God blessed them, and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.” —Genesis 1:28
I recently watched a comedy news program that discussed plastic waste and how surprisingly little of it can actually be recycled. A couple of not-so-comedic points stuck with me. First, I learned that in the Pacific Ocean, there’s a garbage patch full of plastics that is larger than the combined area of France, Germany, and Spain; and it’s still growing. I also learned that by 2050, the ocean is expected to hold more plastics than fish.
Humanity has done an abysmal job at carrying out God’s instructions to hold authority over creation.
Hearing facts and projections like the ones above leaves me feeling angry (how could the people in charge allow this to get so out of hand?), guilty (I use and dispose of plastics every day!), and overwhelmed (when the problem is this huge and this rampant, what hope do we have to turn anything around?).
While we are always called to lives of introspection, confession, and repentance, Lent is a season when we are especially mindful of these behaviors. At this time of year, we reflect differently on our desperation for a savior. While I tend to reflect and seek forgiveness individually, when I consider the abuse we have done to God’s perfect creation, I am reminded to ask for mercy and forgiveness for humanity collectively. I am keenly aware of our need for redemption when I see where sin is so tightly woven into our daily lives that we can’t imagine how possibly to free ourselves from it. Together, we commit large-scale sins that have global and irreversible consequences. When we confess, we can confess both our own sins and the sins of humanity.
Feeling overwhelmed at the scale of a problem like plastic waste can cause me to throw my hands in the air and give up any sense of personal responsibility. After all, the problem is so large that we need powerful leaders and industries to fix these things, not me. And it’s true—problems this large cannot be solved by only individual efforts. But, in today’s Scripture reading, we remember that God gave large-scale instructions for the care of the planet to two individuals: Adam and Eve. He charged just two people with what would ripple into a global responsibility. God speaks the same instructions to me and you. I cannot, by myself, remove plastics from the ocean, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do anything. That doesn’t mean I don’t have the ability to influence those who hold power. That doesn’t mean I ignore God’s instruction to steward Creation to the best of my ability. You and I, as Adam and Eve, bear God’s image. God is a creator who breathes life into God’s creation, and we are made to imitate these creative and life-giving qualities.
Our individual behaviors, however small, do matter. Individual behaviors, collectively, change outcomes. Individual behaviors, collectively, change societal norms.
Lord, have mercy on us. May we take more seriously our individual and collective obligations to your creation. Amen.