By: Chris Howell
”The earth is the Lords and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.” – Psalm 24.1
As Christians, we worship God, the Creator of heaven and earth. We sing songs, preach sermons, and teach theology all from the perspective of a creature acknowledging his or her place in the universe before the One who brought something out of nothing.
We dignify and hold in high esteem our fellow humans who inhabit this planet, specifically, because they are made in the image of God. This value conferred to human beings results in advocacy for the unborn, compassion for the disadvantaged, and justice through the legal system.
But what about the rest of creation: the fauna, flora and geography of the planet on which we all coexist? It is often the case that the focus of Christian theology centers around the relationship between God and humankind. And rightly so: Jesus died to save sinners, that is, image bearers. And somehow, as a result of this sacrifice, a chain of events has been set into motion whereby all of creation will be affected and ultimately renewed. But what about right now? What attitude should Christians adopt towards the environment?
Historically this attitude has been shaped by the eschatology (beliefs about when and what will happen at the return of Christ, the “last things”) of the local church. Some Christian communities live expectantly for an imminent return of Christ, followed by years of war, death and destruction, and then a final triumphant establishment of Jesus as King. This has sometimes led to a dismissal of environmental concerns because, after all, Jesus is coming back soon and he’s going to destroy everything and make it new again.
Other camps actually see the church as playing a catalytic role in the return of Christ, actively seeking to proclaim the Gospel and improve the conditions on the earth in order to facilitate Jesus’ return. Still others in the broader Christian community find themselves occupying some position between cold disinterest and skepticism on one hand, and extreme advocacy or activism on the other.
While there is room for interpretive differences and theological diversity on this topic, I believe that love of God, as well as love for his Word, necessarily results in a genuine love, and care, for his World.
“As followers of Jesus Christ, committed to the full authority of the Scriptures, and aware of the ways we have degraded creation, we believe that biblical faith is essential to the solution of our ecological problems.” – An Evangelical Declaration on the Care of Creation
The Declaration was issued in 1994 in order to assert and emphasize that the earth belongs to God and that we are responsible to him for it. It goes on to say that because we worship and honor the Creator, we seek to cherish and care for the creation. Because we have sinned, we have failed in our stewardship of creation. Therefore we repent of the way we have polluted, distorted, or destroyed so much of the Creator’s work. Because we await the time when the groaning creation will be restored to wholeness, we commit ourselves to work vigorously to protect and heal that creation in honor and glory of the Creator.
Indeed, for many people (including myself) their first exposure and elementary knowledge of who God is comes through natural revelation, that is creation (Psalm 19.1). While certainly not worthy of worship, the creation is worthy of respect, because it belongs to God. It reflects his beauty, and it is his handiwork. We are part of that creation, and have actually been tasked to rule and exercise dominion over it (Gen 1.28).
How we treat the environment bears witness to how immanently we feel God reigns over it, and us.
Loving the environment takes many forms. It can be as simple as picking up trash or committing to a lifestyle of recycling. Or it can result in a career in the life sciences, delving into the effects of industry on climate change, or becoming politically active and supporting laws that promote responsible Christian stewardship of the environment.
Regardless of the scope, care for creation not only takes many forms it also can accomplish many Gospel tasks:
Seeking the welfare of the city (Jer 29.7) – when we partner with the city of Denton in ways that benefit the environment, we bless our immediate community as well as a that of nonbelievers. We do good to all in the name of Christ.
Evangelism – when we care for the environment, we open ourselves to establishing areas of common ground with others in the city, many of whom may have no exposure to the Gospel whatsoever.
Community – when we take steps to preserve some aspect of creation, we demonstrate our connectedness not only to our contemporaries, but to future generations. Since we don’t know when Jesus will return, indifference to environmental issues today indicates a gross insensitivity to our children, grandchildren, etc.
Worship – when we demonstrate respect for the environment, we reveal a desire to obey God’s command for us to rule over it. How well we take care of this world declares it as our rightful home and looks forward to its fullest renewal.
Christians should be known for their love for God, for one another, and for the world that He rules over. The earth is going to be our eternal home, and the more that we exercise care and concern for it now foreshadows and declares our firm belief in our Lord’s eventual renewal of all things in the future.