My children inherited a deep hatred for busy work from their momma. We are a hard-working family, and we love productivity (sometimes too much); as such, we are not opposed to productive effort. But give us busy work like packets of useless worksheets or things to fill out time and our minds break out into the equivalent of hives. Sadly, many people, even and especially within Christian circles, tend to view caring for the earth as a form of busy work. Sure, we would never say such a faux pas , but our lives indicate that we think it just the same.
The erroneous thinking often sounds like this: “We live on an irretrievably broken globe; it does not matter who we elect or what we do, we won’t be able to fix it.” Sometimes, it sounds like this: “I know my soul is secure and I am about the work of saving souls that will love on forever, so I don’t have time to care about the earth.” If you are like me, it sounds more like this: “I am so small and feel so helpless against such great odds. I don’t think carpooling, cloth diapers, reusable sandwich bags, or oat milk will make a dent in the work that needs to be done.”
Lately, the Lord has had me reading a handful of books written by nonbelievers who are far more thoughtful and Christian in their approach to the earth than I am (The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks , Native: Life in a Vanishing Landscape by Patrick Laurie, and The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World by Carl Safina. God is using these people who express a deep concern and compassionate care for the earth and the creatures that live here with us to convict me of my selfish, myopic view of this sphere God so beautifully shaped for us.
Multiple times I have found myself in a room by myself yet in conversation with these men. I want to share with them that their secular world views don’t give them a ledge to stand upon when they ask for compassionate care of the earth. I want to tell them that placing the created things at the center of our lives does not fix the problem we created when putting man at the center of the universe. I want to tell them that with God at the center, mankind finds his rightful place and care for creation will rightly flow from there.
But, then, I hesitate to share the Creation Mandate with them because it has been so sorely misrepresented by so many, myself included. Yes, the Christian worldview places human kind as the apex of creation, but that role was intended to be a role of servant leadership, not an excuse to clear cut forests and rob the earth according to our greedy desires. We created to cultivate and keep, not consume and collect to our heart’s content. Native populations have done such a better job at respecting nature and using it with respect and moderation than we have, to our shame. Two quotes in particular from The View From Lazy Point shook me to the core and exposed the greed we have largely normalized in America:
“One-quarter of the world’s people consume more than three-quarters of the world’s goods. That’s not fair. But as I’ve already mentioned, to give everyone an American level of material living, we’d need two and a half earths. That’s not possible.”
“If people are using the world’s forests, fishes, oil, freshwater, and other resources something like 25% faster than the world can replace them, it means, basically, that the world would be broke if weren’t borrowing so heavily from the future. People call it ‘leveraging,’ but a new word for delusion doesn’t cure the illness.”
We Care for the Earth Because God Cares for the Earth
When God speaks of creation in the Scriptures, he does so with the nuanced care of a Creator. When he has his rhetorical question session with the questioning Job, he walks through his encyclopedic knowledge of his creation with care (Job 38-39). When God was teaching Jonah about his concern for the city of Nineveh through a real-life lesson with a shriveling vine, he said the following:
“You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” (Jonah 4: 10–11).
God places obvious priority on his souled human creations, but he also cares about the cattle. He has a census of every hair on every head, the people in every city, and the flocks of the air and the fish in the sea. He is a compassionate and concerned Creator.
We Care for the Earth in Obedience to God
When the Apostle Paul talks about redemption in chapter 8 of Romans, the earth is part of the dramatic story. The earth groans and longs for our redemption (Romans 8: 20–23). Why? Because when we finally live into our legacy as the adoption sons and daughters of God, we will finally and fully do that job which God entrusted us way back in the Garden of Eden. While many think that God is going to scrap this whole sphere and start over, there are hints in Revelation that God will make new this very earth and use some of its parts and features as key pieces of the New Heavens and the New Earth. While this is theological speculation, it should not matter either way. Even if creation care is just for the now and the nascent generations to follow us, it is an act of obedience and worship to God. As his children, God longs for us to love what he loves and hate what he hates. He intends to make us into His likeness and to invite us into the family business.
We Care for the Earth as an Apologetic to the Watching World
Our care for the earth is an apologetic for God’s care for souls. We ought to be living such different and self-controlled, creatively caring lives that people wonder why we don’t join with them in their excesses ( Peter 4:3). When we practice self-control in consumption and creativity in care for God’s earth, we have an a opportunity to give a reason for the longer hope that informs our living today (1 Peter 3:15).
Why We Don’t Care for the Earth
We don’t care for the earth because we don’t know enough of our Creator. When we treasure him and begin to live in his abundance, we don’t have to chase after the things the world chases after (Matthew 6:31–33). We don’t have to follow the world’s cry of YOLO with its (often unintended) greed which robs from future generations to satisfy our need for better, faster, and more now. The proverbs give us a good and instructive word to help us curb our seemingly insatiable need for more and better stuff and costly speed: “A sated soul loathes honey, but to a famished soul any bitter thing is sweet” (Proverbs 27:7). When my soul is satisfied with the abundance of Christ and living in line with its purpose, I am less tempted to think that another trinket or a new pair of shoes or a jet-setting vacation will fill the gaps within me.
We, who can look forward to a better and lasting city whose builder and architect is God, have the grace to be generative and think of future generations (Hebrews 11:10). We can model our Heavenly Father’s sacrificial giving and living. He came not to take and claim (though as the Creator he had every right to cash in on his patent), but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:48).
Baby Steps toward Big Change
I don’t plan on strapping myself to any trees any time soon (though I applaud those who did such things out of concern for something bigger than themselves). I don’t think we will go full on vegan (though I appreciate those who have been seeking to live thoughtfully in their approach toward food). We did cloth diapers, we do cloth napkins, and we buy most everything thrifted; but I want to keep asking the Lord for new ways to express our love for him by compassionate care for the earth.
We are talking as a family about what it might look like to more actively and aggressively care for the earth as an act of obedience and worship to its Creator. Do you have any ideas?