As bearers of God’s image, all people have the responsibility and privilege of caring for God’s creation. Christians in particular should be motivated by Scripture. We ought to love and care for the Earth because it is God’s very good creation, and because we must care for the most vulnerable people on the planet. But we have not done this well. Our day-to-day choices and attitudes are often driven by our culture and lifestyle preferences, not the Bible. The science is clear: because of human activity, we see effects like species extinction and climate change. Lament and repentance are appropriate, but as followers of Jesus we must not despair. We can choose to move forward with “rational hope,” accepting the enormity of the problems we face while taking action with the hope of the Gospel in view.
Christian motivations to care for the natural world are clear and strong in Scripture. Yet in our culture today, environmental issues have become highly politicized, so that motivations feel more political than religious. This is particularly true on the issue of climate change. In fact, studies have shown that the strongest predictor of whether we accept the scientific consensus on climate change is not how much science we know or how religious we are. It is where we fall on the political spectrum.
At BioLogos, we seek to follow Christ, not politicians. While there may be political implications to discussions of creation care, we at BioLogos do not advocate for a particular political ideology. In fact, both major political parties have failed to live up to the biblical standard of care for creation.
Christians have a counter-cultural, distinctive, and uniquely biblical vision of the world that ought to lead us to live and act differently than those who do not acknowledge Christ as Lord. Evangelist Billy Graham’s thoughts on creation care summarize this biblical position well:
Why should we be concerned about the environment? It isn’t just because of the dangers we face from pollution, climate change, or other environmental problems—although these are serious. For Christians, the issue is much deeper: We know that God created the world, and it belongs to Him, not us. Because of this, we are only stewards or trustees of God’s creation, and we aren’t to abuse or neglect it. The Bible says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1).
When we fail to see the world as God’s creation, we will end up abusing it. Selfishness and greed take over, and we end up not caring about the environment or the problems we’re creating for future generations.
As Christians today, we need to understand the biblical basis for caring for our planet and its people. As Graham says, that may rightly lead us to repent of our personal and collective blindness to selfish choices, greed, and apathy toward God’s good creation and toward other people. We should understand the biblical basis for caring for our planet and its people. Christians should be leading the way in taking practical steps to heal our planet and protect its people.
Loving God means caring for his creation
The Christian vision of creation care is rooted in Scripture. Jesus taught that the most important commandments are to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:29-31).
Our love for God must be reflected in fulfilling the role he gave to humanity. God appointed us to bear his image (Gen 1:27) and entrusted this world to our care (Gen. 2:15). So caring for God’s creation is one of the most fundamental things we are called to do.
Scripture is clear that creation belongs to God: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Ps. 24:1). “For every wild animal of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the air, and all that moves in the field is mine” (Ps. 50:10-11). “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth… all things have been created through him and for him” (Col. 1:15-16).
In the law given to Israel through Moses, God made provision for renewal of the land (Exodus 23:10-12) as well as for the poor (Leviticus 23:22) and for other creatures (Deuteronomy 25:4). Following the law was costly for the Israelites. Creation care may be costly for us in similar ways, today.
Our actions have caused the loss of biodiversity across the world today. Biodiversity refers to the number of different kinds of plants, animals, bacteria, and fungi in a given ecosystem. Because of human impacts on the environment, species are becoming extinct at a much higher rate than normal. The natural rate of extinction is estimated to be 1-5 species per year. The current rate is 1,000 to 10,000 times faster. On average, one species goes extinct every hour. All creatures have value before God, because God made them and called them good (Gen. 1). If we love what God loves, then we must lament biodiversity loss and the extinction of other species—especially when we’re the cause.
Loving others means caring for creation
To some Christians, “creation care” can sound like we value the planet more than people. But caring for the planet really is caring for people. The effects of environmental degradation on human health are devastating. Malnutrition from food shortages, higher rates of tropical disease, cardiorespiratory distress from pollution, and conflicts over natural resources are just some of the ways environmental problems impact the lives of real people. At first climate change might seem unrelated, but it is more than a matter of warming up a few degrees. Climate change is a “threat multiplier.” It will make lots of bad problems worse—refugee crises, hunger, disease, poverty, biodiversity loss, deforestation, air pollution, and scarcity of resources. Christians working in Majority World countries often see the effects of environmental degradation and climate change in ways we don’t here in the United States. They can attest to the realities of drought, pollution, and conflict that are exacerbated by human activity. The poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet are negatively impacted by the choices and actions of the wealthiest (see the booklet Loving the Least of These: Addressing a Changing Environment, produced by the National Association of Evangelicals).
Caring for the planet is caring for our fellow humans. We tangibly show love for our neighbors when we act in ways that promote their good. Who is our neighbor? When Jesus was asked that question, he responded with the story of the Good Samaritan. Today in the context of the climate crisis, that must mean we are not to prop up the lifestyles of those of us in the wealthy, industrialized economies at the expense of those who will suffer most as a result of the changing climate.
Rational hope and taking action
What would happen if the church caught a vision for creation care? If we let our attitudes and actions be guided by Scripture instead of our lifestyles and political preferences? What if we really believed the end of our own story, that Christ is reconciling the entire creation to himself and we have been called to be a part of that?
Rational hope means taking the data seriously and accepting the enormity of the problems we’re facing, yet doing so with the hope of the Gospel firmly in view. This posture empowers bold action. Christians are uniquely poised to act. Think of the number of churches, missionaries, and aid organizations all over the world. If we saw creation care as a strategic priority for helping us to fulfill the Great Commission, we could see massive changes (see the Lausanne Movement statement). We live out the Gospel and show the love of Christ to the poor and vulnerable by meeting their basic needs (Matthew 25:40).
It’s encouraging to see what people are already doing. For example, Young Evangelicals for Climate Action has a Fellows program in which college students develop a project plan over the summer and execute it on their campus during the school year. Past fellows have installed solar panels on campus, begun composting programs in the dining halls, set up recycling programs, and engaged their legislators. Many Christian colleges are leading the way by installing solar panels or white roofs, running sustainable agriculture programs, and leading mission relief and development trips that specifically include a sustainability or climate angle to them. Even kids can make a powerful impact!
There are so many ways to get involved, it can be overwhelming. The most important thing you can do may be to talk about it with others in your life. But your tangible actions, even small ones, do make a difference. Here are some ideas for getting started:
- Go outside. Behold the beauty of the created order, and thank God for it. We cannot love that which we do not see.
- Sign up for Climate Caretakers. Every month they will send you a list of 3 things to do and things to pray for.
- Host a seminar at your church. Invite a speaker from BioLogos or the Evangelical Environmental Network.
- Conduct an energy study for your church or your school. LiT does this from a Christian perspective. They help save money that can be used for other purposes for the church, including missions.
- Volunteer with A Rocha on a restoration project.
Finally, equip yourself with quality resources on the science and theology of creation care. The National Association of Evangelicals’ booklet “Loving the Least of These: Addressing a Changing Environment” offers an excellent overview of both. Also see an essay by Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. For book-length treatments of the subject, see Steven Bouma-Prediger’s For the Beauty of the Earth and Douglas and Jonathan Moo’s Creation Care: A Biblical Theology of the Natural World. To dig further into the science, we recommend Skeptical Science, Global Weirding, and the books, articles, and talks by scientists of faith like Katharine Hayhoe, Cal DeWitt, and Rick Lindroth.
Last updated on:December 7, 2019