I used to think that environmentalism was not a christian issue. Now, I believe that the care and keeping of the earth is at the heart of God’s plan for humanity.
“I know who made the environment and he’s coming back and going to burn it all up. So yes, I drive an SUV,” megachurch pastor and mega Christian-celebrity Mark Driscoll told his congregation in June of 2012.
Not so long ago, I might have chuckled along with the rest of the congregation.
Cringeworthy as it sounds, this line of thought is widespread among Christian communities: What’s the point of trying to protect the environment if God is just going to throw it away like trash eventually?
I had the image painted for me countless times: in the end, souls would be evacuated into heaven to escape the steaming garbage heap of the earth, which was to be burned up and abandoned by God.
But is this really our story? Is this what God has in mind for the world he created?
The truth, I have found, is more gloriously hope-filled than I ever dared to imagine.
Leading New Testament Scholar NT Wright has spoken extensively on this topic, helping people accurately reorient their understanding of The true Christian Hope. “We have been right, deeply right, to think that Paul is concerned with the salvation of human beings and all that goes with that: the redeeming death of Jesus, justification by grace through faith, and so on.” he writes in his book, Surprised by Hope, “But we have been wrong to suppose that the only purpose was the salvation of humans- as it were, away from the world, away from the whole created order.”
To accurately understand our creator’s vision of the world is to see that he fiercely committed to its renewal and restoration.
The gospel is the story of how God is working to redeem, heal, and set right what has been fractured and broken in the world. This includes the hearts and minds of his people, but it does not end there; it extends into the entire cosmos and created order. The Bible begins in Genesis with the words “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”and ends in Revelation, where we hear Christ Jesus proclaim “Behold! I am making all things new.” These bookends of scripture describe God’s intent for a good and peaceful world, and his promise to rescue it out of chaos and decay.
Scripture is sealed with a promise that God will cleanse the earth of all that is wicked, broken, and unjust, and that he will then restore and renew his creation to it’s original intent.
The passage of scripture that really helped me grasp hold of this is in Romans 8:
19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
“The trajectory of Christian Salvation is not God saving us out of earth into heaven, but heaven coming down to earth and renewing everything that’s here.” explains Tim Keller in his sermon, Lord of the Earth. When we pray your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, we are longing for the day when God will indeed unite heaven and earth as one.
It has been profoundly exciting for me to reorient myself with God’s vision, and to realize that he invites us to participate in this restoration by bringing forth the first hints of renewal in this present day.
“If you believe that you’re going to leave and evacuate to somewhere else, then why do anything about this world? A proper view of heaven leads not to escape from the world, but full engagement with it, all with the anticipation of a coming day when things are on earth as they currently are in heaven.” says Rob Bell.
Our view of the future helps to shape our mission in the present. To be in alignment with God’s plan for creation gives us a political and spiritual mandate to protect the earth and all the living creatures within it.
It is, in fact, our oldest calling.
Our first mandate in scripture is the care and the keeping of the earth. In the creation story of Genesis, Adam and Eve are placed into the Garden of Eden and given dominion over all the fish of the sea and birds of the air. They are blessed with the imago dei, the image of God, which carries with it a profound responsibility of reflecting God’s likeness to the rest of creation.
Lest we are tempted to use our powerful dominion as an excuse to abuse, use up, pollute, and tear down the earth, we may do well to remember which God it is we are called to reflect. Our God is not a greedy, plundering overlord, but Jesus, whose self sacrificing love and humility were his very definition. It is his image that we are called to reflect back into the oceans, the skies, the forests, the animals, and our fellow man.
God’s mission from the beginning was that we would be protectors and guardians of the earth, and he has not given up on that mission.
Meditating on God’s promise of the new heavens and new earth has led me to reevaluate many of my simple, daily choices. I began considering the unseen consequences of what I put on my plate, how I spend my money, and how I regard the rest of creation. It’s led me to advocate for the welfare of animals, preservation of species, and the protection of the environment. I now recognize that these things are not secondary, “liberal” issues, but valuable to the heart of God, and a part of our holy calling as his people.
I am filled with profound hope, knowing that we worship a God who is making all things new, and that we are able to participate along side him in that renewal.