Happy Earth Day 2017!
“But wait,” you might say, “should Christians celebrate ‘Earth Day?’ How does our faith help us think about what the Bible calls ‘Creation’?”
Here are three important biblical themes for Christians to reflect upon for Earth Day:
1. “The whole earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1).
God delights in all of Creation and declares it “very good” (Genesis 1). The psalmist declares, “O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures” (Psalm 104:24).
The praise that the psalmist offers back to God in worship is the fitting response to God’s gracious work of creating and sustaining all things.
We are born into a wondrous world in which all of our needs are provided for by the hand of a generous and loving God. And not just our “needs” – if God were only interested in needs, we would have a far more boring world.
Consider the sheer variety of cheeses and chocolates, or the delight of a child who tastes ice cream for the first time. This world – creation – is superabundant and to be celebrated, cultivated and cared for in a way that honors our creator.
Part of what makes us unique as human beings (image bearers of God) is our unique capacity to cultivate and shape the world around us.
It is easy to read the Bible as though humans were the center of the story, where in reality it is God who is the central subject of this divine drama.
The biblical vision is one of all creation flourishing with human beings serving as God’s appointed stewards and safeguards over it all.
Our “caring for and keeping” the garden (Genesis 2:15) and our “ruling over and subduing” creation (Genesis 1:26-28) are the fitting actions of a human life rightly oriented toward God, our neighbors and all of Creation.
2. The earth has a problem – and it’s you and me!
When human beings turn from God and live in ways that dishonor him, those effects ripple throughout our human relationships and over our relationship with creation.
We see this, for example, when Israel is given the land to dwell in and, by their disobedience, ends up in exile from the land. The prophets bear witness to this difficult truth – that our life has an impact on Creation, for good or ill.
Hosea 4:1-3 puts it cogently, “Hear the word of the Lord, O people of Israel; for the Lord has an indictment against the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness, no love of God, and no knowledge of God in the land. … Therefore, the land mourns and all who live in it languish; together with the wild animals and the birds of the air, even the fish of the sea are perishing.”
These three short verses move sequentially from the people’s disobedience to God to the spiral of human violence to the havoc wrought on creation.
Isaiah similarly writes, “The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants for they transgressed laws, violated statutes, broke the everlasting covenant” (Isaiah 24:5).
This being the problem, where do we find hope? For ourselves and for Creation?
3. Jesus Christ is the source of hope for all creation.
While we have tended to focus on Jesus as coming to save human souls fit for heaven, the New Testament offers a much broader vision.
Colossians 1:15-20 states, “It was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in him (Jesus), and through him to reconcile to Himself all things, having made peace through the blood of his cross; whether things on earth or things in heaven.”
Six times in these six verses we read “all things” just to make the point clear – God is reconciling all things to himself through Christ. God’s redemption and reconciliation are not just about humanity; they are cosmic in scope.
Paul writes, “Creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the children of God” (Romans 8:19). Indeed, “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:22).
The birth process involves great anticipation and waiting, but just what is being born? God’s new creation is in the process of being born right now in our midst, and God’s chosen means for this is through us – his church.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old is gone, the new is here!” We who are in Christ bear witness to this hope of new creation.
These three movements give the broad contours of a biblical vision of care for Creation. And they urge us to get to work.
When we are out caring for our gardens and seeking to reduce our family footprint, we aren’t just being good citizens, we are taking seriously what it means to be an image-bearer of God.
When our churches begin to take seriously our “creaturely life,” we bring honor and praise to the God who made all things.
And when we are out engaging our neighbors in the work of caring for our local places, we bear witness to the God who “makes all things new.”
This Earth Day, let us respond to the great hope of Christ, who reconciles all things. Let us become the children of God, which creation waits for. And may the triune God – Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer – refresh us with his Spirit this work to do.
Matthew W. Humphrey is an educator who works at the intersection of Theology and Environmental Action. He is director of theological education at A Rocha Canada and a faculty associate at Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia. He lives with his family in Victoria, British Columbia. You can follow him on Twitter @mwhumphrey.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series for Earth Day 2017.
The previous articles in the series are: