The Earth is not personal. It cares nothing for us. It neither loves us, nor hates us, nor thinks of us. In fact, it can do nothing personal toward us, because it is not personal—it is a planet without consciousness. It cannot give us laws, or tell us “I love you,” or write us a letter, or perform any rational act in any kind of way.
Sometimes we forget this, especially when we watch nature documentaries (especially ones like “Our Planet,” a new documentary on Netflix). We get swept up in the beauty of the world—we see the glistening mountain tops, the sandy beaches, the mysterious and enchanting ends of the planet. Our heart marvels as we see animals we did not know existed. We behold astonishing ways that weather patterns and plants and animals fit together. Our hearts are moved by the unbelievable power of the ocean or the artistic patterns we see on the back of an exotic bird. What we feel is a sense of AWE in that which is something greater than ourselves, something bigger and beyond us.
As we experience this state in our hearts, commentators of Earth documentaries (like David Attenborough) speak of our planet in anthropomorphized ways. We are told that, “’Mother Nature,” has a surprising way of changing “her” seasons.’ Or, ‘The planet is suffering and is a victim of tragic human decisions.’ Or, ‘The Earth is in danger and requests our help.’ All of these ways of speaking reflect a subtle shift to a Paganistic conception of Earth, a way that views the Earth as a god to be worshipped instead of a planet to be lived on.
I think we see this move toward paganism not only in Nature documentaries, but also in the culture around us. There is on the one hand a commitment to secularism—a view that claims to be rational and devoid of religious commitment—and also a radical devotion to the planet which looks more like religious fervor than personal preference. Those who do not do enough to help the planet are condemned, while those who care about it are the righteous.
An extreme example of this is seen in the man who was willing to sacrifice his life to make a point about climate change and another who sued his parents for giving birth to him. The first example is tragic and the second foolish, but both show what happens when the planet becomes the Lord of a person’s life and heart.
But if Earth becomes our god—the thing we give our ultimate allegiance to and find our ultimate worth and significance in—this god will only crush us. Earth, as a god, is a cruel Tyrant. It will not lead us to life, but to a crushing morality. It will lead not to human flourishing, but and death and prevention of human life. Some even argue that we should stop human procreation, because it is immoral and harmful to our planet: see antinatalism.
We can sacrifice our time and comfort to try and preserve the Earth, but it cares nothing for us. We can load ourselves with guilt for not doing enough, but find no balm for our conscience from any words from Earth when try to do better. The Earth promises us nothing beyond the grave, except to be eaten by worms.
But, there is a better way, and it is to worship the One who created the planet. It is to give our hearts to the living God, who is personal, who is all-powerful, who tenderly cares for the planet and calls us to be good stewards of it. Our Earth reflects his beauty and glory (Psalm 19:1-2), and all of the beauty we see here is a signpost to the truly beautiful One.
The Creator of the Earth came to Earth and dwelt among us (John 1:1-3; 14). This creator is Jesus, and he came to give us life (John 10:10) and free us from the tyranny of false gods (John 8:36). He frees us to enjoy Earth and take good care of it, but not buy into the illusion that it is somehow a god that can rule over us. Knowing this Creator is eternal life itself (John 17:3).