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14 March 2019

OMF International’s Theological Basis for Creation Care

Mission Round Table Vol. 9 No. 1

INTRODUCTION

This statement explores God’s purposes and concern for his creation. It does not attempt to address every question that can be raised, but rather seeks to foster caring for creation as part of what it means to live as obedient disciples of Christ.

Since God is the creator of the heavens and the earth and all that is in them, Jesus Christ is the Lord, redeemer, and sustainer of all that exists, and the Spirit is the giver of life, then we, as the people of God and members of OMF, should value his creation as he does, accept our vocation as stewards of the material world, and celebrate and proclaim God’s purposes for his creation.

1.     GOD IS THE CREATOR AND IS GLORIFIED IN HIS CREATION

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it … for he founded it” (Ps 24:1–2). “How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all(Ps 104:24).

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities— his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Rom 1:20; see also Ps 19:1). “Several significant texts link the glory of God to the fullness of the earth.”1 Anything damaging creation hinders the manifestation of God’s glory.

“Praise the Lord, all his works everywhere in his dominion” (Ps 103:22; see also Pss 96:9–13; 148; 150:6; etc.). We are part of a “community of God’s created beings”, all of whom are called to worship God.2 In Revelation 5:13 we see the extent of this community of praise: it includes “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them.” We are set apart from the rest of creation by being made in the image of God (see 6.4 below), yet the God-focused goal of human life (to glorify and enjoy him) is something we share with the rest of creation.3 “We need to be careful to locate the ecological dimension of mission not primarily in the need-supplying value of the earth to us, but in the glory-giving value of the earth to God.”4

The “sanctity of creation speaks of its essential relatedness to God, not of it being divine in and of itself.”5 So we do not worship any aspect or image of creation (Ex 20:4; Acts 17:29; Rom 1:23). Nor is God in any way limited by, co-terminus with or dependent on his creation; rather as creator he was pre-existent before he made the heavens/earth/universe (Gen 1:1; Job 38:4–11; Ps 90:2; Heb 1:2).

We worship God the creator and care for his creation.

2.     GOD VALUES AND HAS COMPASSION FOR THE WHOLE OF HIS CREATION

“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Gen 1:31). God saw that the different parts of creation were good, and its totality was very good. The creation is an interconnected and inter- dependent whole.6 But this does not imply that it is unchangeable: for instance, God told humankind and the sea creatures and birds to “be fruitful and increase in number” (Gen 1:28, 22).

“The Lord … has compassion on all he has made (Ps 145:9). God’s covenant after the flood was with humankind, every living creature and the earth itself (Gen 9:9–16). God cares for all his creation (Pss 104:27–30; 145:16–17; 147:8–9; Mt 10:29; Lk 12:24, 28) and knows it intimately ( Job 38–41; Ps 147:4).

3.     CHRIST IS THE LORD, REDEEMER AND SUSTAINER OF CREATION

Christ is “the firstborn over all creation. … all things were created by him and for him” (Col 1:15–16) and “through him” ( Jn 1:3). Christ identified with creation by becoming flesh and dwelling among us ( Jn 1:14). Jesus’ incarnation and physical resurrection demonstrated that the material order is not incompatible with his perfect, sinless state. “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Col 1:19–20); “God was reconciling the world [kosmos] to himself in Christ” (2 Cor 5:19). “God placed all things under his [Christ’s] feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church” (Eph 1:22). Christ is the Lord of creation: “Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey him!” (Mk 4:41. See also Mk 1:13; 6:41–42, 48; 11:21). The scope of Christ’s Lordship is not limited to the church, but is “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion” (Eph 1:21). “The Son is … sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Heb 1:3) “and in him all things hold together” (Col 1:17).

4.     THE SPIRIT OF GOD GIVES LIFE TO CREATION

The Spirit of God is the giver of physical and spiritual life ( Job 33:4; Ps 104:29–30; 2 Cor 3:6). He was intimately involved in creation as God’s powerful presence (Gen 1:2) and makes it fruitful (Isa 32:15). God’s Spirit is present throughout creation (Ps 139:7–10).

