As a child, I loved learning about how the world worked.
I explored the bush around our house and the creek down the back gully. I found tadpoles and counted the mosses growing on fallen logs. I saw echidnas and wallabies.
My grandfather taught me about birds, each with their unique colours, songs or nest building. I collected seed pods, feathers and dried leaves.
It’s probably no surprise I loved biology at school. In year 12, I was introduced to “ecology”, which brought a whole new way of seeing the world.
Every single individual thing is part of a much bigger system, and every part depends on everything else.
If water in the creeks become polluted, if soil alkalinity rises, if trees are cleared, if weeds or cats are introduced to the forest then all the plants and animals in that area will be affected.
They’ll need to adapt and change … or die out.
We’re all interconnected. Even small changes can have big effects on other parts of the ecosystem. Tiny things can play an important role in keeping the system healthy. It might seem the impact of one little thing is insignificant, but it’s usually not.
And if you add up a lot of little changes, it makes a big difference to how the system works.
Interdependency lies at the heart of reality. This is wisdom for us and our times: for us humans who keep making big changes in our world, not little ones; for us who are now 7.7 billion people and counting.
As we clear our forests, pollute our air and waterways and “develop” our world to feed, house and entertain ourselves, we are making changes at an unprecedented rate and scale.
At the time St Paul was writing his letters, the world population was probably no more than 300 million, so of course the scale and impact of human effects on our environment were not on his mind or on the mind of any of the biblical writers.
But Paul knew how we are all connected, all interdependent, all part of one system, one whole, one body.
“If one part of the body suffers, all the other parts suffer with it; if one part is given special care, all the others share in its happiness”. (1 Corinthian 12: 26)
These understandings apply to far more than our environment.
They apply to global economic and financial systems, to social, political, education and employment systems.
If we look up and look out, we can see that even small things we do create a ripple effect that impacts other parts of the system.
The Accra Confession (2004, World Communion of Reformed Churches) drew the connections between our flawed global financial systems based on a thirst for endless growth, the environmental harm that results, and the burdens borne inordinately by developing nations.
There has been a shift of consciousness amongst Christians – as a matter of justice and faith – to develop a New International Financial and Economic Architecture as a realistic alternative.
This isn’t just for the sake of the environment, nor just for the sake of the world’s poor. These are not competing interests. It is for the sake of the whole: the world God loves and gives everything for. When this whole world flourishes, so does every part.
When we look up and out beyond our own local or national concerns to see the impact of what we do on the whole, we can join with God’s creative work for a flourishing world in which every part can flourish, and live into the prayer Jesus taught us: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.”