Irrelevant. Caring for the earth isn’t important for Christians – we should be concerned about people’s eternal future, not this earthly dwelling. For these people, the Gospel is about saving souls, not saving seals, and environmentalism is a distraction from real mission.
Incidental. Caring for creation is right and important but it’s not everybody’s calling. Just as some are ‘Christian Surfers,’ others are ‘Christian Conservationists.’ These people are glad somebody’s caring for the planet – so long as it doesn’t have to be them!
Integral. Caring for God’s world is a core Christian commitment. It’s found throughout the Bible and is essential to discipleship, worship and mission. All of us are called to witness to God’s creating, sustaining and saving love in how we care for the natural world.
God’s World, God’s Story
The story of Scripture can be summed up as Creation, Fall and Redemption. As Christians we often see this story as two dimensional, about our relationship with God and our relationship with others. But the story has a third dimension: a relationship with non-human creation.
As God created the world, he saw that all his creation – human and non-human – was good (Genesis 1). Human beings are a part of creation; we’re creatures, made on the same day as the animals. However, being made in the image of God, we’re also called apart within creation (1:26-28) and given a role to care for non-human creation (2:15).
We know that Adam & Eve’s disobedience (Genesis 3:1-19) caused a fracturing in the relationships between God and humanity (they hid from God) and between people (e.g. Adam blames Eve). However there were two other fractures: between humans and the rest of creation (3:17-19), and even between God and his creation (Romans 8:18-21). All of these relationships are damaged.
As we move through the Old Testament we see the importance of God’s relationship with not only people but also non-human creation. It’s emphasised in Genesis 9:8-17 where God establishes his covenant between himself and all life on earth. If we had space we could look at Israel and their relationship with the land, and some of the ways God expected his people to care for the land and wildlife (e.g. Deuteronomy 22:6,7; Leviticus 25:1-7).
Turning to Jesus, Colossians 1:15-20 tells us much about Jesus’ relationship with human and non-human creation. He’s the reconciler of everything on earth and in heaven. Jesus’ death brings healing to all these broken relationships, and his resurrection brings hope for the future of all things. It’s Jesus’ resurrection that’s the guarantee of hope for the whole universe. The risen Jesus was neither a ghost nor a disembodied soul. There was no dead body left behind in the tomb. He was and is physically alive. The risen Christ is the guarantee that those who trust in him will be raised from the dead and that the whole created order will be transformed and renewed.
So… what does this mean for you, me and those three damaged relationships? If we truly love God, we’ll love and care for his creation. If a friend you loved gave you a beautiful ceramic fruit bowl that she’d made, would you use it as a rubbish bin, allowing it to become dirty and trashed?
If we love God we’ll love what he loves. Every time we’re too lazy to rinse out that container so it can go into the recycling bin, or can’t be bothered walking to the local shops so take the car, we make a spiritual choice to be selfish and say ‘no’ to treating the earth as if it really is the Lord’s. Whenever we buy cheap meat without asking if the animal was cruelly farmed, we show disrespect to our Creator. These are uncomfortable truths, and I don’t always get it right, yet it’s vital we realise the links between our relationship with God and our relationship with the planet.
If we truly love God and love others, we’ll love and care for God’s creation. Today’s average Kiwi uses such large amounts of the earth’s resources that we’d probably need more than three planet earths for everybody in the world to live the same way. How I live and the daily lifestyle choices I make affect everyone else on the planet. We can’t escape the reality that the over-consumerism and waste of 20% of the world, us included, leaves the remaining 80% starving and dying early from poisoned waters, soil and air. (You can do a ‘foot print’ calculator to find out how many planet earths we’d need if everyone lived like you: goo.gl/5WnnD9) .
Changing our lifestyles is one of the hardest things to do, but if our desire for change stems ultimately from our relationship with God and with others then I believe it can happen, just one step at a time.
Acknowledgements to A Rocha International’s Director of Theology Rev. Dave Bookless for some of the ideas in this article. Lesley recommends his book Planetwise: Dare to Care for God’s World.
Which of the three views (irrelevant, incidental, integral) have you held throughout your Christian life and why?
What more can we learn about the relationship between Jesus and all creation from Colossians 1:15-20?