Lesson Seven: Creation Laments
Focus Scripture: Isaiah 24:4–6, Romans 8:19–23
The Earth for What It’s Worth
I am not a huge Star Trek fan. I can’t recite dialogue from any of the series (not even the original, sorry all you Trekkies). However, I absolutely love the feature film Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Released in 1986, the movie is set in the year 2286 and begins with the crew of the Enterprise returning to Earth to face the repercussions of issues begun in previous films. As they approach Earth, they hear the signal of an alien probe that is orbiting the planet. The signal the probe broadcasts is indecipherable (for now) and is causing storms that endanger Earth. Temperatures fluctuate, communications are disabled, water is sucked out of oceans and clouds; the probe drains power from every available source. It isn’t looking good for Earth. Why is this alien probe so upset?
Starfleet Command broadcasts a signal to all ships in the area to avoid Earth—and certain destruction—and save themselves. Fortunately, the characters we know and love from the Star Trek franchise put their skills to work. Lieutenant Uhura patches through the alien signal to the communication systems of the Klingon vessel (that’s another story) the crew is in. Despite her considerable skill, the signal is still indecipherable.
It is Spock who suggests that it is human arrogance to believe that the message from the probe can only be intended for them and he points out that the probe’s signal is pointed toward the ocean. Captain Kirk asks Lieutenant Uhura to filter the signal as if they were listening underwater.
Eureka! The signal is whale song. With a speedy explanation we learn that whales as we know them have been on Earth for more than 30 million years. It appears that the aliens have been communicating with the whales through their song. Having heard nothing from their ocean-going conversation partners in quite some time, the aliens have come to Earth to discover why.
Unfortunately, in 2286, humpback whales have been extinct on Earth for quite some time. There are no whales left to reply to the probe. Only a time warp can save Earth now. Or, as the movie’s tag line says, “A catastrophe in the future can only be averted by a journey into Earth’s past.” The crew must travel back in time to when humpback whales swam in Earth’s seas.
If you’ve not seen the movie, I’ll let you discover the rest for yourselves. The heart of the matter, though, is that the creation mattered, and an individual species mattered, much more than anyone ever imagined. What if Earth’s fate today rested in the survival of any one species: The West African Black Rhino, declared extinct in 2011; the Passenger Pigeon, the last-known individual died in captivity in 1914; the Dodo, last sighted in 1662. What would Earth do if our survival depended on one of these species?
We tend to think that the environmental movement began in 1970 with the founding of Earth Day. But concern for (and delight in) the creatures of the earth has been around much longer than that. Scripture is filled with the glory and joy of the creation. Earth’s fish, birds, animals, and plants have all been described as “good.” And humans were given the responsibility to act as God’s stewards and care for creation. It’s clear that we could have been doing better all along.
When I was in high school, our church youth choir performed the musical “Lightshine” by Buryl Red and Grace Hawthorne. The musical included a song called “Inherit the Earth” based on Matthew 5:5. The verse asserts: Blessed (or “greatly honored” as in our PW study from several years ago) are the meek (or gentle or humble, as it is sometimes translated) for they shall inherit the earth. It says something that even all these years later I can remember some of the words to the song:
The meek will inherit the earth.
The earth for what it’s worth.
When it’s covered with garbage and littered with filth . . .
Yes, the meek will inherit the earth.
The song continues as the meek inherit the sky: “the sky where nothing can fly” because of pollution that “burns every eye.” The implication here is that the meek get the worst of the deal in part because they are too meek to demand that the inhabitants of the world do better. The final verse of the song ends with the thought of the kind of earth we might leave our children if we allowed—or created—a glorious new birth for creation.
A similar vision of Creation is offered in Isaiah 24. The earth dries up. It is polluted because the earth’s inhabitants have broken the covenant. The city gates are battered and there is no gladness on earth. The earth suffers because people have broken the covenant. The earth laments. It cries out because of a situation not of its making. Helpless to help itself, the earth calls on God to act and save, remembering that God’s relationship with Creation is literally from the foundations of this earth.
Stay tuned for Into the Light VIII, in that lesson, we will explore how God responds when Creation calls on God to act and save. What does it mean for God to lament?
P. Lynn Miller.
Author and Illustrator of the 2020–2021 PW/Horizons Bible Study
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