Floating trash islands in the oceans. Cities overshadowed with smog. Polluted waterways. Landfills that also serve as homes for the impoverished. Sea creatures dying from plastic bags or oil spills. Rainforests razed. Species dropping into extinction.
Though opinions on climate change, environmental policy, and the cause of pollution differ, no one can deny the reality of the above. The question addressed in this article isn’t whether we’re impacting the environment. It’s what we should do about it.
Do we have any obligation to care for the planet? Are environmentalism and Christianity opposed? Should the church get involved?
In search of answers, it will be helpful to go back to when it all started: the creation of the world itself.
Bible Verses about Creation: In the Beginning
Genesis 1 flows with beautiful imagery. Into darkness, God spoke light. He called the cosmos into existence. With words that sing like poetry, He said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let the birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky” (Genesis 1:20).
And as He created, Genesis records that He repeatedly “saw that it was good.”
The image we see is a God delighting in His creation. Once it was fully formed, He made mankind in His image to dwell in His creation. And with that, he declared everything “very good” (Genesis 1:31, emphasis mine).
Bible Verses about Creation: The Fall of Man
For that moment, creation was as it should be. God dwelled with man. Adam and Eve lived in a perfect garden. Adam and Eve were placed in charge of the garden to keep it and care for it.
But it didn’t last. Adam and Even rebelled. Sin entered the world. They were now separated from God. It would take thousands of years and the death of God’s only Son to bring reconciliation between God and man.
However, what we often miss is that humans were not the only ones to suffer from the Fall.
Writing after the death and resurrection of Jesus, Paul states:
“For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration… in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (Romans 8:19-22)
Creation itself was devastated by the Fall, spiraling into “bondage to decay” (Romans 8:21), groaning for the restoration of humanity’s relationship with God. The tenders of the garden had failed in their duty. If humanity was to steward creation once more, it would be with great difficulty and never in the same way.
Creation Mandate Meaning 1: God Appointed Humans to Care for His Creation.
Before everything went wrong, God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (Genesis 1:26).
The language here is that of God appointing man over creation, the Hebrew word ‛âśâh, which is also the word used for the “appointing” of priests (1 Kings 12:31).
God proceeds to tell the first couple, “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” (Genesis 1:28).
Thus, God put man over creation. But in what sort of role? This “appointing” fits more in line with a stewardship idea than a gift. So, in some sense, man was meant to take care of creation on behalf of its master, God. Mankind was not put in charge to do what we pleased; we must do the will of the master.
Bible Verses about Nature
God put man in charge of creation as stewards; but how does He feel about creation? There are a few clues.
- Each time God created a new part of the world in Genesis 1, he called it good.
- The Bible speaks of His provision and care for all creatures, even the lowliest sparrows (Matthew 6:26).
- Numerous passages declare that creation itself praises God or direct it to do so, for example Psalm 148.
- Creation points to God. Job 12:7-9 says, “But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?”
It seems that God is intimately connected to His creation, delighting in it, providing for it, and being glorified through it. It doesn’t seem that He has cast it aside for humans to do with it as they please.
Creation Mandate Meaning 2: Seek and Work for the Good of Creation.
God’s creation matters because it is His. It matters to Him, and it points us to Him. But there is more to it.
We get a glimpse when we look at what God told His people in exile in Babylon. Jeremiah 29:5-7 says:
“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce […] Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
Though Babylon was a pagan nation, God wanted His people to seek its good. Why? They were living there now, too. There is a strong parallel here. Even if we don’t feel that creation itself is important, we still live on this planet. It would be foolish to destroy our own home. Just as the Jews were to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city,” we should seek the peace and prosperity of our world.
Creation Mandate Meaning 3: Care for Others by Caring for Creation.
Granted, the Bible doesn’t have passages enforcing Earth Day or recycling.
However, it does, over and over, command us to care for others, especially the poor.
Lower socioeconomic sectors are disproportionally affected by our lack of creation care. People living in those areas often don’t have the resources to acquire clean water. They may not be able to afford to move away from a city where air pollution is slowly destroying their lungs. They may, like many living near the Ganges in India, have no choice but to rely on a river nearly covered in a layer of trash. Or animals that have been relying on traditional food sources for centuries may suddenly be dwindling.
We are also to care for the young (Matthew 18:10). But how are we to care for them when we are using up the resources they will one day need? When instead of the beauty of God’s creation, we leave them with landfills and oil spills?
Taking care of creation by wisely stewarding resources is an excellent way to help provide for and protect the least of these.
What Is the Church’s Responsibility?
As has been noted, the Bible doesn’t give specific guidelines on creation care. However, we can honor God by honoring His creation, and we can care for others by ensuring they have a clean, safe place to live with plenty of resources for the years to come.
Churches as bodies will have to make independent decisions on what God is calling their particular congregation to do. However, as the global Church, Christians have a responsibility to do what we can in our own lives to fulfill our calling as stewards of God’s creation. It’s not just a good thing to do; it’s a Biblical mandate to be good stewards and care for our neighbors, all of our brothers and sisters inhabiting our shared planet.
Alyssa Roat is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E., a professional writing major at Taylor University, and a freelance editor with Sherpa Editing Services.Her passions for Biblical study and creativity collide in her writing. More than a hundred of her works have been featured in publications ranging from The Christian Communicator to Keys for Kids.Find out more about her hereand on social media @alyssawrote.
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