Tough Questions: If there is going to be a "new heaven and a new earth", why care for the environment?
“Christians are called to be heralds of the new creation, by pointing forward to the future hope that we have in Jesus. This means living today as we will live in a renewed and restored creation, where heaven and earth are one. We look forward to the day when God’s people will live in harmony with God, one another, and creation itself. Our interactions with creation in the present should point forward to this future reality,” says The Rev’d Charlie Lacey from St Andrew’s, Springfield
The Bible begins with two beautifully crafted Hebrew poems about creation. The first poem expresses God’s delight in his creation, culminating in the statement, “God saw all that he had made and it was very good.” As the pinnacle of God’s creation, human beings were made in God’s image and given the task of ruling over creation on God’s behalf. This does not mean that they were given carte blanche to exploit creation, rather it is a mandate to rule over it responsibly and compassionately as representatives of a loving and benevolent Creator God. In Genesis 2, we see that God placed the first humans in a garden to “work it and take care of it”. This is a wonderful image that captures our responsibility to nurture creation, live in harmony with it, and, in a sense, even improve on it.
The Old Testament repeatedly emphasises that the earth belongs to the Lord; it is not ours to do whatever we like with. For example, Deuteronomy 10.14 says, “To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it.” Some will be surprised to learn that the Torah (the first five books of the Bible, containing the Law), includes a great many laws that are designed to protect the integrity of God’s creation and our relationship with it. For example, by commanding that the land be left fallow every seventh year, the Sabbath laws promote sustainable agriculture and prevent surplus production. Wanton acts of environmental vandalism are prohibited, particularly the destruction of trees. There is an intriguing law in the book of Deuteronomy that states, “If you come across a bird’s nest beside the road, either in a tree or on the ground, and the mother is sitting on the young or on the eggs, do not take the mother with the young.” This indicates that we are not to act in a way that could hinder a species from thriving, in this case by preventing the mother from producing eggs to replace the ones that were taken.
The Old Testament makes it clear that we are to be good stewards of God’s creation, but what, if anything, does the New Testament have to say on the subject?
Jesus summarised the Old Testament law in these terms, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “Love your neighbour as yourself.” We understand from the Parable of the Good Samaritan that the whole of humanity is, in a sense, our neighbour. There is a significant body of scientific evidence pointing to the reality of climate change as a result of human activity. Further, it is well documented that climate change is having a much greater adverse effect on the populations of developing countries. If we are to love our neighbours on a global scale we must, I believe, take action to mitigate the effects of climate change.
An alarming number of Christians hold to the erroneous belief that when we die, our souls will be whisked away to a place called Heaven, where they will float about in disembodied ecstasy (albeit that is a bit of a caricature). However, that is far removed from what the Bible actually has to say on the matter. Many religious adherents believe in some kind of afterlife, but only Christians believe in resurrection life. Following the pattern of Jesus, believers will be raised with real physical bodies to inhabit a real physical world. God has already created a real physical world and it is “good”, albeit marred and corrupted by human sin. Romans 8 tells us that creation itself is waiting to be liberated from its present state of decay. Therefore, when we read of a “new heaven and a new earth” in Revelation 21, we should in fact imagine a renewed and restored creation that is permanently conjoined with heaven. God is not planning to destroy this world, as that would signify the failure of God’s great creation project, rather, the intention is to perfect it.
Christians are called to be heralds of the new creation, by pointing forward to the future hope that we have in Jesus. This means living today as we will live in a renewed and restored creation, where heaven and earth are one. We look forward to the day when God’s people will live in harmony with God, one another, and creation itself. Our interactions with creation in the present should point forward to this future reality.
Author’s note: If you have a question that you would like me to attempt to answer, please email me at email@example.com. To sign up to receive our newsletter, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
First published on The Parish of Springfield website in August 2022.
Editor’s note 7/9/2022: For Season of Creation events between 1 September and 4 October, please keep an eye on the anglican focus Events page.Jump to next article