Why Should We Care about the Environment? by the Revd Dave Mock Climate Change as a moral issue Christians are no different than anyone else when it comes to environmental issues. We have been prone to see the planet and the universe as the backdrop to our exalted existence. It is our environment, the goldfish bowl we live in, our backyard, our playground, our provider.  Little thought has been given to seeing the environment we live in as something independent of us with purposes of its own and something with a relationship with God. This thinking has come out of two key ideas of our relationship with the planet and faulty readings of scripture.  The first idea is that humanity has been given dominion over creation to do with it what he sees fit rather than being a steward of creation behalf of its lord. The second is that we live believing that when we wear out this planet, it doesn’t matter because God is making a new one anyway. We will explore these ideas through scripture and recognise that in order to follow through with either of those ideas, we are required to misread and misunderstand scripture. To disabuse ourselves of this approach we need to change our consciousness about creation. We need to elevate creation to the status of something we must engage with morally.  The starting point of all Christian ethics is our creation in the image of God.  We make ethics based on being bearers of the image of God. What does God care about? What mars and diminishes the image of God in actions, words and beliefs? Abortion: concern is with the beginning of human life. Slavery: Concern with Humans living out their god given purposes and potential. Peace/war: recognising conflict breaks the essential relatedness of humanity; recognises that humans are fallen; war will happen; therefore it must be conducted properly. In less theological language, scripture, the gospels in particular, tell us that what is important to God should be important to us. Therefore we act morally in the world as a way of expressing what God is like and what God desires. I will argue in a moment that God loves his creation. That God cared so much about his creation he set one part of it (humans) to care for it and nurture it. That says to me that God is concerned about the state of his creation.  So I should. And to order that concern, I need to establish a moral position that reflects God’s interest and concern. How do I do that? By establishing from scripture a reasonable starting point. 1. God’s creation and human stewardship Humans live in their environment with the notion that they have claim on it to further their survival and prosperity. This is how God has provided for me. He has given me the earth to exercise my will over. It says so in genesis. The whole creation story finishes with God surveying what he has spent six days making. V 31: God saw everything he had made and indeed, it was very good.  He’s pleased. When reading the creation story we notice one thing immediately: over six days of creation God starts each period by speaking. He intimately speaks creation into being. He speaks the details into being. He says it and it is so. I will leave it to the scientists to argue about how these things developed but their beginning is brought about God personally breathing them into existence. We need to reflect on that. I wonder if you have ever made something only to have it destroyed or ruined or maltreated by someone else.  Where does your anger or sadness come from? It comes from the investment of yourself. You are mourning the loss of hours, ideas, painstaking effort, cold, heat, failure, success. So far, no controversy.  The controversy is set earlier in that sixth day. God chooses part of that creation to be a steward over creation.  V: 26: God gives humanity dominion over fish, birds, and wild animals. That is how it is stated. The controversy arrives when we try to justify ourselves in how we have exercised that dominion. Humanity, being very pleased with itself, lives in creation as its dominator. We are in charge, the world is here for our benefit and we will use it as such.  Notice already how we have expanded our brief. Genesis tells us in v 26 that humanity has dominance over the animals: not over the whole thing.  When that dominance is exercised, it is to be exercised not as a king or dictator or consumer, but as a shepherd. The shepherd is not concerned with his own well being, he is concerned with those he has been entrusted with. It is not an accident that Jesus, God’s steward of us and of creation, is the shepherd. He doesn’t dominate; he tends to us, lives with us, and cares for us. We recognise that creation has purpose, not as a backdrop to us and our purposes, but a god given purpose. A reading of Genesis tells us that in our rebellion against god we have already expanded our role and doing so we have done it in a self interested and self serving way. The foundational story in genesis is expanded in Paul’s Christological hymn in his letter to the Colossians (2:15-20). Here we see that instead of humans being the head of creation, we are part of a new race headed by Christ and from whom we take our example. Christ was in creation. Creation was made for him and it is his.  Following the logic of the “disposable planet” surely Christ could choose to see us as disposable and second rate. But he doesn’t and he does not give us license to do the same with creation around us.  Indeed creation was created through him and for him.  