Times are changing and many say the weather is too. The dramatic rise of the Internet, global communications and satellite networks means that we are more in touch with what is going on around the world than ever before. Natural disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes appear to be increasing. Glaciers are shrinking, ice caps are melting, oceans are rising, summers are longer and winters are shorter. We are told the earth is heating up and it is because of us. Global warming has thrust environmental concerns onto the center stage of world affairs.
But this has not been without controversy. Evangelicals have responded in a variety of ways. Many have contended that God would never allow this to happen. Others say we are too small and the earth too big for our impact to make a difference. Some, however, have posited that many of these calamities could be God’s judgment. This complicated topic deserves some exploration.
Increasing awareness on environmental issues is a strategic opportunity for Christians to look at scripture with new eyes and see what it might say on this important matter. It is not my intent to discuss the political ramifications; rather, I will focus on the spiritual implications of what the Bible says. Hopefully, the following seven points will bring some clarity to earnest Christians.
1. Creation is a gift from God. The Bible starts with the account of the creator breathing creation into existence. He took six days. Following each day, he pronounced it good, with the exception of the final day, which he called “very good.” Creation, all of it, was very good. In his benevolence, the Almighty presented a portion of his creation to humans as a gift saying, “Let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (Genesis 1:26).
Any reflection on this verse should focus on the gift God was giving. As a parent, I delight in giving my children gifts and watching their joyful responses. However, this delight increases as I see them continue to enjoy the gift over a period of time. In contrast, it would be a great irritation to see them receive a gift and put it in the trash or throw it in front of a car. So it is with the gift of creation that God has given us. A right reading of this passage shows that we should cherish this precious gift from our loving creator.
2. Creation is our responsibility. After creating humans God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:28). He gave us two commands. The first is to be fruitful and multiply—create community. The second is to rule over the animals of the earth—creation care.
This statement from God to us should not be taken as an entitlement but as a privilege. These are not rights; they are responsibilities. Therein lies an enormous difference. We care not for environmentalism because of what pollsters and reporters say; rather, we care for it because of the responsibility that God has given us. Caring for creation is not being politically correct. It is being theologically correct.
3. We express our love to God by respecting his creation. Jesus stated quite clearly what it means to love him when he said, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:21). When God gave us the task of stewarding creation, it was not intended to be a burden, but an opportunity. It was (and is) a chance to express our love to him.
We express our love by caring for his gift of creation. God’s creative actions in Genesis 1 serve as a model for us. After looking at how we care for creation, we should be able to step back and say, “This is good.” When we care for creation in the same way that God did, we know we are obeying his teaching. As Jesus said, this is how we show our love.
4. Creation groans. A lot has changed since the original scene of God and humans conversing as friends in the idyllic setting of the Garden of Eden. Humankind sinned. We failed. As a result, Adam and Eve had to leave the garden. God said that the ground was cursed because of Adam (Genesis 3:17). Paul wrote, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22). Creation is groaning.
Some people have responded by saying that there is nothing we can do about this. Creation is groaning until the whole creation is redeemed. There is some truth to this. We cannot completely reverse everything that is going on in creation. In the same way, I could not take away the pains of childbirth for my wife when she twice went through extended labor sessions. But I tried. I rubbed her back. I caressed her hair. The doctor gave her shots. We did everything we could to make it as restful as possible. I think the same approach is justified with creation. We should use all the technology, creativity and love that we have to ease the groaning.
5. Salvation is for all creation. Generally, salvation is considered in terms of the souls of people. However, the biblical portrait is more expansive. Paul wrote, “The creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).
When we speak of the reconciling work of Christ, often we mean that Christ has reconciled believers to himself. Only rarely, if ever, do we acknowledge that his work of reconciliation related to creation. As Paul noted, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:19-20). This reconciliation will not be made complete in the present. However, there is nothing preventing us from acting on this truth now.
6. Caring for creation gives us common ground with others. Christians are not the only ones who care about what is happening to creation today. Environmental concerns are on the front pages of newspapers around the world. Business owners, social activists, government workers and a host of others are working on these issues. Rather than distancing ourselves from these conversations, we should jump right in. This gives us an opportunity to share common ground with others who do not understand the fullness of God’s truth. Through these exchanges we can express not only our concern for creation as a gift from God, but also our desire for them to understand the fullness of the creator.
7. We express our love for our children and their children. Our creator is infinite. Everything else is finite. Like us, creation has its limitations. Once when I was in Israel, I learned that archaeologists intentionally do not uncover and explore every potential site of interest. Rather, there is a systematic attempt to preserve historical sites for subsequent generations to explore. In a land with such a long history, it seems that there are endless opportunities for archaeological work. But this is not true. And so it is with creation.
It is only natural for us to desire the best and the most for our children. But desire alone will not be sufficient. We must act. It will take a systematic and intentional way of living that seeks to preserve what we can of creation for the enjoyment of our children and theirs. In so doing, we express tangibly the love we have for them.