Living Ecological Justice: Keep and Till the Earth

“Hear the word of the Lord, O people of Israel; for the Lord has an indictment against the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or loyalty, and no knowledge of God in the land. Swearing, lying, and murder, and stealing and adultery break out; bloodshed follows bloodshed. Therefore the land mourns, and all who live in it languish; together with the wild animals and the birds of the air, even the fish of the sea are perishing. Yet let no one contend, and let none accuse, for with you is my contention, O priest.”

-Hosea 4:1-4

Relationships are difficult to maintain. There are so many aspects of a relationship of which one must take great care: handling power dynamics, exercising empathetic listening, speaking in love and compassion, and offering forgiveness and reconciliation. When relationship partners have equal footing, neither are abused nor exploited, both partners’ needs are met and satisfied. However, if one partner is not being heard, power becomes concentrated on one side and the relationship may end up rotting to the roots. This understanding of relationships is relevant to how we perceive and enact humanity’s role in treading gently on this earth and our accountability to God for the state of creation.

In the Book of Hosea, God is vexed at how humanity has strayed from their covenantal relationship. God has been faithful through sin, war, slavery, drought, etc. However, humanity stepped further and further away from God and into idolatrous behaviours, placing everything else above God on the priority list. The people of God have forgotten the very first commandment delivered by Moses on those stone tablets. It is to the point that the sins of humanity grieves the whole creation, where the land mourns, creation is groaning for justice, and creation is becoming undone and threatening to return to its original state of chaos and abyss.

God sees the relationship between the Creator and Creation as one that is both intimate and requiring loyalty. By turning our backs on God, we become blinded to how God sees the world: the people around us, the greenery that struggle silently to provide us oxygen, the animal kingdom pushing against abuse to restore balance. Most importantly, the abandoning of our innate intimacy with the Creator turns us down a valley of death and dry bones that can only lead to the undoing of creation. Some may believe that creation cannot be undone, but as we observe animals becoming extinct, pollution has created holes in the ozone layer, the earth is groaning and revolting against the lack of care from human beings.

What does the ideal relationship between God and God’s people entail and how would humanity maintain this relationship?

The answer is faithfulness. One of the emphases from Prophet Hosea was for human beings to be faithful to God, to keep God’s commandments. To be faithful to our covenant with God begins with respecting our task in creation — to care and to till the earth.  The imagery of one who cares for creation is not one of power, but someone who is willing to kneel beside plants to eliminate weeds, to fertilize the soil, and to provide what is necessary for growth. It is a posture of humility, a putting aside of selfish pride in order to serve the needs of a great common good. If human sin grieves creation and God, then the first remedy is for sin to stop. God is angry that the people of God have betrayed the trust and respect God requires from a covenantal partner. God is calling God’s people as adulterers, promiscuous, and unfaithful because they have moved from focusing on God to other idols like the commodification of all things under the sun. By disrespecting our role to “till and care” for creation we forsake God and our divine relationship.

Under the current trend of deterioration and depletion in the environment, Sr. Mary Rowell urges a “re-establishment [of a right] relationship with the land and all its peoples” in order to move towards a restoration of creation. Being in right relations with the land and its peoples is to be in right relations with God, respecting what God has created and posturing a humility that is to serve instead of to dominate or to subdue. If humanity continues to relate to God as being the pinnacle of creation, the environment will continue to be used up for the desires of market economy and the illusion of development through trade.

Previous reflections have dealt with the difference between dominion and stewardship with respect to the role of humanity in creation. We are called to build or “re-establish” a relationship with the land and its peoples, a relationship that is not founded on power or competition, but mutuality and compassion. It is a relationship that is God-centred. How intriguing it is to form a relationship with creation while focusing on God!

As Hosea calls to the people of Israel, I too echo this prophetic call: “Come, let us return to the Lord” and return to keeping and tilling the earth that God has made, mirroring the same love and care of the Creator. Let us be faithful to our relationship to God and to the whole creation.

This is the third in a series of reflections, contemplating the themes explored by contributors to CPJ’s “Living Ecological Justice: A Biblical Response to the Environmental Crisis.”


  • JoAnne Lam

    JoAnne Chung Yan Lam is a Hong-Kong born Chinese-Canadian who has travelled many countries and enjoys learning about new cultures. She is the proud mother of Deborah (2005) and Gideon (2007). JoAnne was baptized at the St. Philip's Lutheran Church in Hong Kong, trained in The United Church of Canada, and was a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Geneva, Switzerland from 2002-2012. After 10 years in Geneva, JoAnne returned to Canada. Currently, she is a member of St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Kitchener. She has a Master of Theological Studies from Emmanuel College, Toronto School of Theology, as well as a Master of Advanced Ecumenical Studies from the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey, affiliated with the World Council of Churches and the University of Geneva.

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