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 our 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.” If you’re 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.”
While the Christian worldview places humankind as the apex of creation, our role was intended to one of servant leadership, not an excuse to clear out forests and rob the earth according to our greedy desires. We were created to cultivate and keep, not consume and collect to our heart’s content.
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 attention of a Creator. In his rhetorical question session with Job, he walks through his encyclopedic knowledge of creation with care (Job 38–39). When God is teaching Jonah about his concern for the city of Nineveh through a real-life lesson with a shriveling vine, he says:
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?
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 Romans 8, the earth is part of the dramatic story. The earth groans and longs for our redemption (Rom. 8:20–23). Why? Because when we ultimately live into our legacy as the adopted sons and daughters of God, we will finally and fully do that job that 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.
Even if creation care is just for the now and the nascent generations to follow us, it’s 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 lives that people wonder why we don’t join with them in their excesses (1 Pet. 4:3). When we practice self-control in consumption and creativity in care for God’s earth, we have an opportunity to give a reason for the longer hope that informs our living today (1 Pet. 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 (Matt. 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” (Prov. 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 (Heb. 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).