What does it mean to believe in an ecological God?

By Elizabeth A. Johnson, 23 May 2023
Image: Jacques Bopp/Unsplash


Picture the Earth as seen in familiar photos taken from space. There it spins, a beautiful blue marble, wrapped in swirling white clouds, luminous against the black background of endless space. We humans live here, as do millions of other species on and under the solid land, in the fresh and salty waters, and in the air above our heads. In fact, this is the only place where life exists, as far as we know to date.

From here we can look out and see other places, planets and stars as our ancestors did, and now with amazing new telescopes, we can see ancient galaxies, billions and billions of them. Perhaps some day creatures from Earth will live elsewhere. But for now and always, Earth is our home planet.

The awful, undeniable reality we face today is that Earth is in trouble. Due to human action and inaction, the planet is warming. Severe droughts, wildfires, floods and storms are wreaking havoc. Hundreds if not thousands of species are rapidly becoming extinct. The resulting damage disrupts the lives of ever more millions of people, among them those who become climate refugees. Efforts to care for the Earth are multiplying, as seen in everything from international agreements to individual lifestyle choices. These efforts, however, face fierce opposition from political and financial forces. And we cannot underplay indifference.

Amid this dangerous and complex scene, what can religions bring to the table? Since religious traditions at their best are bearers of wisdom about ultimate meaning and lay out a roadmap for how to live a good life, most of the world’s religions have resources that can nurture ecological care. Pope Francis put his finger on this in his 2015 encyclical, “Laudato Si’: Care for Our Common Home”:

I would like from the outset to show how faith convictions can offer Christians, and some other believers as well, ample motivation to care for nature and for the most vulnerable of their brothers and sisters…. It is good for the world at large when we believers better recognize the ecological commitments which stem from our convictions [No. 64].

Christianity, along with other monotheistic faiths, holds dear the belief that one living God created and loves the whole world. This conviction holds revolutionary potential to motivate care for the Earth. Yet it has not led many Christians to do so in a noticeable way until recently.

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Elizabeth A. Johnson, C.S.J., is a distinguished professor of theology emerita at Fordham University and the author of Consider Jesus, She Who Is, Quest for the Living God and Ask the Beasts. This essay is excerpted from the inaugural lecture for the Elizabeth A. Johnson, C.S.J. Endowed Fund for Theology and the Earth at Fordham University, delivered on March 21.

With thanks to America, where this article originally appeared.


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