Should the earth matter to people of faith?
What does Christian faith have to say about creation? A lot!
We believe there is a loving God who owns the universe – plants, animals, people, rocks, and stars – and that he intends the world to become something much more wonderful than what it is now. Genesis tells us that God is a proud owner and appoints people to be guardians of his interests.
Some people have criticized this view, claiming that Christians have used these biblical arguments to harm nature. Sadly, that has happened. But others have been just as bad, or worse, when it comes to the environment. Maybe arrogance towards creation is a common human failing.
We, as Christians, should be careful to avoid arrogance towards the environment; our view of nature must be God-centred. The great hymn to Christ in Colossians says “all things have been created through him and for him” (Colossians 1:16). The seas, forests, and grasslands are here not just for us. They are here for God. And God invites us to be stewards of the earth he has made.
What does it mean to be a steward? First, it means we must regard creation as highly as God does. Our ethical scope must reach beyond the needs of wounded people to include the whole earth, which we now realize can be severely injured by human activities. Are we ready to tie up the wounds of the ecosystem and pay the bills in order to give it a chance to heal?
A good steward must also understand the owner’s final intentions for his property. Will it be preserved, or will it be disposed of? The Bible teaches that nature waits in eager expectation for the same transformation that already happened to Jesus in the resurrection.
Romans 8:19–21 gives a clear theological discourse on the participation of creation in the ultimate future of the world: “The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” The natural world participates in some way in the Christian hope and its transformation will be glorious.
In the beginning, God created a world of matter that was completely novel, depending entirely on the will of God and nothing else. The new creation, as inaugurated by the resurrection of Christ, however, is not created out of nothing. It is formed out of the old creation.
Thus, there is striking continuity between the old and new. Christ’s resurrection body bore the scars of the wounds inflicted on Jesus of Nazareth, and the risen Christ still had an appetite for fried fish. The transformation was radical, but left much of the old intact.
A faithful steward of the earth must grasp the importance of this continuity between old and new. It means that nothing good we do for the environment is lost; it becomes the seed of the new creation and will reappear in glorious form.
What then, must a good steward do?
Human activity on our planet tends to degrade the very systems on which life depends. Even in biblical times, overgrazing on the fragile hills of Palestine led to deforestation, erosion, and loss of soil. In modern times, human industry threatens the air and water that future generations need to live. Exploding modern populations leave less and less room for wild animals and plants, and vast cities cut millions off from any contact with nature. If these trends continue, the result will be ecological death within a few generations.
It’s our job as God’s stewards to learn how to change human activity so future generations will still have healthy natural systems, making it possible for life to thrive into the far future. Our activities must be sustainable.
There is evidence that carbon dioxide and methane are building up to highly abnormal levels in the atmosphere due to burning of fuel and intensive agricultural activity.1 We don’t know for sure that this is causing global warming or melting glaciers and ice caps, but can we allow it to get worse and worse? What if human contribution to global warming, though perhaps small, is enough to trigger major climate change?2 The least we can do is to try to stop additional accumulation of these gases.
Many tonnes of carbon dioxide per Canadian are produced each year.3 Carbon dioxide and methane are created by the growth of bacteria on organic matter in fields, water, and the intestines of animals. Most of the excess carbon dioxide in the air comes from the burning of fossil fuels in power plants, furnaces, and internal combustion engines that make transport possible.
What can we do to reduce the production of carbon dioxide?
As North Americans, our greatest environmental responsibility is air quality. We contribute to this problem at a rate disproportionate to our population, and the effects are global.
Great damage has also been done to our land, especially water reserves, vast tracts of soil, and biodiversity. But there is still much natural unspoiled creation out there, and we have the opportunity to act before it’s degraded.
Is creation just passing away? No! God loves his world and will redeem and transform it. We must also love creation, and the efforts we make to restore it to health and keep it thriving are not in vain. Somehow, the good we achieve now will be made glorious in the new creation.
| © 2008 Mennonite Brethren Herald
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