A Biblical Worldview: Care for the Earth
David gave this talk at Woodside Church (Bedford) in 2011, as part of their "A Biblical Worldview" series. Click here to download it.
We're currently in a series on Biblical worldview, and will be looking at Genesis to establish a Biblical worldview on issues including:
- Blessings and Curses
- Marriage and Family
- Individual and Community
- Honour Guilt Shame Anxiety etc
Worldview is the deepest level of culture, it's our deepest beliefs about life. If you haven't already, do listen and catch up with the first part in the series, A Biblical Worldview: Culture & Worldview.
This time I want to look at something that is very contemporary in terms of issues facing our world, as it is important that Christians have and are free to express and live by a Biblical worldview on current issues. Concern for the environment, care of the earth, global warming are live issues even though not on our front pages because of the recession, bankers, bonuses, cuts and the VAT rise. Still an important issue. I want to go beyond that to help our thinking on care for the earth.
God had created the heavens and the earth and had then brought order out of disorder. His creation followed a pattern setting it out representatively in days until the earth was filled with life, plants, fish, animals, insects, rivers, and a refreshing morning mist. God then formed mankind, men and women, in his image and likeness. What that means we will look at later but it is clear that man and woman were a very special creation, the peak of God’s creation in the physical world (because remember God created a spiritual world too – another dimension). They were to rule over the rest of the created beings, and were special, blessed by God and told to be fruitful and fill the earth and bring it under their rule as representatives of God.
God had planted a garden for the first man and woman, Adam and Eve to live in. Imagine God being a gardener. They were to care for the garden and work in it to produce fruit just like they were to care and rule over the whole world as they spread across it. Let’s read some of this story:
“Then 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.”
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them 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.” (Genesis 1:26-28)
“Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:8-9)
“The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Genesis 2:15-17)
WHAT HAVE WE LEARNT SO FAR?
There are a number of things to draw out:
- Mankind is created in God’s image.
- Mankind has the capacity for relationship with God. Also then the capacity to spoil that relationship.
- Man is God’s representative, ruling the earth on behalf of God and therefore ideally as God would rule, God has shown it’s a rule of blessings of fruitfulness, of beauty, of loving care – that is how God related to man in creating woman.
- “Mankind is here commissioned to rule nature as a benevolent king, acting as God’s representative over them and therefore treating them in the same way as God who created them.” (Wenham)
So, our attitude to the earth is to be:
- It belongs to God [“the land is the Lord’s – so don’t exploit the poor].
- It is to be cared for as belonging to God – so “fallow years” etc as in the law.
- It is good in and of itself – described as such before man was created. Its beauty is to point us to our Creator God and so to be preserved and work to continue to point to the glory of God. As we work for fruitful harvest that glorifies God.
- Work and take care of “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Gen 2:15. means literally “to serve” and to “protect” or “guard”
So this is worldview produced by understanding God’s creation plan.
THE STORY CONTINUED
Man and woman disobeyed God and all sorts of things were affected which we have also looked at. The earth was also affected. The natural world would no longer function exactly as God intended. Man would no longer have a harmonious relationship with nature.
To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Gen 3:17-19)
Ages later, because of evil being increased, God sent a flood on the earth. This also had a dramatic effect on the natural world – “I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish.” (Gen 6:17). Man’s sin caused the natural world to be engulfed in suffering and destruction. When the flood was finished, God made a covenant, a new agreement, with Noah but this was also a covenant with the natural world, particularly the animals:
“And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.” (Gen 9:12-17)
WHAT DOES THIS TEACH US?
The covenant with Noah and the animals should give inspiration to Christian environmentalism, for is God loves the environment enough to make a covenant with it, then we can be confident of God’s blessing in our efforts to protect that same environment. Also, we can be sure that the essential stability of the earth and its eco-systems will not be totally destroyed by man.
The flood is a picture of God’s redeeming purposes in the earth. In the New Testament, the ark is a picture of Jesus. In Noah’s day, Noah and the animals were saved through the ark. Today we are saved through Jesus and his passing through the flood of death for us. The redemption through Christ does not just affect our souls/spirits. It will lead to a renewed earth – the new heaven and new earth.
Jesus resurrection was the sign of the future of those who are saved through the cross but also the natural world itself:
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, 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 8:18-22)
Douglas Moo says that this "is the clearest expression of future hope for the physical world in the New Testament.”
The whole cosmos will be restored and renewed. God’s judgement and liberation “The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your people who revere your name, both great and small—and for destroying those who destroy the earth.” Rev 11:18
Some evangelical Christians think there is no point in working for the environment because the earth will be destroyed. This is based on 2 Peter chapter 3. However NIV says, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.” (v10) – the earth will be laid bare – not destroyed. Peter compares the event to the flood but the flood did not destroy the earth, it led to a renewal of hope for the earth.
There is a serious theological case for caring for the environment. This worldview changes attitudes. It is not my job to bring rules to explain that attitude – no judgementalism or legalism. There are however changes we can make – recycling, low cost energy, public transport, low energy cars. Also, a positive attitude towards seeing beauty and preserving the earth - not waste and desecration of beauty.
Can be a means of joining with others in a good cause – some may do that, whilst some Christians are also called to engage politically.