CREATION CARE IN A CARELESS WORLD
It was Ludwig Feuerbach who claimed that, “Nature, the world, has no value, no interest for Christians. The Christian thinks only of himself and the salvation of his soul.”1 On the contrary, “a recent college graduate observes that, ‘[Christians] claim that we have something worth living (even dying) for here: we believe in a God who created this world, loves it and calls us to take care of it; and the world today is in a mess.’ Might not creating a sustainable society be a worthy goal for a church, a nation, the international global community, as well as for individuals?”2
It would do us much good to start thinking about the concepts of creation care and sustainable living for biblical and environmental reasons, but also to answer the question, “Why should we care?” Well, we care because:
Nature, the world, has no value, no interest for Christians. The Christian thinks only of himself and the salvation of his soul."
Genesis 1:1 tells us that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This dual expression indicates that, “the heavens and the earth and everything that is in between—all things—come to be as result of God’s creative Word and energizing Spirit....“Through [Jesus] all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (Jn 1:3), i.e., both the regions of the cosmos (days 1-3) and their various inhabitants (days 4-6). God cares for creation (Job 38 and 39) and sustains it.”3 “[Jesus] is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Heb. 1:3). Furthermore, “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps. 19:1) and, according to Psalm 148, the sun, moon, stars, water, mountains, hills, vegetation, animals, birds, and sea creatures all praise the Lord.
To such ‘creation-care’ by our God, the material environment responds. It gives glory to God. It sings to and delights in God’s love for it: “…The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with corn; they shout for joy and sing” (Ps. 65:9-13).
When we realize how much God cares for the earth and all its animate and inanimate inhabitants, we cannot purposefully destroy it or even hurt it without directly hurting our Creator who delights in the worship, shouts of praise, and joyful noise of the meadows and the grasslands. As Bouma-Prediger points out, “From the environmental perspective, by caring for the non-human created order we are also worshipping God by allowing it to give glory to God as he intended it to.”4
We Are Part Of The Earth
We are cognizant that we are also a part of that same creation, moreover, of the very ground that we walk on daily. The substance that we humans were created from is the very soil that the earth is made of, and upon our death we return to this dust. The opening chapters of the Bible teach us about the commonalities human beings and the rest of the creation share. In Genesis 2:7, the same word is used to describe how animals, birds and humans were ‘formed’ from the dust of the earth (see also 1 Cor. 15:47). Humans and animals were created on the very same day. Humanity also shares the same food given to the animals (Gen. 1:29-30) and the same breath of life is given to all the new creatures alike (Gen. 1:30; 2:7; 6:17; Ps. 104:29.). The most extraordinary description in Psalm 104 shows how humans and animals have the same needs and how God provides abundantly for all creatures. As it is concluded by the authors of Christianity, Climate Change, and Sustainable Living, “To care for creation is therefore to care for a system of which we are a part and upon which we utterly depend.”5
Anderson concludes that, “In view of the overall pattern of the [creation] account, it is apparent that the emphasis falls not so much on anthropology, that is, on the supremacy of humanity, as on ecology, that is, the earthly habitation that human beings share with other forms of ‘living beings.’”6
We Care For Our Neighbor
We care for our environment because, alongside our God, we care for our neighbor. Christians are invited to love their neighbors and such love is not restricted to those with whom we share ethnic, geographic or national identities. The Samaritan story illustrates this well. We love our neighbors who are close and also who are very distant on other continents or in abject poverty. “Space is not bar to neighborly love. Nor is time.” As helpfully described by Spencer, White and Vroblesky, “Just as those living on the other side of the planet are our neighbors, so are the unborn, the men and women of future generations whom we cannot see but who will inherit from us the consequences of our actions, and flourish or suffer accordingly.” We love people genuinely “from the other side of the planet to the other end of the century.”7 Francis of Assisi, 700 years previously, said: “If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.”8
The Sabbath Teaches This
The Sabbath has a clear environmental scope and impact. It is a reminder of the creation (Exodus 20:8-11), God’s ownership of the entire earth and that we are His stewards. Deuteronomy chapter 5 indicates that God is interested that all of His creation should find a Sabbath rest: “your son or daughter … male or female servant … ox … donkey or any of your animals, … any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do” (verse 14). The Sabbath should be a way to protect the vulnerable as the Israelites remember that they “were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there,” (verse 5). This implicit inclusion of the livestock might seem odd unless we recognize the environmental implications.
The Sabbatical principle and its environmental impact is further clarified in the passages on the ‘Sabbath of Sabbaths’ and the Jubilee principle by corresponding legislation of the Sabbatical year in Exodus 23 and especially in Leviticus 25.
