Pastor Emmanuel Awudi

When Creation Is Denied Its Sabbath

“We were on the streets watching lions in cages but now they are on the streets watching us in the cages.” This was a comment on a story published by on April 16, 2020, about a pride of lions having a nap on a street one sunny day during the COVID-19 lockdown in South Africa. Before this, a similar story was published on March 31, 2020, on the BBC website which reads, “Wild goats roam through an empty Welsh Town.” But for COVID-19 lockdown, these streets were always busy with human and vehicular movements.

The emergence of COVID-19 and some other epidemics is an opportunity for us to reflect on how we treat God’s creation. From the Justinian Plague which happened in the sixth century through to COVID-19 pandemic, ecocide cannot be ruled out from the root causes. Human beings have been bad stewards and wicked servants to the good creation handed over to us by the good Creator. From the fall of the first family, humanity has been empowered, especially by modern technology to unleash several forms of violence on creation to the extent that creation has lost its initial awe, beauty, dignity, and goodness.

Our actions and inactions have led to the pollution of land, water, air, and the destruction of marine and wild habitats. For instance, the World Economic Forum predicts that there are over 150 million tonnes of plastics in the ocean and by 2050, the ocean may contain more plastics than fish. The violence meted out to creation has caused creation to also respond violently in the forms of global warming, tidal waves, floods, landslides, mudslides, locust swarms, and the many epidemics we see today.

God in His infinite wisdom, decided to take rest after the sixth day of creation, not because He was tired but to reflect upon His very good creation for it to become an example for humanity. But the first mention of Sabbath was in the Desert of Sin. Before reaching Mount Sinai, God fed Israel with manna which they were to collect every morning, but they must double their collection on the sixth day so that they may use the seventh day for rest (Ex. 16:23).

Shortly, they received the Ten Commandments at Sinai (Ex. 20:1-17), the fourth, which enjoined them to observe the seventh day as Sabbath and keep it holy (Lev. 23:4). They were not to work, neither humans nor their beasts. They used the day for worship, reading/studying the Torah, and for rest. Aside from human beings, the land also had the opportunity to rest. That means the Sabbath was not to be enjoyed by only the human species but all other creations. This was to enable the land to regain its fertility.

The provision for land rest did not end with the weekly Sabbath but after six years of continuous cultivation, the land was to be allowed to fallow (Ex. 23:10-11; cf. Lev. 25:1-7). The law stipulates: “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a Sabbath to the LORD. For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a Sabbath of rest, a Sabbath to the LORD. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest.” (Lev. 25:2-5).

Unfortunately, humanity has denied themselves, the land and other creations the Sabbath due them – it is not about Saturday worship. Aside from working 24/7, the release of pollutants such as noise and fusil fuel, do not allow other creation to enjoy their Sabbath. These pollutants are mainly from industries and overage vehicles. In 2018, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reported an astronomical increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. According to the WMO, the level of CO2 alone in the atmosphere as of 1993 was 357 ppm (parts per million) but as of 2018, it had increased to 405.5 ppm.

These ecocides are perhaps due to the misconception that everything exists for humanity. But to Christopher Wright, it is an error to think that everything else exists for humanity and it is an absurd arrogance to think that the creation of human beings was the climax of God’s creation. The real climax of creation came with God’s own Sabbath to reflect upon what He created for His own pleasure. The Psalmist confirms this when he says, “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters” (Ps. 24:1-2, NIV). This is reaffirmed by the twenty-four elders around the throne of the Almighty as they sing to confirm the purpose of God’s creation stating, “Worthy are you our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Rev. 4:11, ESV). This shows that creation does not exist for the sake of humanity but for the Creator’s own will – all other things remain secondary.

For this purpose, God warned Israel to keep all His commandments, including the fourth which made provision for the Sabbath of both humanity and other-than-human creations. The consequences of disobeying these statutes read, “I will scatter you among the nations and will draw out my sword and pursue you. Your land will be laid waste, and your cities will lie in ruins. Then the land will enjoy its Sabbath years all the time that it lies desolate and you are in the country of your enemies; then the land will rest and enjoy its Sabbaths. All the time that it lies desolate, the land will have the rest it did not have during the Sabbaths you lived in it” (Lev. 26:33-35, NIV).

What we see today is not any different from the punishment that God promised to bring upon Israel if they disobeyed His statutes. COVID-19 has rendered several cities and towns desolate. And now, the land and its inhabitants are having a field day. They are enjoying the Sabbath we denied them over the years.

The way forward is to return to the two major commissions given to humanity. The first commission to humanity was “till creation [land] and guard it” (Gen. 2:15) while the second commission or the Great Commission, is to “preach the Good News to all creation” (Mk. 16:15). To till (abad) means to use creation responsibly to meet our needs. To guard (shamar), a responsibility given to only the imago Dei, means to protect creation against misuse, exploitation and destruction. The Hebrew word shamar, translated as ‘guard’ or ‘protect’ is also found in the priestly blessing, ‘the Lord bless and protect (shamar) you’ (Num. 6:24-26). Thus, just as we expect the Lord to protect us, so He expects us to protect His creation.

Calvin B. DeWitt tells us what to do: first, we should never take from creation without returning service of our own; second, safeguard the Lord’s creation as the Lord safeguards us; third, enjoy the fruit of creation but not destroy its fruitfulness; and lastly, provide for creation’s Sabbath rest with no relentless pressing. With the above, we can keep the balance in the ecosystem.

About the Author:
The author is a Minister of The Church of Pentecost, Ecotheologian, Religion & Sustainable Development Expert, Ph.D. candidate and an Adjunct Lecturer at the Pentecost University College (PUC).
Tel: +233265747274

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