The earth cannot support us

By Darío Barolin

Opening Prayer

Your vocal chords vibrated, O God,
and your creation was set in motion.
In millions of years
Your enunciated words were gestated
and it was the good, the beautiful, the just.

In your immensity and love
You opened a space for your creatures.
We rejoice and rejoice in colors and sounds
in textures, tastes, and smells that you have given us.

I inhale the life you have given me,
my vocal cords vibrate,
my heart fills with gratitude:
Praise be to You, God of life.

Song: Ayúdanos (Horacio Vivares) (see devotional booklet)

The earth cannot bear us

“…so that the land could not support both of them living together; for their possessions were so great that they could not live together…” (Genesis 13:6)

In the framework of the life story of Abraham and Sarah, in Genesis chapter 16 we find the story where Abram decides to separate from his nephew Lot.

Together they had experienced the departure from their ancient land called by the divine promise (12:1-3). In that wandering together they experienced famine and a new wandering, this time to Egypt (12:10-20). Certainly the worst part of that sojourn in Egypt was borne by Saray.

Then, back in the land of the Negev and with the growth of their livestock, conflicts begin to arise among the shepherds due to the scarcity of pasture. So, Abram realizes that the land cannot support them together (13:6). It is a situation that will not improve by itself. On the contrary, doing nothing means continuing to aggravate the problem. It is necessary to do something, the option that Abram finds is to take different directions, to look for other places to graze (13:9)

Our situation as humanity is immensely different from that one. However, there is a common situation that we must face. We, like Abram, know that the earth cannot support us.

The crossing of planetary boundaries is bringing us closer to situations of no return. In 2009, three limits had been crossed (integrity of the biosphere, biochemical flows, and climate change). In 2015, land-system change was added. In 2023, two more were added: incorporation of novel entities and freshwater use.

The crossing of each of these limits places humanity and many other species at serious risk of survival. So we can imagine what horizon we are looking at when six of the nine planetary boundaries have been violently breached.

The option we have is not that of Abram and Lot to look for more land to continue growing. Well, there are indeed those who do believe that the option is an interplanetary humanity. But most of humanity will not have tickets for that journey.

The option that appears on the horizon is another one. There is no possibility of looking for other places. The alternative, possibly the only one, is to change the deep roots that are making the earth an unsustainable and intolerable place for human life, because of its injustice and perversity.

Our challenge is infinitely greater than that faced by Abram and Lot. However, Abram’s words have a very strong resonance with our situation: “the earth cannot bear us,” it does not support us anymore.

So we must think about transforming the system of production, consumption, and values that is propitiated and applied in this phase of humanity. The combination of extractivist production models based exclusively on profit, unlimited consumption as an indicator of well-being, and an understanding of the rest of God’s creation as something subservient to human interest are a trinity of death. This critical situation demands a radical paradigm shift that includes these three dimensions.

We need to revalue production systems that incorporate not only sustainability but also the regeneration of ecosystems. We need a culture of consumption that does not endorse waste and sumptuousness but rather rejoices in what is sufficient, where there is room for the basic needs of all and less room for the squandering by a handful. Particularly relevant for the Christian faith is to remember (re-pass through the heart) the love of God and neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40) as the fundamental basis of its theology. A theology that remembers that no one who does not love his/her sister/brother who sees cannot love God, whom he/she does not see (1 John 4:20). The same can be said of the rest of God’s creation, whoever does not love what God has created cannot claim to love his creator.

Doing nothing is not an option. To let things take their course is to aggravate the current critical situation. There is still time. The option will be to assume our place in creation, our limits, and from there encourage ourselves to walk in the profound simplicity of evangelical faith.

Prayer of intercession

O God, you sent prophets,
you spoke to us in dreams,
you became incarnate in Jesus Christ
to reveal your ways.
Still today you send us
your Holy Spirit to persevere.

We do not listen to your prophets,
nor your word in Jesus Christ.
We have made ourselves gods of your creation
and we have puffed ourselves up with excessive pride,
we have made riches our praise,
of our sisters and brothers an obstacle.

May your Spirit blow again!
Reorientate our steps,
make us rediscover your creation,
the joy of sufficiency,
the joy of sharing.

May your Word be incarnated in us!
The goodness of community,
the joy of serving.
May the pleasure of loving and caring
unite us to all your creatures,
for your glory, O God.

Final Blessing

May your feet walk steadfast in righteousness,
may your hands be outstretched in compassion,
may your heart beat with joy,
may your tears comfort sorrows,
may your lips utter love.
And until we meet again
may God, one and triune, delight you in God’s justice,
nourishing you with God’s joy,
and may you never lack the hope
to begin again.

Rev. Dr. Dario Barolin, Waldensian Evangelical Church of the River Plate: Dario is an Old Testament scholar from Argentina. He presently serves as a pastor with the Waldensian church in Uruguay.

This is the final in a series of Lenten devotionals focused on the climate crisis. Download the devotional booklet.

Image: Albin Hillert/Life on Earth

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