By REV. LUNA L. DINGAYAN
“Why have you done this terrible thing? Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground, like a voice calling for justice. You are placed under a curse and can no longer farm the soil. The soil has soaked up your brother’s blood as if it had opened its mouth to receive it when you killed him. If you try to grow crops, the soil will not produce anything; you will be a homeless wanderer on earth” – Gen.4:10-12
The July 16 killer earthquake of 1990 is a continuing reminder for us concerning our universal and divine task to be good and responsible stewards of God’s creation. According to experts, the primary reason why we experience extraordinary natural calamities and climate change is due to what they call global warming brought about by air pollution and environmental degradation. There has been a steady deterioration of our country’s ecological situation according to reports of government agencies and environmental groups. Take, for instance, the following:
“In 1903 the country had more than 21 million hectares of forests. Now it is estimated that the forest cover is only 5.4 million hectares. About 5.2 million hectares of our soils are severely eroded. Last year (2002), barely 10 percent of the country’s fish stocks were left in our seas and coasts, no thanks to illegal fishing and more efficient fishing methods.
“About 80 percent of the country’s coral reefs, the breeding and feeding grounds of fish, are severely damaged. Fifty percent of the country’s 421 rivers are already dead and many lakes are ecologically endangered. From 500,000 hectares in the 1920’s, mangrove areas, the nurseries of most marine life, have gone down to only 120,000 hectares.
“Air quality levels in the big cities are below World Health Organization standards. Heavy air pollution in the four largest metropolitan areas is costing the country about P21 billion a year, according to the World Bank. Only 6 percent of municipal waste is recycled and 73 percent is collected. The national waste collection efficiency rate is a poor 40 percent.
“Deforestation is causing the destruction of wildlife habitat and the extinction of many species. Philippine fauna are the most severely endangered in the world”(PDI, Editorial, April 22, 2003, p. A8).
The church and its theology are partly responsible for people’s apparent lack of concern for the environment. Some Christians even believe that ecological destruction is one of the signs of the Lord’s coming. There is an old popular Gospel song which says:
“This world is not my home; I’m just passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue. The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door. And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.”
We are not quite sure how many Christians have been influenced by the content and theology of this song. But surely, there are many Christians today who still think and believe that this world is not their home. And therefore they live and behave according to this kind of cosmology or understanding of the world.
This-world-is-not-my-home theology implies that we should not take this world seriously, because this world is not our home. We are just passing through! And so, whatever happens to this world – the forests destroyed; the rivers, lakes, seas and air heavily polluted; the mountains, watersheds and parks denuded – are not our concerns! For this world is not our home!
This kind of theology is rooted in the ancient Greek belief that the material world is evil, and therefore it should not be given importance. Unfortunately, such perception of the world was incorporated in many teachings of the church although it was already declared in the Early Church as heretical and not in keeping with the Judeo-Christian traditions. For God created the world and that he declared good everything he created, and that human beings are supposed to take care of them (cf. Gen. 1).
In the colonial era, colonizers made use of the “This-World-Is-Not-My-Home” theology to expand their colonies by inculcating in the hearts and minds of the natives that the material world was not important. And therefore, the people could just give them for the colonizers to exploit. It was the same kind of theology empire-builders propagated to expand their empires the world over by providing false hopes to people, especially the poor and downtrodden, and for them to bear their sufferings, anyway this world is not their home. Their home is up there beyond the blue!
No, this world is our home! This is the only world God has given us. And thus, we must care for it. For in caring for this earth, we are also caring for ourselves and for the whole of humanity.
Cain and Abel
There is a popular Biblical story about two brothers by the name of Cain and Abel (cf. Gen. 4:1-12). The elder brother, Cain, was a farmer, while the younger one, Abel, was a shepherd. These two brothers brought before God their burnt offerings. And according to the story, the Lord was pleased with Abel and his offerings. And so, Cain became furious and turned against his own younger brother Abel and killed him.
Then, the Lord God asked Cain a very profound question, a question that strikes at the very core of human existence. “Cain”, God asked, “Where is your brother?” God was not just asking the whereabouts of Abel. He was actually asking Cain, “What have you done to your brother?” Cain’s answer shows us the sinfulness of humanity. He said, “I don’t know. Am I supposed to take care of my brother?”
This question of God to Cain is also meant for us to ponder, because our world today is no different from that of Cain and Abel. Our world is also marred by rugged individualism, wherein people think that they are only living for themselves. It is also a world where people are only after their own individual salvation. It is also a world of conflict, where brothers and sisters kill each other. Hence, we may also ask, are we supposed to take care of our brothers and sisters? Are we supposed to take care of the generations yet to come?
Then, the Lord God said to Cain, “Why have you done this terrible thing? Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground, like a voice calling for justice. You are placed under curse and can no longer farm the soil. The soil has soaked up your brother’s blood as if it had opened its mouth to receive it when you killed him. If you try to grow crops, the soil will not produce anything; you will be a homeless wanderer on earth” (Gen. 4:10-12).
This word of the Lord is not difficult for us to understand. We know by experience that in situations of conflict, like in some areas in Mindanao and elsewhere in our country, wherein people kill each other, the land will no longer produce anything, no matter how fertile it is. For no one will take care of the land. Everyone will be running after his or her own life. And people, especially children, live and die in refugee camps. Indeed, they will become “homeless wanderer on earth”.
And so, this is the story of two brothers. But this is not only the story of Cain and Abel; it is also our own story – the story of Filipinos in relation to their fellow Filipinos. As a matter of fact, this is the story of the whole humanity.
To Care for the Earth
This story is telling us one very important lesson regarding our responsibility as stewards of God’s creation. It clearly shows us the fact that our relationship with one another determines to a large extent our relationship with God’s creation. In other words, to care for the earth is to care for each other. The moment our relationship with one another is characterized by a relationship of envy, of hatred, of selfishness and greed, then surely our relationship with God’s creation will also become a relationship of destruction and exploitation. And sooner or later, the whole created order will rise up against us, because the blood of our brother or sister will cry out from the ground!
More and more, we are realizing today the fact that earthquakes, floods, droughts, and pestilence are ways in which the whole created order rise up in protest against human destructiveness, exploitation, negligence, and greed.
This world is our home! To destroy the earth is to destroy ourselves. To care for the earth is to care for each other, to care for the whole humanity, not only for the sake of this present generation but also for the sake of the generations to come.
There’s a beautiful children’s song entitled, “It Could Be a Wonderful World”. It says,
If each little child could have fresh milk each day
If each working man has enough time to play
If each homeless person has some place to stay
It could be a wonderful world.
If we would consider each other
A neighbor, friend, sister or brother
It could be a wonderful, wonderful world
It could be a wonderful world.
If there were no poor and the rich are content
If strangers were welcomed wherever they went
If everyone knew what community meant
It could be a wonderful world.
Indeed, if today’s children would really learn and internalize this song, and thus grow and live with its message, then we may have good reason to hope that our world in the future will truly become a beautiful, wonderful world. # nordis.net