Does God Love Forests More Than Cities?

The God who designed the first garden is also an urban planner. Shouldn't Earth Day celebrate cities, too?

The very first Earth Day was held in April 1970. I was teaching at a Christian liberal arts college at the time, and we celebrated the event with a worship service. We read Bible passages that emphasized God's love for creation, and we sang suitable hymns such as "This is My Father's World" and "For the Beauty of the Earth."

To accompany our singing, the student planners had arranged a slide show (no PowerPoint in those days!) of pictures of natural beauty contrasted with pictures of degradation. As we walked out at the end of the service, one of my colleagues observed that all the "nice" scenes were of rural settings, while all the ugly ones were from urban life.

The motives of those who chose the photos were, of course, noble. They wanted to make us aware of the horrible things we humans were doing to God's creation while pointing to signs of God's original purposes for the world. But the visuals were nonetheless misleading, subtly advocating a back-to-nature approach to life—not surprising at a time when many college students still romanticized the "simple life" of the rural hippie commune.

From a biblical perspective, there are real problems with the back-to-nature scenario. As many commentators have pointed out, the Bible begins with God creating a beautiful garden. But at the end of the Bible, we are told that a splendid City—golden streets and all—will descend from the heavens.

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The God who designs gardens is also an urban planner. And while the Creator does want us to care deeply about fields and forests and ice caps and woodpeckers, he also urges us to promote signs of beauty and well-being in humanity's crowded places.

Many years ago I saw a marvelous cartoon. A group of monks were standing on the patio of a mountain monastery. They were gazing at a splendid sunset, applauding and crying out, "Author! Author!"

Perhaps these monks knew that the ancient mystics had a wonderful saying: ubi amor, ibi oculus—roughly, "where there is love, there is seeing." They insisted that our seeing must be guided by love, and that when we look at things in love, we will see things that we would otherwise miss.

It is easy to see the Creator's handiwork in nature's displays of beauty. "The heavens declare the glory of the Lord and the firmament showeth his handiwork" (Ps. 19:1). It is more difficult, however, to see God's handiwork displayed in the faces of a hungry child in Calcutta or a homeless cart-pusher on a street in Los Angeles. It takes a little more love to see the potential beauty there. But God wants us to make the effort.

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