“Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrows shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life” (Gen. 3:17).
Sin, the rejection of God and the willing cooperation of mankind with evil, is a spiritual pollutant. Sin effects not only the spiritual but the physical world also. Ultimately sin is the cause of every corruption.
All of creation was created and declared good by God Himself, “And God saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good” (Gen. 2:31). Although this essential goodness remains, all of creation was subject to corruption because of mankind’s sin, his willing rebellion against God. Some saints even say that God restrained creation so that it would not itself blot out the rebel humanity. “Then also all the creatures, when they saw that Adam was banished from Paradise, no longer wished to submit to him, the criminal … But God restrained all these creatures by His power, and in His compassion and goodness He did not allow them immediately to strive against man …” (St. Symeon the New Theologian).
According to the providence of God, creation suffers corruption for now because of humanity’s sinfulness. Indeed, according to Christian teaching, the main cause of all ills in creation is sin. It is the root issue.
St. Nikolai of Zicha commenting on Genesis says, “But what do the words, Cursed is the ground in thy works, mean? … The ground is cursed only in the sinful works of man. Because of man’s sin, the earth produces thorns; because of sin, there is infertility; because of sin, there are droughts, floods, earthquakes, plagues, and destructive insects ….” The source of the curse is mankind’s willing rebellion against God. Because Adam refused to repent, God only confirmed the effects of Adam’s self-chosen actions. He subjected creation to futility as St. Paul says (cf. Rom 8:19-22). Again, the root cause is mankind’s persistence in unrepentance; his desire for sin. God confirms what mankind has desired and persisted in. The earth lashes out at the rebel humanity. The various destructive phenomenon of nature are but the collective result of humanity’s persistent rejection of God. I do not in any way claim that any certain place is more guilty than another (those suffering most because of some natural disaster), I am attempting to address an underlying principle.
St. Nikolai continues, “All of creation does not groan or travail because of a curse upon itself but rather because of man’s sinful work, which are cursed.” Every time that we sin we release a horrible toxin into creation, a toxin more potent than any other, which results in the tragic destruction of our world. Today when we can scientifically observe the numerous and various physical pollutants, it becomes easy to see them as the root cause. Yet they are not. They are but physical manifestations, symptoms, of the horrible spiritual reality of sin.
I am personally all for striving to preserve the environment. We are obliged to be good stewards of God’s creation, for which we will give an account. Yet to neglect the fundamental root cause and to attempt only to address the symptoms is a grave error. We have the symptoms because all of creation is trying to tell us that it is gravely sick as a result of mankind’s persistence in evil. Modern science through rejecting spiritual realities (something unheard of in the ancient world) has only severely limited its vision. Despite our many great advancements, we have become more ignorant than many of the ancients. The fact that we moderns can acutely describe and identify the physical workings of most phenomenon in our world does not mean that we understand the essential causes. Modern science can only observe the symptoms.
The physical world is moved by the spiritual. Currently, our world seems to be boiling. At this moment creation is desperately striving to communicate with mankind. Yet, we disregard its pleading voice. After all, we can scientifically explain all these events! How blind and deaf we moderns have become.
How self-confident in our own narrow and restricted view.
Creation is mercifully warning us (ultimately God via creation) through its various tumultuous events. Every “disaster” is but a plea of nature to humanity. Will we listen? Do we have ears to hear? Or are we so in love with our sin, so set on our rebellion that we are even willing to destroy the world? Will we fail to see the parallel between society’s growing desire to normalize and justify various sinful behaviors and the rise of natural catastrophes in the world? Or will we, as the book of Revelation says, simply see and endure these signs of nature and continue to blaspheme God (cf. Rev. 16:21)?
St. Nikolai gives us the cure to the root cause of creations suffering, “O my brethren, let us be ashamed of our sin, for which even God’s innocent creation suffers.” Let us, unlike our forefather Adam, repent and return to God. Only in repentance is the curse abolished and healed. Repentance and the return to God release the antibody that destroys the corrupting curse of sin. Each person is either healing the world through repentance or destroying it through willful sin. That is why sin is such a massive problem. It is the worst of all environmental pollutants.