‘For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, but during the seventh year let the land lie unploughed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what is left. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove. ‘Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest.9
Spencer, White and Vroblesky insightfully conclude that, “These verses make clear, there were environmental and social concerns behind the Sabbatical Year. The land was not to be exhausted by overuse. The poor were to be given access that would not otherwise have been theirs. The law even allowed for wild animals to consume what the people left, thereby suggesting that agriculture (and other human activities) should not be permitted to destroy non-human life, ascribing value to non-human ecology, and implying that awe and respect for God’s creation should not ‘give way to an exploitation and managerial approach to nature.’”10
These verses make clear, there were environmental and social concerns behind the Sabbatical Year. The land was not to be exhausted by overuse."
Leviticus 26:34-35 shows how seriously God takes comprehensive creation care. If the Israelites will not allow the land its Sabbath, “Then the land will enjoy its sabbath years all the time that it lies desolate and you are in the country of your enemies; then the land will rest and enjoy its sabbaths.” God cares about the Earth to the point of destroying those who destroy the Earth.11 If one truly observes the Sabbath, one cannot remain satisfied only with one’s own redemption, restoration and liberation. One must show concern for one’s neighbor spiritually and physically along-side expressing genuine love toward the non-human created order.
Our Salvation Draws Near
In The Irresistible Revolution, Shane Clairborne said: “What the world needs is people who believe so much in another world that they cannot help but begin enacting it now.”12
God’s plan to “reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven”13 speaks volumes about God’s desire and plan that will have its final fulfillment in the eschatological sphere. Our desire needs to be to work closely with God for the restoration and flourishing of creation (which is groaning for that fulfillment and final redemption as much as our bodies are groaning),14 as part of our work for the kingdom of God in order to see that fulfillment of the Lord’s prayer become a reality, that God’s “will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”15
The new earth, restored at the final consummation of history will be the pristine garden of delight in which there will be unsurpassed beauty and which will flourish with continual crops of fruit and whose river and trees will continually produce life giving leaves that will heal the nations and make the original vision of God effective and real.16 This is not a far distant place on another galaxy, or in far away ‘heaven’, but a place on the very earth we now live on that will be purged of the sin—and all its consequences— and renewed. And the dwelling for God’s people will be sustainable and healthy for eternity, just as God desired it in the first place. We need to allow that kind of Kingdom of Glory to penetrate into the here and now of the already inaugurated Kingdom of Grace which, by proxy, we live in today and, furthermore, anticipate soon to be fully realized in the second appearing of our Lord Christ Jesus.
A Christian would do well to repent from the way s/he has thought at times about the responsibilities towards God’s creation and to pray the prayer of Walter Rauschenbusch:
“…Grant us, we pray you, a heart wide open to all this joy and beauty, and save our souls from being so steeped in care or so darkened by passion that we pass heedless and unseeing when even the thorn-bush by the wayside is aflame with the glory of God."17
1. Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity (New York: Harper & Row. 1957), 287.
2. Nick Spencer, Robert White and Virginia Vroblesky, Christianity, Climate Change and Sustainable Living (Hendrickson Publishers, 2009), 219.
3. Richard Middleton and Brian Walsh, Truth is Stranger Than It Used to Be, (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 153.
4. Steven Bouma-Prediger, For the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision for Creation Care (Grand Rapids: MI, Baker Academic, 2001), 95.
5. Nick Spencer, Robert White and Virginia Vroblesky, Christianity, Climate Change and Sustainable Living (Hendrickson Publishers, 2009), 86.
6. Bernhard Anderson, From Creation to New Creation (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1994), 139.
7. Spencer, White and Vroblesky, Christianity, Climate Change and Sustainable Living (2009), 91.
8. Saint Francis, In “Quotation Archives, All-creatures.org. http://all-creatures.org/quotes/francis+saint.html,(accessed April 6, 2013).
9. Exodus 23:10-12a.
10. Spencer, White and Vroblesky, Christianity, Climate Change and Sustainable Living (2009), 139-140.
11. Revelation 11:18.
12. Quoted in Ben Lowe, Green Revolution: Coming Together to Care for Creation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 11.
13. Colossians 1:20.
14. See Romans 8:18-24.
15. Matthews 6:10.
16. See Revelation 21 and 22. Furthermore, see more elaborate exposition on this issue of the Adventist eschatological vision in Zdravko Plantak, “For the Healing of the Nations: Repairers of Broken Walls and Restorers of God’s Justice - Adventist Society for Religious Studies Presidential Address 2009”, in Andrews University Seminary Studies, Vol 48., No. 1. (2010): 1-11.
16. Walter Rauschenbusch, cited in The Communion of the Saints: Prayers of the Famous, Editor, Horton Davis, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990).