🙂

        Erika

      • sethhaines says:

        Ahhh… You pulled Ellie. Nice work.

        Flesh this out more when you have time. This is good stuff.

      • sethhaines says:

        I keep thinking about this comment and really like it. I think it gets at the heart of my original question. Our sin affects that which was without capacity for sin. Our sin scars nature, mutes her voice. Our greed and avarice destroys, rapes, pillages. No wonder the earth groans. No wonder it will dance at his return. No wonder.

        This is great, and I’m definitely going to look through some theology of the land stuff. Does that find it’s roots in Judaism? I read some Talmudic teachings that would seem to be related a few years back. It’s be impossible to dig them out now, I think. In any event, I’ll look and see what I can find.

        Thanks again for stopping by here and contributing. I really appreciate the input.

  2. This discussion is over my head. But beautiful.

    When my childhood dog died, when my tomatoes get spots, when floods and famines change lush landscape into dust – I can’t wait to rejoice with creation at world’s end – an end to all our groanings.

  3. Well, now you’re just getting greedy. 😉

    I will try! I need to find an old journal with specific notes about this topic . . . You’ll know if it turns up. 🙂

    Erika

    • A great resource to start with – unpacks this idea beautifully, scripturally – is a book by Martin Scott titled Impacting the City.

      Found some old notes on the topic. If I can carve out the time later, I’ll come back and share more thoughts.

      A lovely day to you,
      Erika

  4. Arianne says:

    “Maybe the earth groans as if in labor pains because our sin has impregnated it with the memory of Eden.”

    Yes. And you described it perfectly.

    I love the discussion on this.

    I think a lot of times this whole topic is thrown away too easily in an attempt to avoid a new age bent. Just like I don’t believe the solution to mis-use of the Spirit during a church service is dis-use (it’s proper use), I don’t think the solution to new age religiocity (is that a word?) of nature is to act like none of it matters. Baby out with the bathwater, and all that. Our stewardship of God’s creations (or lack thereof) certainly matter when you read see things at face value, however poetic, as you pointed out in this post.

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