Christians, Creation and Environmental Concerns

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

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5 Responses to Christians, Creation and Environmental Concerns

  1. Shayne, have you had any success visualizing what this might look like within the context of the larger universe? For example, if some extra-terrestrial version of the Starship Enterprise were to venture into our part of this galaxy, what would they find? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

    Ron

  2. salooper57 says:

    Ron,
    I’m going to have to think about that (though there is a great short poem by Billy Collins that treats the subject). I have thought about it going the other way (humans contacting other life forms) because of Lewis. He assumed that humans would be a threat and a corrupting influence on other sentient species.

    As far as we can tell, the galaxy and entire universe are in bondage to decay (though if we live in a “multiverse” it’s been suggested that our “universal” laws of physics are really only local ordinances). Could it be that a universal bondage to the 2nd Law is entirely the result of humanity’s fall?.Would a visiting ET blame us for the situation? OR would it be surprised at the devastation sin has brought on our world, viewing it the way we view the aftermath of an enormous wildfire?

    I’ll have to think more about it. But what do you think? I’d really like to know.

    Shayne

    • I wasn’t expecting you to turn the question back on me! My assumption (rightly or wrongly) has been that all biblical prophecy about the redemption of creation is talking about the earth and not about the rest of our galaxy or about other galaxies. It was that assumption that gave rise to my question, although my assumption may be wrong.

      True, the scriptures talk about “a new Heaven and a new Earth,” and that may seem like it extends beyond planet earth, but I interpret the Greek ouranos as talking about the realm in which God dwells and not about the physical heavens. For example, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” is referring to the reign of God rather than to the actual heavens.

      So I have always localized biblical prophecy to the earth and have felt that the scriptures are meant for us, and therefore speak only of our world. If there are sentient beings on other worlds, we don’t know what their relation to God is, whether they are fallen beings like us, etc. Since there’s so much we don’t know, I’ve always had trouble visualizing what the redemption of the earth would mean on a wider cosmic scale. That’s why I was hoping you had some ideas. I had forgotten that CS Lewis gave some thought to these things, and I’ll have to look up the Billy Collins poem. But I’ll still be interested in hearing your thoughts once you’ve pondered it a little more.

      Ron

  3. salooper57 says:

    Ron,
    You’ve go me thinking … When ouranos refers to God’s realm – the place of his rule – it is usually plural. When it is singular, it usually refers to the sky or what we might call “space.” I t think this is a generalization rather than a hard and fast rule. But Peter uses the plural when he says heaven (the realm in which God’s dwells?) will be destroyed and there will be a new heaven (heavens). What could it mean that the realm where God dwells will be destroyed?.

    Don’t have an answer, just thinking…

    Concerning the universality of the Romans 8 passage, it is hard for me to imagine the earthly creation being freed from corruption without all of creation being freed. Everything, as far as we know, is connected, at least within what physicists call the “horizon” – the distance light can travel since the creation. Could the Second Law be suspended in our district only? Don’t see how.

    Anyway, it’s interesting to think about these things. Thanks for stimulating my thinking (and hurting my brain!)

    (Oh, and the Billy Collins poem is called “Man in Space” – though it’s really about man’s failure on earth.)

    Shayne

    • This got me thinking, too. I’m so impressed with the immensity of space, I haven’t known how to fit earth’s destiny into that larger picture. I appreciate you thinking out loud with me about it.

      Ron

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