God says multiple times in Genesis 1 that the creation he has made is good. The sky, the waters, the land, the animals, and humankind are all good. As one giant ecosystem, all the components of nature that interact with each other are individually good. God ends his work during creation week with declaring it is all “very good.” The fall in Genesis 3 does not negate the goodness of creation. Creation groans and suffers, but it is still good. Something inherently good is worth caring for.
My mind is immediately brought to Jesus’ story of the good Samaritan. Those who should have known better, who should have been engaged in caring for a person in trouble, simply ignored another human being in distress. The man who was robbed was mistreated and devalued by others who were aware of his need, but he was valuable in the eyes of God. Was he in trouble? Was he suffering? Absolutely. He needed care. His situation and circumstances was no cause for disdain. Yet, others refused to be moved by his dire need. As a person created in the image of God, he had value, worth, and dignity. And simply because of this, he deserved to be cared for.
How much more is this true of the whole of creation? The natural world is inherently good. It has inherent value and worth. If it is in trouble, it deserves to be cared for. If it is not in trouble, it deserves to be protected from trouble. Both treatment and prevention are forms of care. As stewards of creation, we are called to care for more than only people, but for the whole natural world.
Creation Care is Self-Care
We live in relationship with the natural world. We aren’t only responsible for the care of the environment, we are also a part of that environment. Therefore, when we take care of the environment, we take care of ourselves. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12 that as believers in Christ we are individually members of one body. When one member suffers, we all suffer. When one member rejoices, we all rejoice.
Several years ago, I was serving in a church where there was an older church member named John. He was in ill health, but had a large personality. He made everyone smile. He had the ability to turn your bad day into a good day. One day, his illness took a turn for the worse and he couldn’t come to church. His absence did more than change the atmosphere of the church, we all grew concerned for him. Our fear was that we would lose John, and members began caring for him in practical ways: People organized meals for him, a daily visitation rotation was set up, the youth in the church took turns cutting his grass and cleaning his house. The whole church pulled together to work for his good. John recovered and returned to church, but the church wasn’t the same after that. John’s absence had taught us all how to work together in love. We all felt like we were a part of his journey. His illness was our illness. His fears were our fears. And when his illness turned to wellness, so did ours.
How much truer is this for us as humans existing as part of the natural world? When creation suffers, we suffer. And when creation is cared for, we are cared for. Yes, we have dominion over it, but we are also a part of it. What happens to the natural world affects us as humans. The wellbeing of nature contributes to the wellbeing of humans.
Creation is Our Responsibility
It’s part of our calling as humans, and especially as Christians, to care for creation. Part of what it means to “have dominion” over creation is to care for it, and work towards its flourishing. This isn’t something we have the option to do. We can’t choose whether or not we care for creation, it is a role that we have been assigned to do by our Creator.
When I was 7 years old, my best friend got a dog for Christmas. He had always wanted a dog and begged for one for months. After he got his dog, his dad sat him down and explained to him how serious a responsibility it was. “Having a dog can be a lot of fun,” his dad told him. “But it can also be a lot of work. You have to feed him, walk him, take him to the vet, and make sure his well.” Of course, like any 7-year-old would, he promised to do all of that. Eventually, as the novelty of owning a dog wore off and the responsibility grew heavier, my friend slowly realized that he didn’t want a dog anymore. As a result, he forgot to feed him, or argued with his dad about whose turn it was to walk him. I saw my friend slowly abdicate his responsibility. He stopped referring to his dog as “his” dog and started calling him “our” dog. Eventually, he referred to him as “their” dog (his parents’ dog) since they did all the work.
God has charged the care of the entire universe to us. In many ways, it is a gift. But it is also a heavy responsibility. It is a responsibility that we should not neglect, nor can we give it back. We cannot ask God to “take back” the responsibility to care for his creation, or give it to other creatures. The universe belongs to God, but we are responsible for its care.
All of this responsibility should not simply make us feel burdened for creation. There can be great joy and hope in caring for it. The natural world doesn’t simply exist until it one day will be destroyed by God. The universe is going to be made new. Jesus tells John in his vision on the Island of Patmos, “And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Jesus is already in the process of renewing all of creation, and he is using his church to do it. One day, the entire universe will reach its completed state, its final form in the new creation. As followers of Jesus, we get to be a part of that work. Because creation is worth it, we get to be a part of the work of caring for ourselves as we care for God’s world. We should be both humbled and inspired to pursue this work for and with him.
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