5.     GOD’S WILL IS TO BRING ALL THINGS IN HEAVEN AND ON EARTH TOGETHER UNDER CHRIST

It is God’s will “to bring all things in heaven and earth together under one head, even Christ” (Eph 1:10). Sin has affected the whole creation and has damaged the relationships that God intended humans to have not only with him and with each other, but also with the rest of creation (Gen 3:14–19; Isa 24:1–20; Jer 4:23–28; 12:4, 11; 23:10; Hos 4:1–3; Rom 8:19–22).7 God’s remedy for sin was to send his Son, who “has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb 9:26). Christ “will appear a second time … to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him” (Heb 9:28). The “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Rom 8:21). The ground’s curse (Gen 3:17) will be no more (Rev 22:3). There will be a “renewal of all things” (Mt 19:28) and a time for “God to restore everything” (Acts 3:21). “God is at work bringing blessing not only to his people but to the physical cosmos itself.… If creation has suffered the consequences of human sin, it will also enjoy the fruits of human deliverance. … Nature … is destined … for transformation.”8

Prophecies such as Isaiah 11:6–9 show us that “human shalom and the shalom of the earth are intertwined … when the Messiah brings justice to the earth, this also marks the end of all violence against the earth and the animal kingdom.”9 “When the true order of creation is restored the whole earth is the Lord’s hill, indwelt by his holiness.”10

We recognise that the eventual renewal of creation touches on eschatology, about which we may differ. Yet it is necessary to raise one eschatological question which has particular relevance to creation care: will the new creation represent a renovated or improved version of the old creation, or must the present order be destroyed substantially before the new creation can come in? Some biblical texts may suggest a significant degree of continuity between the two creations (e.g. 1 Corinthians 15), while others may suggest more discontinuity between them (e.g. 2 Peter 3). While some argue that the discontinuity between the two creations makes creation care a non-necessity for Christians, God’s mandate for creation care (see below) does not ultimately rest on the details of any particular system of eschatology. There is sufficient biblical evidence to indicate that humanity should care for this present creation, regardless of how much the new creation is linked to it.

6.     GOD’S MANDATE FOR CREATION CARE

6.1 We are to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen 1:28).11 This command conveys humanity’s responsibility to control and bring order to nature. But this should not be taken as a license to consume the earth while attempting to satisfy our desires. Revelation 11:18 speaks of a time of judgment when “those who destroy the earth” will be destroyed. And Revelation 18 speaks of the Lord’s judgment of Babylon the Great, with “her excessive luxuries” (Rev 18:3).

6.2 We are to rule over all the earth and other living creatures (Gen 1:26; Ps 8:6). “God intends to exercise his royal dominion indirectly, through the rule of one of his creatures … Mankind’s dominion over the land and the creatures that inhabit it cannot be separated from God’s kingship over the world he has created.”12 So our rule should not be at the expense of other creatures; rather we should care for the animals and their habitats so as to encourage their survival.13

6.3 Creation belongs to God (Deut 10:14) and our love for him should include caring for what is his.14 “The Lord God took the man and placed him in the Garden of Eden to work it (avad = to serve, with the connotation of doing hard work in the process of serving15) … and take care of it” (shamar = to guard, preserve) (Gen 2:15). These responsibilities have been made more difficult because of sin (Gen 3:17–19, etc.), but have not been superseded. We should seek to live sustainably: “The custody of the garden was given to Adam, to show that we possess the things which God has committed to our hands, on the condition that, being content with the frugal and moderate use of them, we should take care of what shall remain.”16

“Care for the earth … comes from the respect and honour due to a gift that needs cherishing.”17 “God intends … our care of the creation to reflect our love for the Creator.”18 We enjoy the use of the land as tenants, not as owners. Several parables (such as in Lk 12:13–21; 19:11–27; 20:9–19) suggest that we will be called to account for the way we use what God has entrusted to us.

6.4 These God-given activities of ruling over, working/serving and preserving are part of the outworking of what it means for mankind to be made in the image of God (Gen 1:26). Being made in God’s image implies that our lives should reflect the character and will of the Triune God, creator, king, redeemer, and life- giver. It follows that our care for creation should be integrated with all other aspects of our calling to walk by faith, in obedience to Christ, who is the “image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15; see also Heb 1:3). We are created to rule along with him (see Rev 3:21; 5:10).

