It’s Earth Day. It’s Earth Day, and most of us are stuck inside.
Maybe, this Earth Day, God has something to tell us through the coronavirus.
First, let’s be clear: I don’t think God sends terrible events in order to teach us lessons. I’ve never liked the saying, “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” or, “God gives special children to special parents.” I just don’t think God engineers misery or impairments or disease in order to help us grow.
Truly, we engineer enough misery by ourselves. The way I see the situation, the coronavirus outbreak, like most dark clouds of despair swirling around us, came about because humans are up to no good. Not a direct connection—a COVID-19 patient is not responsible or “blameworthy” for getting the illness. Instead, humans, doing what they do and acting like they act, may be responsible for unleashing the illness in the first instance, or for creating risky conditions. (If you’re interested in our ability to conjure mischief, check out Luther’s Bondage of the Will.) Right from Adam’s fall, we’ve been mucking up creation.
I do think, however, that God wants us to learn from our mistakes. And I also think Earth Day is a prime day to learn.
(As an aside, you might not be in a position for deep thoughts about the world right now. If this crisis has you in a place of fear and anxiety, not a place of thoughtfulness, that’s okay. Feel free to stop reading and lean, simply, on God’s complete presence. “[F]ear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10.))
While much of the human population has retreated to wait out this pandemic, the earth seems to be taking a deep breath. Pollution and carbon emissions are plummeting, leading to cleaner air in urban areas. The water in Venice’s famous canals has clarified. Thailand is seeing record sea turtle hatches, as the beaches usually covered with tourists are nearly empty. When we emerge from isolation, the world may look different.
Right now, the pundits are talking about how industry and the economy will bounce back when coronavirus restrictions end. Of course, that topic is on our minds; millions of people are suffering loss of income, our food supplies are threatened, and we’re enduring inconveniences (dental cleanings, haircuts, time with friends, other adults to teach our children) that may seem minor but grow bigger as time passes.
But getting the economy back on track should not be the only topic on our minds. “On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.” (Psalm 145:5.) This Earth Day, let’s think about how we might keep letting the earth breathe deeply, even when we start working to reclaim our former lives. Let’s ponder how our treatment of the rest of creation—the air, the animals, the plants, the oceans—might be one of the ways we’ve been falling short, and what God would have us learn from the coronavirus.
St. Paul wrote to the Philippians: “Brothers and sisters, I know that I still have a long way to go. But there is one thing I do: I forget what is in the past and try as hard as I can to reach the goal before me.” (Philippians 3:13.) We will reach the end of this pandemic. Why not use Earth Day to consider what we want to take from these terrible times into a better future?