In his encyclical Laudato si, Pope Francis propsed an ecological conversion, a recommitment to be good and faithful stewards of God’s wonderful gift of creation.
The Bible reveals God as the good Creator, the Intelligence behind Intelligent Design, the Lord and the giver of life on earth. Our only response: awe, wonder and praise!
At the beginning of the Bible we find stories of creation. The Holy Spirit was active: ‘The earth was without form and void and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.’ (Genesis 1:2). The Hebrew word for Spirit ruah means breath and wind. Breath is a helpful image, because it’s personal. Breathing is a sign of life; a vital sign, if you will, that we are living and alive! When God breathes, life springs forth: ‘When thou sendest forth thy Spirit, they are created; and thou renewest the face of the earth.’ (Psalm 104:30). The Catechism of the Catholic Church, quoting St Irenaeus, teaches that creation is the work of the Holy Trinity, the Father, Son and the Spirit are Creator God. The very act of creation brings together the roles of each divine person. ‘There exists but one God, he is the Father, God, the Creator, the author, the giver of order. He made all things by himself, that is by his Word and by his Wisdom’, ‘by the Son and the Spirit’ who, so to speak, are ‘his hands.’ (CCC292). To truly grasp God’s gift of creation, through the prism of God’s revelation, we turn to the Old Testament, the Hebrew scriptures, that great storehouse of treasure revealing, as it does, in a special way, the role of the Holy Spirit in the work of creation. Indeed, even when the Spirit’s name isn’t evoked these Scriptures are particularly expressive of the Spirit because the Psalms are ‘Israel’s songs of the Spirit’ and the prophets, who often point to the beauty and gift of creation, were moved by the Spirit.
The Psalms constantly depict the sheer majesty of God, who created all things. ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord, my God, thou art very great! Thou art clothed with honour and majesty, who coverest thyself with light as with a garment.’ (Psalm 104:1-2). God, who is clothed with honour and majesty, creates in a manner that befits his majesty. Wonderful phrases are used to describe God’s creating power. Isaiah says, ‘God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread forth the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it.’ (Isaiah 42:5). The psalmist sings to God ‘who has stretched out the heavens like a tent.’ (Psalm 104:2).
The Scriptures call us to stand in awe before God the Creator of all. Before such unparalleled power, before such dazzling originality, we can only bow down, worship and adore. ‘O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker.’ (Psalm 95:6). Job, presented as a righteous man, is virtually flattened by God’s challenge. ‘Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding’ (Job 38:4). ‘Let all your creatures serve you, for you spoke, and they were made. You sent forth your Spirit, and it formed them; there is none that can resist your voice’ (Judith 16:14). God created everything out of his infinite goodness and love. The world is not a chance occurence, a kind of cosmic accident. God wanted to make his creatures share in his being, wisdom and goodness (CCC 295). Or, in the more poetic words of St Thomas Aquinas, ‘Creatures came into existence when the key of love opened his hand (CCC 293). ‘The Lord is good to all and his compassion is over all that he has made.’ (Psalm 145:9).
In their profound reverence and awe for the God who had called them as his own, the people of Israel celebrated with joy and enthusiasm the deeds of their God; not only his acts of deliverance but also his creation of the whole universe. Turn to Psalm 136 and ask the Holy Spirit to give you a sense of gratitude, the same sense of gratitude and thanks that filled the psalmist’s heart as he lifted his mind and heart in praise of the good Creator.
God’s creation reflects an amazing variety in the number of different species, the extraordinary differences between animals, birds, fish, insects, reptiles, between trees, plants and vegetables. ‘O Lord, how manifold are thy works, thou hand has made them all, the earth is full of your creatures’ (Psalm 104:24). Read Job 38 and 39, which captures beautifully God’s gift of variety and diversity: the lion, the raven, the mountain goat, the wild ass, the wild ox, the ostrich and hawk.
Diversity is a characteristic of the Spirit of God, reflected in the diversity of gifts of the Spirit. ‘There are varities of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are a variety of service but the same Lord; and there are a variety of workings but the same God who inspires them’ (1 Corinthians 12:4-6). Appreciating God’s gift of creation can help us avoid having a narrow view of the Holy Spirit. In our enthusiasm, we imagine that only those who are like us in every way are people of the Holy Spirit. But everything points to an immense diversity in God’s plan of creation in creation itself, in different cultures, and in every single individual person. We are not clones, we each possess a unique and inalienable dignity because each of us is created in God’s image and likeness.
God creates through wisdom, and therefore creation is ordered (CCC 299). God directs all that he had made. Everything has its own place. No creature is a law unto itself. Each species forms part of a wonderful whole. God wills and desires the interdependence of all creatures: ‘The sun and the moon, the cedar and the little flower, the eagle and the sparrow; the spectacle of their countless diversities and inequalities tells us that no creature is self-sufficient. Creatures exist only in dependence on each other, to complete each other, in the service of others.’ (CCC 340). God’s order is the interplay of mighty forces, like the shaping of incandescent material in an immense cauldron. The Spirit is not just a tidying agent, but explosive power: ‘Fire symbolizes the transforming energy of the Holy Spirit’s actions.’
The Church teaches us that ‘the world was made for the glory of God.’ (CCC 293). The psalmist sings, ‘The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork’ (Psalm 19:1). The glory of God is shown forth in the face of Christ, ‘It is God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness”, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.’ (2 Corinthians 4:6). It is the same Christ through whom and for whom everything was made (Colossians 1:16). It is the same glory that shines forth in creation as shines forth in the face of Christ. Both are the work of the same Holy Spirit. Let the following insight of Gerard Manley Hopkins shape our attitude towards God’s gift of creation:
All things counter, original, spare, strange.
Whatever is fickle, freckled
(who knows how?).
With swift, slow; sweet, sour, adazzle, dim.
He fathers-forth whose
beauty is past change.