Christians have often been disparaged for their lack of involvement in and concern for environmental issues, and that criticism has sometimes been valid. In an article at Bible.org, Ray Bohlin, who holds a Ph.D. in molecular and cell biology, suggests reasons for this inattention to creation: there are other urgent matters that occupy Christians’ attention; environmental concerns have often been promoted as a “liberal issue”; environmentalism has sometimes been conflated with New Age philosophies, achieving an almost religious status.
Bohlin, however, goes on to say that Christians “have a sacred responsibility to the earth and the creatures within it,” and he’s right. According to the Book of Genesis, humans were given dominion over the earth. That does not mean God gave humans the right to exploit the earth but the responsibility to superintend it. As the psalmist reminded people, “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” Humans are creation’s caretakers, not its owners.
Humanity’s wellbeing has been linked by God to the wellbeing of creation. St. Paul makes this particularly clear in his famous letter to the Romans. In an unparalleled vision of the future he writes: “Creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.”
Right now, says the apostle, creation groans. She is caught in an endless cycle of futility, subjugated under the iron rule of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Creation’s ultimate hope does not lie in recycling and the reduction of greenhouse gasses (though as her caretakers we should be diligent about such things). Her destiny is contingent upon the freedom of the children of God.
The astonishing biblical hope is that creation will be set free from the tyranny of entropy. No more decay. No more corruption. When I come across a non-Christian who loves creation, is awed by her splendor, at home in her vastness and devoted to her care, I can’t help but think that person ought to convert, since the Christian vision of creation is without equal.
There is an obvious love for creation in Scripture, but the biblical writers insist we haven’t seen anything yet. When creation is freed from her chains, cleaned up and presented in her beauty, it will be all joy and glory. But she doesn’t achieve that status apart from us. She achieves it with us – through us, even. She is freed into the freedom of God’s children.
According to St. Paul, the freedom of creation depends on humanity, but humanity’s freedom depends on creation’s Lord. Take Jesus out of the story and it falls to the ground. Apart from him, our future glory – and with it our hope – is gone and creation remains in her chains. St. Paul would say that our hope – and not only ours, but the hope of the world, the hope of all creation – depends on Jesus Christ.
Like creation, people need to be set free – from meaninglessness, from hopelessness, from addictions, from fears and sins. God intends his children to be free indeed. Free to be themselves – to be the people they were always meant to be.
Creation groans, and humanity groans right along with her: “we … groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” The goal has always been our adoption as God’s children, with all that it entails, including the redemption of our bodies and the liberation of creation from its “bondage to decay.” It is this that finalizes us; that confirms and ratifies our full humanity. Until then, we remain incomplete and tentative, which is why we groan.
When the sound guys at our church finish recording a sermon, the CD recorder displays one word, with a question mark: Finalize? Unless they say yes, the CD won’t play in most CD players. The final step for humanity is the redemption of our bodies. Only humans who experience it will “play” in the new heaven and new earth. But for the process of finalization to begin we must say “Yes” to God in Christ.
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 9/24/2016