A few weeks ago, my family and I were watching BBC’s Planet Earth II. If you haven’t seen it, it’s definitely worth checking out. It’s absolutely mesmerizing. Narrated with a passion that only David Attenborough could bring, we were swept into a world of Galapagos marine iguanas being chased by racer snakes, dancing bears, penguins riding 50 foot waves in the arctic, and a jaguar taking on a 10-foot alligator. At the end of the series, Attenborough gave an emotional plea: “It is our responsibility to do everything within our power to create a planet that provides a home not just for us, but for all life on earth.” These words were spoken with a sober reflection on the planet's future. But, what David may not have realized, is that his words are also deeply rooted in our planet's past.
From the very beginning, God entrusted humanity with responsible oversight of the physical world. Genesis 1v28 reads:
God blessed humanity and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground."
Sadly, some have interpreted this as a call to exploit the planet, or a justification for their own misuse and abuse of the environment.
The original language, however, paints a completely different picture. The world rule (רָדָה radah) means to exercise responsibility over. It was used to describe kings rescuing their people from violence and oppression. Thus, God told humanity that our posture towards the earth was not to exploit and abuse it, but to watch over and care for it.
From the very beginning, God entrusted humankind with oversight of this planet. And this isn’t just an idea found in Genesis, it’s found everywhere in Scripture. (See Pr. 12v10, Deut. 22v6-7, Lev. 25, Ps. 84v1-3, Lk 12v6). Over and over again, we see a persistent theme: God is the creator, we are the curators. God is the artist, we are the caretakers. It’s a beautiful partnership.
Which raises the question: Why is this such a predominant theme in the Bible? Why should we care for creation? A few thoughts:
1) It honors God.
In Psalm 19, David wrote that ‘The heavens declare the glory of God. In other words, when we witness the beauty of creation: the colors of a rainbow, the vivid details of a spring flower, the poetry of creation; they reflect the beauty and goodness of the Creator. He made them, he designed them. He’s the artist. And, as any artist knows, you don’t create art in a vacuum; it’s for something. It’s an extension of you. And when you share it, you are sharing a part of yourself. This world gives us a real-time glimpse of God’s glory and creativity. When we care for His art, we are stepping into the life of the Artist. We are giving value to what he has made. We are honoring the work of His hands.
2) Humanity and creation are intertwined.
In Genesis we read that God created Adam from the dust. (Some say that God took one look at him, said ‘I can do better than that;’ and then proceeded to create woman. :) The name Adam literally means ‘ground.’ This means we share the same ingredients as everything else: particles, DNA, minerals, proteins. We are this fascinating mixture of dirt and the divine. Bearing the image of God, and at the same time the unmistakable imprint of earth. We long for eternity, but we live in this moment.
On this planet.
Breathing its air.
The point is, we can’t detach ourselves from the physical world; when it flourishes, we flourish.
3) When the earth suffers, we suffer too.
Paul wrote that all of creation is ‘groaning’ as in the pains of childbirth. (Rom. 8v22-23). This was written 2,000 years ago, but it’s a poignant and sobering description of the current condition of our planet. In the book The 6th Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert argues that we are experiencing one of the worst times of species die-offs since the dinosaurs. Some studies suggest that we may lose up to 50% of all species on earth by the end of the century. This catastrophic decline is not only affecting the environment, but humanity as well. 1 in 4 deaths worldwide of children under the age of 5 are now attributed to environmental pollution. We are literally sawing off the limb that we sit upon. Creation aches. It yearns for the day of redemption. Which brings me to the good news:
4) The restoration of all things.
Paul continues in Romans 8: “creation…will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” A day is coming when all things will be restored. The Bible begins with a good God creating a good world, and ends with a good God healing the world and everything in it. God’s dream for the world is restoration and renewal. If this is His mission, then our task is to live out in the present what is His dream for the future.
What makes Christianity so unique is its relentless message of hope. In a world of grief, it provides a beautiful picture of things to come. Honestly, if I didn’t believe in the God of the Bible and the renewal of all things, I would be devastated by the state of our planet. It’s in disrepair. It’s being violently torn apart by greed, consumerism and war. But redemption means that these things don’t have the last word. Redemption means that creation is just a shadow of its future self. Redemption means that we have a part to play now.
· True North. Christ, the Gospel and Creation Care – Mark Liederbach
· The Mission of God’s People – Christopher Wright
Here are some more photos from my recent trip to Africa: