Archives For Creation Care

EnvironmentalismThe environment can be a polarizing issue. Talk too much about caring for the earth and you risk being branded a liberal, as though recycling is the equivalent of compromising the gospel. I have heard well-known Christian leaders that I respect advocate depleting the earth’s resources and polluting with gusto because God is going to destroy the world anyway.

A college student once asked me after a church service if the church recycled its bulletins. I explained to her that, no, we don’t recycle the bulletins, and that we don’t need to go crazy caring for the environment because we know that the world will end when Jesus returns. I wish I could have those words back.

The simple truth is that our stewardship of creation matters. Francis Schaeffer used to explain that environmentalists were misguided in appealing to pantheism in supporting their cause. Why? Because they really should be appealing to the Christian worldview!

Pantheism would seem to be a good foundation for environmentalism. If everything is God, then we honor the divine by treating the grass, trees, and animals well. But Schaeffer explains that pantheism is an impersonal religion. If everything is God, then God is nothing more than an impersonal force. So why try to appease an impersonal force? There is no motivation to adjust our actions based on the existence of an impersonal entity.

Christianity, on the other hand, teaches us that this world was created by God. Every leaf, every ant, every drop of water was lovingly crafted by the Maker himself. And having created it all, he declared our world “very good.” Sure, it has been stained by sin, but sin is just that: a stain, not the fabric itself. In fact, Paul explains that the creation is groaning under the weight of sin and longs for the redemption that will come at Christ’s return (see Rom. 8). So the stain of sin is no reason to treat the environment badly any more than it is a reason to treat unredeemed people badly.

If you’re not convinced that God’s creation is still worth caring about, take a lesson from the incarnation. By taking on flesh and becoming a human being, Jesus was again validating the essential goodness of creation. If creation had become evil at the fall, then Jesus could not have become a part of it. So Jesus affirmed the goodness of creation and made clear his intention to redeem it.

If Christians are going to care for the environment, then we have to subscribe to the right kind of environmentalism. Some pursue a biocentric environmentalism, in which the natural world is said to have intrinsic value and therefore is to be protected. Others go for an anthropocentric environmentalism, in which the environment is protected and/or utilized in whichever ways best serve human ends. But neither of these approaches should satisfy the Christian. Rather, we should go with a theocentric environmentalism, in which we view the natural world as the good creation of God and therefore steward it appropriately to his glory.

Not only did God create a good world, but he specifically placed human beings in the midst of it and tasked them “to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:5, 15). If part of God’s intention in creating humanity was to have an under-ruler who could care for his world, then we’re missing the point pretty badly by trashing his world rather than stewarding it. So let’s be environmentalists. But let’s also make sure we’re being the right kind of environmentalists.

Last week my firstborn son and I went kayaking for his twelfth birthday. For five hours, we enjoyed the beautiful Arkansas countryside. It is good for the human soul to bask in God’s creation. As we navigated through the rushing white waters and glided through calm pools, we noticed the Caddo River bedecked with stacks of turtles and the occasional crane. I couldn’t help but to feel continuity with

creation. But moments later a large pile of empty Pepsi cans, crumbled Lays Barbeque potato chip packages and other random bits of rubbish interrupted my musings. My awe at God’s creation erupted into anger at man’s pollution of it.

When I was twelve years old, I camped with a group of Christian men. As we were packing up to leave, someone asked whether we should pick up the litter. One of the leaders responded: “Nah, it’s all gonna burn anyhow.” His words were seared into my memory. What did he mean by “it was all going to burn”? I heard similar expressions throughout the next few years. I came to understand that this idea was based on their interpretation of passages in the Bible. God is going to burn the world to the ground. He is going to annihilate the earth and then replace it with a new version: Creation 2.0.

But this is not what Paul says in Romans 8.

“19The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” (NIV)

In this passage the Apostle connects the current state of creation to Genesis 3 where God cursed the earth in response to Adam’s sin. You see, the history of sin is more than a human tragedy: it is a cosmic calamity. Therefore, according to Romans 8, God’s rescue mission is not merely for his children but also for his creation. Or, as my friend Eddie Adams puts it,  “salvation consists not so much in the rescue of human beings from a sinking ship, but in the recovery of the wayward vessel itself.” For this reason, the world waits—not to be destroyed but to be delivered. At the second coming, when the children of God appear, the earth will be renewed rather than replaced. And the world cannot wait. For at that time, in the words of Nietzsche,

“Nature, which never leaps, makes one leap, and that a leap of joy: for then it knows that at last and for the first time it has attained its goal.”

To be fair, I should say that Paul’s view of creation in Romans does cut against the grain of a common Jewish and Christian ideology that did expect a cataclysmic destruction of the earth. But in Romans, Paul does not subscribe to such a radical antithesis between the old world and the new. Instead, creation is to be redeemed, not redeemed from.”[1]

Despite the importance that Christians tend to place on Romans, I find it curious that many have tossed this view of creation onto the cutting room floor. Instead of saying, “it’s all gonna burn anyhow,” perhaps we should reconsider Romans 8, pick up our Pepsi cans and be stewards of our inheritance. But please do not misunderstand my point: this post is meant to be more than an anti-litter rant or Go-Green rally. It is an appeal for us to change the way we think about creation altogether, to know that, like us, nature is not hopeless. Over against the picture of an incinerator—the world in ash, I prefer that of labor and delivery—a new world that proceeds from the womb of the old.[2]

[1] James Dunn.

[2] Ibid.