The Sum of God's Work

Sunday morning, GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum appeared on CBS’s “Face the Nation” to defend his remarks to the Ohio Christian Alliance. While speaking to the conservative Christian group last weekend, Santorum stated that President Obama perpetuates “some phony theology. Not a theology based on the Bible. A different theology.” This statement itself is problematic in several ways, not least of which is the tired implication that the president might not be a Christian. It was Santorum’s clean up, though, that actually mucked everything up.

Santorum tried to explain that he was actually talking about “radical environmentalists”, who “have a worldview that elevates the Earth above man and says that we can’t take those resources, because we’re going to harm the Earth by things that frankly are just not scientifically proven.”

This statement is the political equivalent of a “What’s Wrong with this Picture” page in the back of a Highlights magazine. So let’s ignore the obvious issues like inclusiveness or, you know, science, and jump right into the theological gaffes.

Claiming that humanity has unbridled control over God’s creation is not only ignorant, but arrogant. The creation narrative of Genesis 2 shows God placing the human being in the garden “to till it and to keep it” (2:15 NRSV), not to strip it and to plunder it. Humanity was never meant to blindly and irresponsibly consume anything, especially something so specifically placed in our care. The earth and its resources are not ours to “take,” as Santorum stated, but God’s to give. This right-to-pillage mindset extends beyond matters of environmental concern, into justifications of exploitative economic systems and hugely disproportionate wealth.

The root of the problem is that Santorum’s statement implicitly acknowledges a divorce of the fate of people from the fate of the world. Creation and humanity are inseparable, and if you don’t believe the science, let us turn to the leader of Santorum’s faith community, the Catholic Church. Pope Benedict XVI, in celebration of World Peace Day on January 1, 2010, offered a message entitled, “If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation,” where he implores humanity to “renew and strengthen ‘that covenant between human beings and the environment, which should mirror the creative love of God, from whom we come and towards whom we are journeying.’” The Pope beautifully articulates the undeniable fact that as humans created by God, our lives and well-being are tied up with the rest of creation:

Our present crises – be they economic, food-related, environmental or social – are ultimately also moral crises, and all of them are interrelated. They require us to rethink the path which we are traveling together… The quest for peace by people of good will surely would become easier if all acknowledge the indivisible relationship between God, human beings and the whole of creation.

It’s about the environment. But more accurately, it’s about the sum of God’s work. Santorum’s myopic understanding of climate change has allowed him to be concerned about the deficit burden on future generations while ignoring the environmental squalor left for our children’s children. The wholeness of the rich can no easier be separated from that of the poor, than the fullness humanity from that of our home. We are connected to each other and to the earth by the God who formed and redeemed all of creation. To live outside of that responsibility reflects the selfishness and conceit of the human condition rather than the humble discipleship of a people responding to God’s continued grace.

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