A devotional written for Creation Care Week at Wayland Baptist University. Published on Earth Day 2022.
If you missed it somehow, a war is raging in Ukraine the past two months. While stories of the war seem ever-present in our newscasts and newsfeeds, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is by no means the only war presently occurring in the world. What, you might ask, does war have to do with Creation Care?
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War does not only have a heavy human toll through death, dismemberment, and mental trauma. Nor is it limited to the destruction of cities and infrastructure necessary for civilization and human thriving. War also affects the environment. One study of greenhouse gas emissions released by weapons of war discovered 1.2 million metric tons of gases were released during the twenty year global War on Terror—an annual emissions rate more than double that generated by all U.S. automobiles. Wildfires from incendiary bombs or simply human negligence is another threat. In 2008, a wildfire destroyed large portions of the forests of Borjomi and Khagarauli national parks during Russia’s war with Georgia. During the battles around the port city of Kherson, fires erupted in the Black Sea Biosphere Refuge, fires severe enough to be seen from space. The biosphere was the winter home for many migratory birds and an important breeding habitat. Even when habitats aren’t destroyed, the frequent movement of troops and equipment and the constant noise of war leads to disruption of the animal population. According to a Georgian environmentalist, there was a noticeable migration of animals fleeing over the Caucasus Mountains from Chechnya to Georgia during the Chechen insurrection against the Russian Federation in the 1990s.
War also creates ecological damage when human industry is targeted. Intentional damage to oil export equipment along the Black Sea has destroyed marine habitat. The sudden closures of mines in the Donbas region as civilians flee the current Russian assault may result in toxins seeping into aquifers as no one is at the mines to ensure proper pumping operations. Chemical plants and nuclear power plants could being hit, releasing toxins or radioactive material into the atmosphere, land, and watershed. And the ecological impact of this war isn’t limited to Europe. Ukraine and Russia account for a third of grain exports worldwide. Between the Russian blockade of Ukrainian ports and Western sanctions against Russian exports, the United Nations warns a food crisis will likely impact Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
Creation is in distress because of human actions. As Paul puts it, “creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it” yet there is still “hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into . . . freedom and glory.” This hope is rooted in creation’s “eager expectation” for the disclosure (apokalupsin) of the “Sons of God.” Creation waits for this hope, groaning in its suffering and crying out in its anticipation of this apocalyptic moment when the Sons of God reveal themselves as healers, redeemers, and liberators (Rom 8:18-22). Now, your English translation might have “children of God” (as the NIV does) instead of the literal “Sons of God.” “Children” certainly is a more inclusive term and does fit Paul’s overall meaning, but “children” loses the symbolic nuance of what Paul is asserting.
The term “Son of God” was a term for the kings of ancient Israel. When Jesus was called “Son of God” during his earthly life, those who used the title meant the human king who would restore David’s kingdom. (Only after the resurrection does the title begin to develop divine signification.) Paul says Christians are kings (and queens). We are part of Christ’s mission. We are to work to establish the Kingdom of God. Paul tells us we are adopted as sons (and daughters) by God to be “co-heirs” with Christ, sharing both in his suffering and in his glory (Rom 8:15-17). Jesus himself referred to believers as Sons of God. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. . . . Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called Sons of God” (Matt 5:5, 9). Patriarch Kirill of Moscow has argued that Vladimir Putin is the Defender of the Russian Orthodox faith on a divine mission to reclaim the sacred lands of Holy Rus (a land that includes Ukraine). Yet Jesus says the true Sons of God are not warmongers or authoritarian strongmen, whether Tiberius Caesar or Vladimir Putin, but are instead meek peacemakers.
As we strive to see the Lord’s Prayer realized, working with the Father to bring earth into alignment with his will just as heaven already is (Matt 6:10), we should be reconcilers, peacemakers, and healers—not just for humans, not only for societies, but for creation itself. While we will not fully realize our potential until Jesus returns and the Kingdom comes in its fullness, we are called today to live in the Spirit and to strive to live up to our calling as kings and queens (i.e., Sons of God) co-reigning with Jesus. Can you hear creation? It cries out with Jesus, “Blessed are the meek! Blessed are the peacemakers!”
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Image by Anastasia Vlasova from Getty Images as used in the ABC News story below. “A rocket sits in a field near grazing cows on April 10, 2022 in Lukashivka village, Ukraine.”
The Holy Bible, New International Version, NIV. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011 (with clarifying modification).
Anthes, Emily. “A ‘Silent Victim’: How Nature Becomes a Casualty of War.” The New York Times, April 20, 2022. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/13/science/war-environmental-impact-ukraine.html
Jacobo, Julia. “Experts Predict Lasting Environmental Damage from Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine.” ABC News, April 20, 2022. https://abcnews.go.com/International/experts-lasting-environmental-damage-russias-invasion-ukraine/story?id=83347671
Kekenadze, Davit. “The Environment: The Silent Causualty of the Ukraine War.” Euronews, April 17, 2022. https://www.euronews.com/2022/04/17/the-environment-the-silent-casualty-of-the-ukraine-war