The Oscar-winning The Elephant Whisperers is a beautifully shot and aesthetically moving short documentary by the director Kartiki Gonsalves.
The story revolves around two members of the Kattuanayakan tribe—Bomman and Bellie. It explores their relationship with two baby elephants named Ammu and Raghu. The latter was abandoned and left for certain death when his mother was electrocuted and his herd moved on.
In her article, Poulomi Das says this documentary is an “affective portrait of caregiving and co-existence that ends up being a necessary balm for the current state of our polarised country.”
In light of the Bible, it is worth reflecting on this documentary and listen to the unmistakable echoes of Eden.
The Presence of God in India’s Natural Beauty
Within the first minutes of watching the documentary, we see striking idyllic scenes of India’s natural beauty. A picture of a lush jungle in morning mists welcomes us into the story. Throughout the documentary, we see dynamic snapshots of India’s wildlife—brilliant-blue kingfishers, spotted leopards, bumbling black bears, and more.
The philosopher Francis Bacon once wrote: “God has, in fact, written two books, not just one. Of course, we are all familiar with the first book he wrote, namely Scripture. But he has written a second book called creation.” The apostle Paul and the psalmists affirm this thought (Rom. 1:19, Ps. 19).
Our broken relationship with creation expresses itself in two ways. Either we exploit creation or we worship it.
God invites us to be well-versed in the Book of God’s Word (Scripture) and the Book of God’s Works (Nature and Science). This prepares us to engage meaningfully and thoughtfully with the world around us. It also prepares our hearts to worship God.
While humans have unique and sacred value in the eyes of God, he also deeply loves his creation.
Listen to the testimony of Scripture: “In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind” (Job 12:10); “all creatures look to God to give them their food at the proper time” (Ps. 104:27).
The Psalmist tells us that animals are “terrified when he hides his face” (Ps. 104:29). Scripture even tells us the Holy Spirit is the source of all life and is the “one who renews the face of the earth” (Ps. 104:30).
It is hard not to feel God’s joy and delight for the baby elephants Raghu and Ammu as they play and frolic with the villagers. No doubt, if we say we love God, we will also steward the creation he delights in and loves.
The Relationship Between Humans and Creation
Bomman and Bellie bathe and play with baby Raghu and Ammu in the rivers, surrounded by thriving greenery. As we watch them, we see echoes of what God once commanded humans to do.
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Gen. 2:15). We see a picture of humans and creation in harmony—as God intended it to be.
As this relationship plays out on screen, one might reimagine the mood and the beauty of when God “brought all living creatures” to Adam “to see what he would name them” (Gen. 2:20).
It is hard not to imagine this scene in Genesis, filled with love and gentleness and tenderness. Truly, Genesis offers us a picture of God, humans, animals, and all creation dwelling together in perfect harmony.
Of course, in our time, the relationship between humans and creation is fractured. Our broken relationship with creation expresses itself in two ways. Either we exploit creation or we worship it.
Exploiting or Worshipping Creation
There is a fine line between economic development and ecological conservation. Human beings have not always walked that line well. Yet both are God-given and God-mandated. The problem is not development itself but the human greed for more that drives it.
Our consumption habits often get out of hand. While India has traditionally been known as a “country of savers,” consumption habits are steadily on the rise, as more and more people are expected to “buy more and buy better.” In fact, since 2017 the level of household debt in India has doubled.
Time and again, God tells His people: “Everyone is to take as much as they need and no more” (Ex. 16:18). The wisdom of the Proverbs tells us: “If you find honey, eat just enough—too much of it, and you will vomit” (Prov. 25:16)
God calls his people to care for the earth and steward their resources well.
In his letter to the Philippians, the apostle Paul proclaims: “God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). While it is certainly fine to enjoy certain luxuries and experiences, God wants us to do so within our means, and with moderation (1 Cor. 6:12).
On the other hand, there are those of us who might be on the opposite side of the spectrum: worshipping the creation. We see that in the documentary. At one point Bomman says that God and elephant are equal in his eyes. Followers of Jesus might feel wary of statements like that, as they rightfully should. The Creator can easily be traded for the creation (Rom. 1:25).
Stewardship and Conservation
God calls his people to care for the earth and steward their resources well. He wants this so that humanity and creation might flourish and that he may be glorified. In light of the conservation mandate (Gen. 2:15) and the redemption mandate between God and all things (Col. 1:15-25), the Lord invites the Indian church to adopt a practice of creation care and stewardship as an integral part of ongoing discipleship.
Three Ways to Practice Creation Care
Transforming the Head
We need to grow in a biblical theology of creation and environmental stewardship. Begin with the Bible. Spend time meditating on Genesis 1-3, Leviticus 25:1-7, Psalm 24:1-2, Psalm 104, Matthew 6:25-34 and Revelation 21-22.
Steve Bishop’s essay on environmental theology can be a good place to start. For those of us who are a bit more visual, Our Daily Bread’s short video on the importance of creation care might offer some inspiration.
Transforming the Heart
Our hearts must also grow warm with affection for God’s creation. Plan time this year with friends and/or family to visit one of India’s great national parks or simply be in nature. Allow the beauty of India’s mountain ranges, vast jungles, and beautiful beaches to remind you of the glorious God who made them. You can also spend time with a worship playlist with themes of creation and nature.
Transforming the Hand
There are many practices to adopt but there are three that we should think about immediately: reduce, reuse and recycle. Reduce needless consumption by simply refusing to purchase the latest and the greatest. Reuse your old stuff. Recycle by getting to know your local raddiwala.
A Word of Hope
It is easy in this day and age to hear the environment and climate conversation saturated with pessimism and negativity. But the Elephant Whisperers ends with an unmistakable note of hope. It envisions a new generation that understands its role in relation to creation.
There will be a day when God will refine the whole of creation and when the new earth will be found in him (2 Pet. 3:3). Until that day, however, we are all of us called to live as hopeful stewards—setting our eyes on God as we love and conserve the environment he gave us.