Falling in love, a new pair of glasses, and a diagnosis of fourth-stage cancer have one thing in common: The world is seen very differently the next day. Christians have often claimed that seeing this same world through biblical eyes has an equally disrupting effect.

We first saw the world through biblical eyes before science amounted to much, and before Christians took over its empires. Theologians were there to help us interpret what the Bible was saying, but they were vulnerable. The powers of this world skewed their interpreting. They managed to adapt to such threats as Copernicus, Darwin and John Lennon, but they remained uncomfortable with them.

The preacher mounts the pulpit. The best attempt is given to portray the world through biblical eyes. A Presbyterian preacher might even feel constrained to quote the work of a five-centuries-ago scholar named John Calvin. Deep in the pews comes the sound, either of a snore or of a whispered, “Oh, no, not Calvin!” It’s not going very well, is it?

There will be a few thousand ways in which we see our world differently, but let me focus on a big one.

I have a clever colleague who asks his congregation to imagine one of those pre-Google encyclopedia sets that take up, let’s say, 40 inches on a bookshelf. Let that represent the time that our planet has been in existence. How long have human beings been on this earth? Almost the thickness of one page. It’s pretty hard to maintain that this planet is primarily a human enterprise. “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it…” (Psalm 24:1) What happened to people as the goal and focal point of it all?

I can remember theology classes of a few decades ago where we learned about the “tridimensional relationship.” One corner of the triangle is me, the second corner is my neighbour or “the other,” while the crowning apex is “God.” First Nations people tended to see a four-cornered world, the fourth of which was the earth itself and all its myriad life forms. So we not only have to relate to one another, as hard a task as that is, we must also relate to every living creature. That fourth dimension has largely been missed by centuries of theologians, preoccupied as they were with human empire. The Bible did not ignore creation. It would have been hard to do so; most of the writers of the Hebrew Bible, in particular, were farmers.

The opening pages of the scriptures imagine the human being as created, along with many other inhabitants of our globe, each of which is called “good” or “very good.” When a human is brought into being it is called “Adam,” which we then make into a name that we give to boys. Thanks to a recent Old Testament scholar we can no longer avoid the fact that the Hebrew word for “earth” and for “human being” are two different forms of the same word. She suggested that we should understand humanity not as “Adam” but as “earth creature.” She made such a compelling score at that point that no one has been able to ignore her insight.

We are made of the earth. We are one with all the creatures. A relationship that only allows for other people, and not the wider environment, can go very much awry. Any attempt to understand God as one who is exclusively concerned with human enterprise is doomed to rot.

It has been observed—and I thank my teacher, Sallie McFague, for this observation—that we people depend upon the whole of creation for our survival.

All the other creatures matter and the death of species ultimately contributes to our own death. The whole earth is sacred.

And yet, none of it depends upon us. If one looks for an exception, our pets are the only one that can be found. Indeed, the biggest enemy to the survival of the oceans, the bees, the wildlife, the obliterating diseases of trees… is the human race.

If ever there was a need for help in understanding our environment, the creation, and how the church and the world might relate to this wildly beautiful gift of creation, it is now.