What Is Creation Care And Why Is It Important?
Why should Christians take care of the environment? Does the Bible have anything to say regarding this issue? Should Christians waste time and money on earth-keeping when there are so many people that need to hear about Jesus?
Two of the main issues surrounding care for the environment and other species are ownership and dominion. Let's be very clear right up front who the earth belongs to: it belongs to God. Psalm 24:1 proclaims, "The earth is the Lord's and everything in it ..." No question about ownership there. In Colossians 1:16-17, Paul said that the earth was made by Jesus and for Jesus. Colossians 1:17 and Hebrews 1:3 also say that he holds all things together, and sustains the creation by his powerful word. So, the earth belongs to God because he created it and sustains it. And he has ultimate dominion over the earth as its Creator.
What purpose did God have in creating the earth? In many of the Psalms, David indicates that creation was made for giving glory and praise to the Creator. In Romans 1:20, Paul tells us that creation points the way to God's awesome power and divine nature. God also commanded all of creation to be fruitful and fill the earth (Genesis 1:22) as a means of glorifying and praising God over countless generations.
In Genesis 1:28, God gives human beings rulership, or dominion, over the earth. Over the years, many have misinterpreted this to mean that we can dominate the earth and do with it whatever we please. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Our understanding of dominion has to start with the fact that we were made in the image of God. If we are made in his image, then our dominion of the earth must look like God's dominion of the earth. If you want to see what God's dominion of the earth looks like, read Psalm 145 and take note of the many words used to describe God in this passage. You will discover that God is described as good, loving, compassionate, caring, providing, worthy of thanksgiving, helping, reliable, satisfying, kind, thoughtful, and so on.
Now suppose we asked the earth if our dominion looks like the words that describe God's dominion in Psalm 145. What would the earth say? How would our dominion match up to that of the Creator and Sustainer of the universe? I think we can all agree that our dominion of the earth has fallen very short of what God intended. In fact, Romans 3:23 says, "For all have sinned and fall short of God's glory." And the result of that sin is that our dominion of the earth has looked more like domination and destruction. And as a result, in many parts of the earth today, the creation no longer serves its intended purpose of giving glory to God and pointing the way to him. In short, these places look ugly because they have been tainted by our sinful nature - greed, materialism, and injustice. Think of skies tainted with belching smoke, waters polluted by oil slicks, and land degraded by erosion, deforestation, and desertification. Think of humans and other species that get sick and sometimes die because the air they breathe, the water they drink, and the food they eat contains toxic chemicals as by-products of the goods we demand every day. Is this the way God wanted us to take care of his creation?
The Bible tells us clearly that our sin directly affects creation. In Hosea 4:1-3, Hosea describes the sinful nature of the people, and concludes that these sins result in the deaths of animals, birds, and fish. A similar picture is painted in Jeremiah 9. Paul declares that "all of creation is groaning as if in the pains of childbirth ..." (Romans 8:22). In essence, in our arrogance and/or ignorance, we have taken away the ability of creation to be fruitful as commanded by God.
We also need to recognize that environmental problems affect other people. With regard to how we treat others, Jesus said that we are to "love our neighbor as ourselves" and "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." It is not loving your neighbor when you drive a car that pollutes the atmosphere with chemicals that severely affect those with respiratory diseases like asthma. It is not loving your neighbor when your latrine or septic system empties human waste into the river that they use for drinking or bathing. It is not loving your neighbor when you purchase products that came at the expense of their livelihoods and/or their environment.
The truth is that it is time to change our ways with regard to the way we treat the earth. The Bible calls it "repentance". As Christians, it is time to realize that God has ordained that each and every one of us is to be a steward of his creation. God placed humans in his garden to keep and serve it (Genesis 2:15). Earth-keeping means to leave the earth better than we found it. Serving creation means that we never take more from the earth and its species than we are willing to give back.
God's heart is to bring all of creation from brokenness to wholeness. As such, our role model should be the Lord Jesus, who loved his creation so much that he died to provide a plan of redemption and salvation - not just for human beings - but ultimately for the entire creation, to bring it from brokenness to wholeness. Colossians 1:20 tells us that Jesus' death reconciled all things in heaven and on earth to God. Reconciliation means the restoration of right relationship. The earth can be reconciled - restored to right relationship - when it is returned to its purpose of giving glory to God and pointing the way to him. And Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:18-20 that we are God's agents of reconciliation on the earth.
Redemption means "to reverse the effects of sin upon." Although Christ is THE REDEEMER, as those who have been redeemed in Christ and reconciled to God, we can play a redemptive role in the restoration of creation when we act to reverse the effects of sin upon it; for example, when we clean up a polluted stream, reforest a cleared area, plant a garden in an abandoned lot, or help to protect and restore an endangered species.
So, are you going to be a dominator of the earth, or show loving dominion? Are you going to wreck the earth or restore it? God wants us to be washed in the WATER of repentance and seek his forgiveness for the way we have treated the earth. He wants to purify our hearts with his FIRE so that we see the creation as he does. And he wants to carry us by the WIND of the Holy Spirit to the four corners of the earth to "preach the Gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15); a Gospel of good news for all creation that brings healing, peace, and wholeness.