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Earth and the Christian

September 2004 | by Jonathan Skinner

The environment is at the centre of society’s agenda these days and most people go along with this. Christians, therefore, need to have a well thought-out response. What is a proper biblical view of the Earth and creation as a whole?

The creation account in Genesis includes the refrain ‘and God saw that it was good’

1- which indicates that creation does not exist just for what humanity can get out of it but has value in God’s eyes.

The Bible clearly tells us that we have a responsibility to rule over creation in terms of tending and caring for it. Genesis 1:26 informs us: ‘God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground”.’

Later, the first humans are explicitly put on earth ‘to work it and take care of it’.

2 It is also notable that the Fall and the resulting loss of harmony in creation occurred by an act of environmental disobedience – a misuse of the fruit of the tree.3

Covenant with creation

Other parts of Scripture build on this foundation. God’s covenant with Noah and his descendants also included ‘every living creature on earth’.

4Creation is included in the covenant.

‘Creation-care’ is part of the teaching of the Torah (the Law) where, for example, every seventh year the land was allowed to rest – not only to allow the poor to glean the fields but also to let the land rest from production.

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The Psalms add to the picture of a proper relationship between God, humanity and the rest of creation. Psalm 24 opens with the words, ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it’. Here is a powerful affirmation that the earth belongs to God rather than humankind.

The centrality of Christ in creation is made clear in the New Testament, where John’s Gospel, reflecting the opening words of Genesis, reveals that not only God the Father, but also the Word was present at the beginning of creation.

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Mastery

Jesus revealed his mastery of creation by calming the storm on Galilee.

7 Indeed, we must contend for the absolute claim of Jesus Christ to be Lord of all, including all creation – especially in the face of today’s various claims for lordship, not only by Mother Earth but also by a whole plethora of pagan gods and spirits.

The New Testament reveals that, ‘He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together’.

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More than this, the Bible’s perspective on our planet does not conclude with its destruction – a new heaven and a new earth will be brought into being.

9It is true that the present creation will be destroyed by fire10but a new earth will be established.

Final future

In any biblical perspective on our planet, the effect of humanity’s rebellion and Fall must be taken seriously. Not only will fallen human beings tend to misuse and abuse God’s gifts, but also we need to remember that our environment is under the curse of God.

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Although the effects of the Fall are dire, we must not lose hope – for the present glories of creation will pale in contrast to what will be revealed when creation is re-established.

The New Testament puts it thus: ‘The whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies’.

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The final future for our recreated planet will be glorious: ‘The creation awaits in eager expectation for the sons 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 will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God’.

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Respect and protect

In contrast to materialism, paganism and, in particular, the worship of ‘Mother Earth’, all of which are prevalent today, the Bible has a full, clear and realistic view of our planet. It was created good and still reflects something of the glory of God.

14Man has a mandate to explore and care for this creation.

The fall of humanity has damaged and cursed the world, yet we are still called to respect it and protect it. Nevertheless, when the whole world is judged, it will be destroyed – but this is not the end.

God will bring in to being a new heaven and a new earth – it will all be reborn and redeemed. Our planet is to be honoured because it reflects something of our Maker and also because we are commanded to be responsible stewards.

However, rightly honouring it is very different from worshipping it. To worship the creation but forget the Creator is a travesty.