Caring for Creation: Reflections on Earth Day and Christian Environmentalism
As christians who live in a culture that is becoming increasingly aware of the effect we have on our planet, it is important to take some time and reflect on where we stand on environmental issues. It’s no secret that the church has stood in opposition against environmentalism in the past. The issue has been overly politicized for so long that we almost assume that the church’s default position on issues such as climate change is one of hostility. However, it is crucial that we remember that politics are not the source of our theology. If we are to take a position that honors God, then the basis of that position should be scripture. God’s relationship with His creation is a central issue of the Bible. Through creation, the fall, redemption, and the ultimate restoration, we see that God cares deeply for his creation, and so should we.
Following a couple of weeks on the heels of our series on the Genesis creation story, I would like to bring us back one more time the words of Genesis 1-2. In the article, “The Purpose of Biblical Creation: Separating the Wheat from the Chaff,” I made the point that the first chapters of the Bible are primarily relational. The creation account was written in order to establish the foundational relationships between God, man, and the land. Because of this we can tell a lot about God’s relationship with His creation as well as His expectations for us. The creation is the direct workmanship of our God and He doesn’t wait for us to get onto the scene to appreciate His work. In each step of creation, God declares that his creation is good. When He finishes the creative act, he looks back on everything and declares that it is very good. God declares intrinsic value in the sky, the ocean, the plants, and all of the animals. Our planet, the environment, and the animals are all valuable to God and, to be honest, that should be enough reason for us to care for them, but God doesn’t stop at declaring value. The Bible tells us that God created man and “placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it. (Genesis 2:15)” Adam wasn’t just created to enjoy paradise. He was given a job to do. God’s primary role for man in creation was to care for the environment. Furthermore, because Adam is a representation of humanity as the human archetype, that responsibility passes to all of us as well. We see from the foundations of the created order, we are called to watch over and care for the earth, and the importance of caring for creation doesn’t stop there.
Not only do we see that God has declared inherent value in creation, but we also see that he speaks to us through creation. In Romans 1, Paul tells us that God is clearly seen and is being understood through nature. God has chosen to use nature as the primary mode of communication to all people. He reaches out and speaks to us in every sunset, and every starry night. But how do we react to the fact that we are letting that witness be destroyed? In the book Green Like God, Jonathan Merritt recounts a story in which one of his seminary professors said, “When we destroy God’s creation, which is God’s revelation, it’s similar to tearing a page out of the Bible.” As christians, we will go to great lengths to defend scripture in order to accurately preserve the message being communicated to us. Shouldn’t we also do what we can to preserve God’s message to us in nature? Watch this video and see the immeasurable beauty that God has blessed us with.
The times that I just stop to see the beauty of God’s creation is when I connect with Him most effectively, when I see him clearer than ever before. Moments like this are glimpses into what we once had in the garden of Eden and what we will once again have when God brings His final restoration.
When we read of the fall of man, we see a severing of the foundational relationships first established in the original creation. Our relationship with creation was damaged along with our relationships with God and with each other. When we learn about God’s plan for redemption and final restoration, we also learn that these same foundational relationships will be brought back into an eternal existence in heaven. Jeff Cook walks us through what the Bible teaches about the restoration of the creation in “Reimagining Heaven.” The point of life after death is not to take us away from here and bring us to a better place. When we read of heaven, we read of a restoration of creation into a new heaven and a new earth, we learn that the kingdom of heaven is being brought to earth, and we see Jesus as playing a primary role in the restoration. Our role in this process is not difficult to see. Through the life and death of Jesus Christ, we have begun the process of reconciliation that will only come to completion when He returns once again. While we wait for that day, we are continuously being reconciled with God and restored back to our original place through the process of sanctification. Just the same, we are in a process of restoring our relationships with each other and with creation. While we continue to do our parts to care for creation and restore it in what ways we can, we wait for the day when God will restore it back to its full glory.
But, christian culture has held onto the idea that the earth will be destroyed before it is finally recreated. Daniel Majors addressed this in his article, “Rapture vs. Nurture”. Even if that is true, and the earth as we know it will ultimately be destroyed, that doesn’t relieve us of God’s command to care for creation. Our bodies will one day be restored and glorified, but Paul made it very clear that we can’t just do anything we want with our bodies now. We are held to God’s commandments here and now regardless of what God’s ultimate plans are for our bodies or for the earth.
If you are interested in finding out more about creation care and our role in environmentalism, check out these websites: Blessed Earth, EverydayJustice, Renewing Creation, CreationCare, and Earthday.
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