By Lee Van Ham
To be sure, “God is love.” It’s such a short phrase that a small child can learn it instantly. And it’s good theology, which is more than can be said for some short phrases learned in religious education.
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. —I John 4:16
Truth is, I learned the phrase much too early—before I could reflect on many of the profound meanings of this phrase. Before anyone could teach me that love is love, no matter the genders, nations, or species, and that where love is, God is there. Radical! Political! Read further in that epistle and we are even told that if we claim to love but can’t love people or planet for any reason, then God is not there. Love is soft and strong; mellow and fierce.
Much further into my adult years I learned that plants and animals were our teachers. It’s in the same Bible that says “God is love.”
But ask the animals, and they will teach you;
the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you… Job 12:7-8
By the time I really “heard” these short phrases, I was plenty old to reflect on their meaning. Furthermore, I recognized that I was not listening well to these teachers nor following their wisdom. And looking around me, I began to wonder, “Are Indigenous peoples the only ones who think of plants and animals as their sisters, brothers, and teachers?”
Well, no, I learned, other people do live with this same consciousness—increasingly so, in fact. More and more people are getting beyond the arrogant notion, and quite a silly one, that humans are the apex of all of nature’s species, and all of life on the planet. Too many of us are glued to the illusion that from the heights of that apex, all of nature needs to listen to our ways.
But nature recognizes this authoritarian oppression and, after millennia of considerable toleration, is demanding justice. The animals, birds, plants, and fish all teach this wisdom: nature will not forever allow ruling class humans to say what goes. And now, they are backing up their message with actions that alarm scientists and others globally. It’s important to read the rest of Job, chapter 12, so we read that all these living creatures speak with cosmic, divine authority.
God is love. True. And it’s a radical, political love that is unconditionally there for all life. Every system needs to express it or be inherently unjust and unworthy. Listen to the animals and plants, they are letting us know the consequences of pretending to sit at the apex. Earth Day, 2022!