If we serve Christ then we recognise that Christ’s mission is not to subdue or subjugate creation but to save it and reconcile it to God through the cross. All things are being reconciled, not just estranged humanity. So to see the environment as a moral issue, we must ask what our place in creation is and what God’s intention with Creation is. How do we act in a way that makes us grow and makes us right with God? 2. A new creation? It may frighten you to know that George W Bush’s policies on the environment was based on the issue we have just talked about and the idea that we can take this bad old damaged planet for all we can get because one day God is going to get rid of it and gives us a shiny new one. In fact his Christian beliefs logically would lead him to believe that if we didn’t hasten the end of the planet how could the second coming happen? Our agency then is to be swept up in some apocalyptic plan of God and to care for the planet means to get in the way of the progress of that plan. But is that right?   Revelation 21:1-5 tells us that in the end there will be a new heaven and a new earth. Traditionally that is interpreted literally. These corrupted creations will be thrown away and replaced by new creations, protected and defended and insulated against all the bad wicked things around them. There is a dualism created here, and it is unhelpful. Now God’s good creation is a bad one. We have to be careful in it. We have to keep it in check. In fact Jesus will take us away from it for ever in an escape hatch called the cross and resurrection. Now that would make sense if no one else in the bible wrote about this. Paul however writes in Romans 8:19-21 that creation is in bondage to all this brokenness and corruption and decay. It is yearning for the resurrection Christ to be revealed so that it can be liberated.  Paul’s thinking here is that frankly it is our dominance and presence that brings the corruption so creations liberation and salvation is linked with ours. Not only that but Paul point out that creation is frustrated, it is unable to fulfil its purposes. Just as Paul writes about being frustrated at his inability to live a holy life and yearns for the Lord Jesus Christ to free him and set him back on the path of righteousness and purpose. It makes no sense that something which is disposable should be yearning for liberation or should be frustrated. That speaks of a future. Of a hope.  It also follows the logic that if we are not disposable and we are not made “new” from scratch and we are part of creation, not separate, the creation is not having all those things happen too. So what does new heaven and earth mean?  Resurrection is our model. Is the risen Jesus a new Jesus or the dead Jesus raised by god? When I become a new creation in following Jesus, is a new me created in the place of the old me? Or is this more in the vein of a tired man having a nap and awaking and saying, “I feel like a new man”.  A couple go out together and then get married. We called them husband and wife. Have they stopped being Tim and Tina? God’s salvation is not just for one part of his rebellious corrupted creation, it is for all of it.  Again creation is not a backdrop or prop for our big story. It is an actor in it too. God is making all things new so that he and humanity and all of creation can live in the relationship they we intended to live in. That all creation might have peace, perfection and purpose. This new creation will involve harp playing and eternal golfing. Instead we will resume our rightful purpose of living in love and peace with God and in the presence of god. In this restored relationship we return to our vocation of caring for the creation and communing with the creator. What passes away is the old order of things. What do we do with this? The earliest church didn’t see salvation in personal terms. That is a product of the reformation where the good gift of personal ability to read and interpret and apply reason to scripture also led to the less good prospect that individual salvation is the first responsibility of a follower of Jesus.  The earliest church believed God was going to do for the whole world what he had done for Jesus at Easter. After resurrection, we are offered our old jobs back: are job is not to be saved but to be citizens of heaven who are colonising earth. Being made in the image of God, our job is to reflect that image into the rest of creation. But to do this, we need to leave behind our self serving concepts about salvation and who it is for. 1. Salvation is not an escape hatch from a bad world that will be disposed of. Salvation moves us closer to the world, not away from it. We move towards it with the one who made it with the one who made it and yearns to restore it as much as it yearns to be restored. 2. Salvation/redemption is not about scrapping creation and starting over from a clean slate. As Christ moves towards creation, leading us as freed slaves, his mission is to liberate it from the slavery sin and corruption and decay have imposed upon it. Creation is freed to find its vocation. 3. My dominance over creation is that of a shepherd not a consumer. I am interested in all that is good for creation and protective against all that is bad and threatening to it. In recognising these principles, we regain our own vocation, little by little until the kingdom comes and all things are made complete in Christ.
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