6.5 Thus we cannot truly love our neighbours without caring for the land and ecology on which they (and we) depend. We should recognise that God determined the exact places where each nation should live so that men would seek him (Acts 17:26–27). It follows that we should be concerned when communities have to leave their homes because of ecological crisis (flooding, drought, soil erosion, etc.). “To be indifferent to the suffering caused by our destructive (treatment of) the ecosystems that support and sustain our life … imperils our Christian witness since it opens us to the accusation that Christianity, with its dominion theology, has caused or contributed greatly to the ecological crisis.”19

6.6 Our sin and unfaithfulness to God can result in devastation of the land. Restoration of the land is linked to repentance (2 Chron 7:13–14; Joel 2:12–14, etc.). “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Mt 5:4–5).20

6.7 The church is called to be a “sign of the kingdom” that was inaugurated by Jesus the Messiah.21 “The identity of the church today is not merely in spiritual terms. It needs to be demonstrated in concrete concerns.”22 The church is to be a “pilot plant” that God enables to bring “substantial healing” to humankind’s broken relationships with God, with each other, and with the rest of creation.23 Jesus’ compassion led him to minister in both word and deed and to teach his disciples to do the same (as in Mk 6:12– 13, 37). Jesus has given us the Holy Spirit to guide and empower us to be and to make disciples for him, ministering in word and deed in the contexts he has placed us.24

NOTES

1 Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God (Nottingham: IVP, 2006),

  1. Original italics.

2 Richard Bauckham, Bible and Ecolog y: Rediscovering the Community of Creation (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2010), 64–102.

3 Wright, The Mission of God, 404.

4 Wright, The Mission of God, 399, 404. See also Henri Blocher, In the Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis (Leicester and Downers Grove: IVP, 1984), 120.

5 Wright, The Mission of God, 402.

6 In his PhD thesis, An Explication of Ecological Ethics in the Light of the Biblical Creation Accounts, Walter McConnell suggests this as a basis for biblical environmental ethics.

7 See discussions in Melissa Tubbs Loya, “‘Therefore the Earth Mourns’: The Grievance of Earth in Hosea 4:1–3,” in Exploring Ecological Hermeneutics, ed. Norman C. Habel and Peter Trudinger (Atlanta: SBL, 2008), 53–62; Laurie J. Bratten, “Earth Community in Joel: A Call to Identify with the Rest of Creation,” in Exploring Ecological Hermeneutics, 65–68; Sigve Tonstad, “Creation Groaning in Labor Pains,” in Exploring Ecological Hermeneutics, 141-149.

8 Douglas J. Moo, “Nature in the New Creation: New Testament Eschatology and the Environment,” JETS 49 (September 2006): 458, 462.

9 Vinoth Ramchandra, “Integral Mission,” in Caring for Creation: Biblical and Theological Perspectives, ed. Sarah Tillett (Oxford: Bible Reading Fellowship, 2005), 117.

10 Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah (Downers Grove: IVP, 1993), 125, commenting on Isaiah 11:9.

11 The Hebrew word kabash, translated “subdue”, can mean “to take by force”, but when the object is land, the meaning is more likely to be “to occupy”. “The element of force may not be intrinsic to the word kabash, but if it is, then the reference is to the fact that farmers must work the land to make it yield its crops. … Without agriculture the land does not produce enough food for humans to fill it.” Bauckham, Bible and Ecolog y, 16–17. 12 Douglas J. Green, “Afterword: When the Gardener Returns,” in Keeping God’s Earth: The Global Environment in Biblical Perspective, ed. Noah J. Toly and Daniel Block (Downers Grove: IVP and Nottingham: Apollos, 2010), 269.

13 This is explored in detail by Daniel Block, “To Serve and to Keep: Toward a Biblical Understanding of Humanity’s Responsibility in the Face of the Biodiversity Crisis,” in Toly and Block, Keeping God’s Earth, 116–140. See also Bauckham, Bible and Ecolog y, 16–18, 115.

14 “We care for the earth because it belongs to the one whom we call Lord.” The Cape Town Commitment (The Lausanne Movement, 2011), 19.

15 Wright, The Mission of God’s People, 51.

16 John Calvin, Institutes 1: The Conditions upon Man’s Stewardship of the Earth.

17 J. Andrew Kirk, What is Mission?: Theological Explorations (London: Darton, Longman, and Todd, 1999), 177.

18 John Stott, “Foreword,” in The Care of Creation, ed. R. J. Berry (Leicester: IVP, 2000), 9.

19 Athena Gorospe, “Evangelicals and the Environment: Going beyond Stewardship” (Unpublished paper).

20 See Walter Brueggermann’s discussion of this in The Land: Place as Gift, Promise, and Challenge in Biblical Faith (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977), 157–169.

21 Lesslie Newbigin, Sign of the Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1981).

22 Ken Gnanakan, Kingdom Concerns (Bangalore: Theological Book Trust, 1989), 109.

23 Francis Schaeffer, Pollution and the Death of Man (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1970), 47–59.

24 “The presence of the Holy Spirit (makes) available to the people of God the same transforming power that energized the life and ministry of Jesus and raised him from the dead.” Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2910), 43.