Loving God’s Creation like Sheep
By Jason Duba, Restoring Eden Communications Associate
Metaphors that compare us to sheep appear frequently in the Bible, and notably among the prophets. Sheep illustrate some of our worst points – we can be unwise and blindly follow where we’re lead, but sheep also show some of our best traits – we can be simple, innocent, and faithful. The prophets have a powerful way of recognizing this moral dualism that exists in us by convicting us of our wrong-doings in one breath and then celebrating God’s covenant with us in the next. It is not unlike a friend saying, “I’ve got good news and bad news. Here’s the bad news first…”
In chapter 34, Ezekiel breaks the bad news to Israel from the beginning. He denounces some of the ways that Israel is living like unwise sheep, but he reminds them of the life-giving covenant God has made with them.
Like sheep, thinking merely of our selves, Ezekiel rails against our selfish wastefulness: “As for you my flock…Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you muddy the rest with your feet? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet?” (Ezekiel 34: 17-19). We can all have enough good food to eat and clean water to drink if we do not take more than we need. Indeed, Jesus teaches us to pray for our daily bread. God’s providence is plenty, this scripture implies, but only if we carefully respect and steward what we’ve received. Stewardship does not have to be complicated or overwhelming. Serving as a good caretaker of what God gives does not require expertise or education; it requires self-control and other-mindedness. Living within the limits and boundaries of our finite world reflects not only our faithfulness and obedience to God, but also shows our concern for others, now and in the future.
The image of sheep trampling the pasture is not foreign. Every day we see how peoples’ short-term selfish interests conflict with the long-term group interests, a phenomenon known as a “commons dilemma.” The commons dilemma was inspired by the metaphor of the “Tragedy of the Commons” that Garrett Hardin discussed in his seminal 1968 Science article. This story describes a group of herders having open access to a common parcel of land on which they could let their cows graze. It is in each herder’s interest to put as many cows as possible onto the land, even if the commons is damaged as a result. The herder receives all the benefits from the additional cows but the damage to the commons is shared by the entire group. Yet if all herders make this individually rational decision, the commons is destroyed and all will suffer. (Wikipedia)
Everyday around the world we trample our common pasture. From issues of local water rights and sanitation to Mountain Top Removal coal mining in Appalachia, much of human existence is defined by this struggle between short-term individual interests and long-term group interests. Sure, you need to drink clean water, but we need to keep this golf-course in the middle of the desert lush and green. Of course you can turn on your lights and watch TV, but we have to obliterate these mountains to get the coal for that to happen. We do not have to face these ridiculous choices. Another way is possible.
It is my belief that if more of us came to love God’s creation, as we seek to do here at Restoring Eden, fewer of these commons dilemmas would occur. I believe in the value of coming to know and love the place where you are, the place where you live. Personally, my heart isn’t big enough to love every square inch of God’s creation, but I don’t think that is what’s required. We need to love our cities, neighborhoods, and homes; we need to love our farms, parks, and libraries; we need to love our hills, forests, and lakes; we need to love our communities. When we love what is local, together we love the whole world. If everyone loved their own place, we each could rest secure in the knowledge that every square inch of God’s creation is being loved by someone.
Loving God’s creation empowers us to take the next steps of serving and protecting it. Here at Restoring Eden, we appreciate that serving and protecting God’s creation can take many different forms, and those forms will likely depend on the place you are seeking to serve and protect. Getting informed about what is already going on in your community is the first step to taking action.
The Louisiana Interchurch Conference believed in the power of loving creation when they formed the Ezekiel 34 Initiative in 2001. They also successfully served and protected God’s creation by advocating for state legislation creating Louisiana’s first ever comprehensive water policy in 2003. The campaign drew on the passage from Ezekiel that we’re examining here. The campaign sought to create policy that would protect water from the muddying and trampling hooves of human greed.
Fortunately, Ezekiel has good news for us sheep, too. We do not take on this work of caring for creation alone; God’s covenant with us is everlasting. This covenant says that “we may live…securely,” that God will “send down the showers in their season,” and that “the trees of the field will yield their fruit” (Ezekiel 34: 25-27). As God speaks to Israel through Ezekiel, we can take comfort because “they shall know that I, the Lord their God, am with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, says the Lord God. You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, says the Lord God” (Ezekiel 34: 30-31). Secure in the knowledge of God’s shepherding love and presence with us, let us love, serve, and protect God’s creation.