“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. God makes me lie down in green pastures; the Creator leads me beside still waters and restores my soul.”
This Psalm — the 23rd — is one we hear often at funerals. It is one of my favorite psalms, but it makes for more than a great funeral liturgy. When we look closer at its words, we can sense that it also has a creation message. With Earth Day coming up this week, perhaps we can read Psalm 23 with a different pair of eyes.
I think people love this psalm because it addresses the healing and rest that we long to experience. During a funeral, while grief is in full effect, God’s presence enraptures us with a refreshing declaration of divine sustenance. This is profound because it alludes to the rest that all of creation seeks.
Psalm 23 provides us a vision for spiritual serene pastures, but I think it also encourages us to preserve and conserve pastures that our children, families, and neighborhoods can enjoy in the here and now.
The vision of the psalm begins with the overriding claim that God is shepherd. This is a powerful, earthy metaphor for God, who uses a “rod and staff” to navigate all of creation into the heart of the Trinity’s love.
The author of the psalm, David, was a shepherd, so he did not use this term lightly. He knew that shepherds exist to care for their flocks. Having the geographic know-how to find flourishing greenery and water resources — a love for the earth — was a necessity. There is a relationship between shepherds, sheep, and the land in which they reside.
The sheep are not without some responsibility. As followers of the Creator, we are obligated to care for the environment because our relationship to God is tied to our stewardship over what God owns.
Economics and politics aside, working to better our environment is a moral obligation. Consider that the rise in asthma, cancer, and obesity (to name a few consequences resulting from environmental scruples) can all be tied to the pollutants that we expose to our environment and food supply.
In recent months, our society has seen a shift in public opinion toward environmental policy because of scandals surrounding several e-mails from climatologists. Although a majority of Americans still believe that climate change is partially man-made, a recent Gallup poll reveals that skepticism toward climate change rose nearly six points in the past year.
For Christians who long to see the vision of Psalm 23 realized in their neighborhoods, such arguments play a small part in creation care. We care because God calls us to be stewards, not because we feel the need to appease some sense of corporate guilt for our shaded past.
Nor should political and economic maneuvering usurp God’s commandments that reach as far back as Genesis, in which God creates a “good” creation for humans to tend, to the end of all history as recorded in Revelation, which states that God will judge those who “destroy the earth” (Rev. 11:16-19).
As God leads us beside still waters and green pastures, we approach this Earth Day in a posture of humility and confession. A prayer for Earth Day, penned by the National Council of Churches, is appropriate: “O Lord, You have created a fragile world in perfect and delicate balance. Thinking too much of our own importance, we have upset that balance. We ask your forgiveness, Holy and Righteous God. We yearn to join the mountains and valleys, the rocks and the birds … in singing Your praises. Amen.”