I just got off the phone with a reporter for the local newspaper. He wanted some quotes for an article he’s doing about our congregation and other religious communities responding to global warming. To begin with, I needed to let him know of my lack of expertise in this subject. Undeterred, the reporter pressed me for my thoughts. Clearly, the idea of Christians, particularly evangelicals, concerned about the environment had captured his interest. We aren’t your typical tree-huggers, are we? Too often, conservative Christians have been no-shows in environmental activism, frequently responding with the argument (consciously or not) that “the world’s going to hell in a handbasket and Jesus is coming back soon, so why waste time on the environment—it’s souls that matter.” This is a half-truth. Yes, according to Scripture, this world is passing away and will be consumed in fire prior to the creation of a new heaven and earth (2Peter 3:10-12). However, if we pan out and get the satellite view of the subject, we see that creation and its care should still matter to Christians: after all, it’s the handiwork of our loving God; it’s been tainted by our fall from grace and the victim too often of our sinful behavior; and it’s part of Christ’s redemptive concern as he restores all that’s gone wrong with the world and its inhabitants.
Understanding certain gems from the Book of Genesis helps us sketch our theology of creation and its concern. From the beginning, God creates human beings as relational creatures who are involved in four primary relationships: 1) with God, their creator; 2) with their fellow human beings; 3) with themselves; and 4) with their environment (the earth). The relationship with God comes first; loving God and obeying God freely causes the other relationships to find their proper place and harmony in the greater whole. As we know from Genesis, chapter 3, humankind fell from grace by willfully disobeying God (and, if you think about it, by abusing creation for their own selfish concerns, eating the forbidden fruit as an act of rebellion). The first relationship with God is thereby broken and, like cracks on a windshield, the brokenness ripples outward: the relationship between man and woman degenerates into mutual blame; shame over their nakedness betrays the poisoned relationship with self; and, finally, the cursing of the ground because of their sin shows that the environment itself has suffered because of the man and woman’s defiance. Harmony in the four relationships has been shattered by discord; relational intimacy has been broken by betrayal; original beauty has been pockmarked by brazen self-concern.
The story of the Bible is the grand rescue mission of this loving God passionately pursuing human beings and seeking to restore the lost harmony. God is a rebuilder of relationship: first with himself through his Son Jesus Christ, then between human beings, next within themselves (in psycho-spiritual wholeness), and finally with their environment--as they learn (relearn, really) to exercise proper care and stewardship of the natural world.
Why do we care for our earth? Because it’s the beautiful creation of our generous God, to begin with. We do this because God instilled in us from the beginning a responsibility to tend our earth and care for it (Genesis 1:26-28). We are concerned for our environment because we believe Jesus’s death and resurrection are evidence of God restoring widespread peace to these broken relationships, including ours with the earth. Most important of all, we care for the earth because we’re new. As people of faith, as those birthed into new life by identification with Jesus and his resurrection, we are God's new community, the vanguard, the leading edge of a new creation. To neglect the earth, to cast a blind eye to the environment, is to live in the old order, unredeemed and unrestored. It’s to somehow mistakenly confess that God’s newness is only “not yet” instead of “now.”
Rather than be silent in this growing concern for our environment (a sin of omission, surely), it is time we Christians shoulder our responsibility, roll up our sleeves, and lend a hand.