Study 2: Caring for The Environment
Sermon Date: April 30th 2017
Readings: Genesis 1:26-31; 2:15; Colossians 1:15-16 and others
As we continue our consideration of the difference that the resurrection of Christ makes to our life of discipleship, we turn to the environment. I recognise that the scope of our study is limited.
If you would like to consider our response to the environment more fully, I have suggested some books at the end of these notes.
(For your encouragement, the church continues to be attentive to our carbon footprint and use of resources. Thanks to the many involved.)
Recall a beautiful place that you have visited. Share this memory with others and briefly explain why this place was/is so special to you.
Questions: (see “Helpful Hints” at the end of this section)
1. Read Genesis 1 and 2. What does the creation account tell us about God, creation and the role of humanity in creation? (See Genesis 1:28 & 2:15 in particular.)
2. Read Psalm 24: 1-2 and Colossians 1:15-16.
With these verses in mind, I offer the following as context for the two questions that follow.
Jesus’ daily life was intimately connected with the earth. The Jesus who walked this earth was both “Son of God” and also the “Son of Man” – Jesus’ favourite description of himself. “Son of Man” literally means “Son of Adam” and the Hebrew name ‘Adam’ simply means ‘made from soil or earth’. So, Jesus is – by implication – referring to himself as the Son of the one made from the earth.
What’s more, Jesus lived closely with creation. In one sense, everybody did in first century Palestine. However, Jesus went further – his stories are packed full of natural images and metaphors. For example, in the gospel of Matthew alone there are twenty-seven animal references by Jesus – locusts, birds, pigs, dogs, viper, wolf, sheep, fox, snake, sparrow, camel, donkey, vultures … and more.
Moreover, at the start of his ministry when Jesus spent forty days alone in the desert, Mark’s gospel tells us that the “wild animals were with him”. This passage may well mean that the animals served him – as the ravens ministered to Elijah in the Old Testament. This shouldn’t surprise us – the animals recognised in Jesus somebody who was not a threat to them. So I think that it is fair to say that Jesus was connected with and enjoyed creation and understood its value.
Jesus also showed power over and respect for the earth. For example, when Jesus commanded the wind and the waves to be still on Lake Galilee (Matthew 8:23-27), it was no ordinary miracle (if such a thing can exist!) as Jesus was revealing his authority over creation. The one who had created all things and had yet become part of his own creation – demonstrated that he had full authority over the cosmos.
Although Jesus knew that creation was blighted by the curse of human sinfulness, Jesus had a ‘high view’ of creation. Please read Matthew 5:34-35. The image that Jesus provides in this passage may suggest something demeaning - a picture of God ‘Atlas-like’ with fist on his forehead, knee bent and trampling earth beneath his feet. This is the exact opposite of what Jesus means. “Footstool” is not a demeaning image – it was the word used to describe the Ark of the Covenant (see 1 Chronicles 28:2). The footstool is God’s touching place, where his presence is found (see Isaiah 66:1-20). Therefore, humanity is to respect and cherish the earth because it is God’s footstool, his resting place.
This may help to explain why people often sense the presence of God in creation.
a) With the above in mind, what do you think of Bishop James Jones’ (former Bishop of Liverpool) assertion in his book, “Jesus and the Earth” (SPCK, 2004):
“Creation does not exist for the human family but for Christ. The earth is here for us to delight in, to manage, to serve, but its centre is inhabited by Christ alone, not by us. It is a blasphemy to usurp Christ’s place.” (page 17)
b) What implications ought this to have for how we view and treat our environment today?
3. What impact did “the Fall” (Genesis 3) have on creation? See also Romans 8:22-24.
a) What impact did the death of Christ on the cross have upon the earth?
b) What impact does the resurrection and ascension of Christ have upon creation and the role of Christians in caring for creation?
c) In what practical ways can we care for the environment?
5. In Matthew 22:38-40, Jesus summarizes God’s instruction for humanity as: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” and “love your neighbour as yourself.”
How does this further encourage us to actively care for God’s creation?
Share how your understanding of how Christians are to understand and care for the environment may have developed during our study?
Consider how the Lord maybe asking you to make some practical changes to how you live in this regard? Share these action points with others for their support and accountability.
Return to your shared memory of a special place. Use your memories as an aid to praying together by giving thanks to God for his creation and asking for his help in our role as stewards of his world.
Helpful Hints for discussion questions:
1 God is sovereign, the creator and maintainer of the cosmos. He created in love and with a purpose. God delights in his creation. Creation testifies to the awesomeness and love of God. In love, God created humanity to live in and enjoy creation with God as God instructed.
God has entrusted stewardship of His creation to humanity (see Genesis 1:28). The word “Dominion” that is sometimes used in this verse instead of “subdue/rule” can easily be misinterpreted. What many people forget is that this dominion is immediately qualified in the following chapter of Genesis (2:15) where God instructs Adam to “work and take care of the Garden of Eden”.
Interestingly, in earlier translations of Genesis 2:15, we read that Adam and Eve were to, “…till and keep the garden of Eden.” Significantly the only other time that this phrase “to till and to keep” or “to serve and preserve” is used is in the Book of Numbers. Here, it describes the ministry of the priests in the temple. Just as the Levites were to called to serve God by ministering within the temple, so Adam (i.e. humanity) is called to serve God by caring for the earth.
Since Christian disciples are the image bearers of God, our care, our stewardship of creation must reflect God’s character and purpose – humble selfless service to secure redemption not selfish exploitation that leads to destruction.
Humanity is therefore called to look after, to care and work to preserve God’s gift of creation. Our dominion is therefore stewardship not selfish domination. And in our response, we are accountable to God
(Questions 2 through 5 help us to understand what God’s will for creation is.)
2 b) A failure to care for creation as God requires is a failure to love God. This is because God created the world and loves it. Humanity is to love God. If we love God, we are to love what he loves. And this includes his creation.
3 Because of the sin of Adam and Eve, perfect relationship between God and humanity was broken. As a result of sin, the world is not as God intends. The curse of sin, death and decay affects all of creation. In Genesis 3, God tells Adam, “Cursed is the ground – the earth –
because of you”. The earth itself is “groaning” to use Paul’s words in Romans 8 – waiting to be set free from its bondage to sin caused by the Fall.
4 a) As Jesus died on the cross, the earth was covered in darkness for three hours. Then when Christ died, there was an earthquake as the earth responded to the death of the one by whom and for whom all things were made. (see Matthew 27: 51-54)
b) The death and resurrection of Christ also brings about the salvation of the earth. In Colossians 1 verses 19 & 20, Paul writes that God was pleased, through Jesus “…to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood shed on the cross.” In short, Jesus undoes the earth-damaging work caused by the sin of Adam.
John 3:16 is also helpful in this context. According to theologians, the Greek world that is translated as “life” is better translated as the “whole created order”. So, Christ’ death and resurrection enables the redemption of the whole created order. This is why the Bible holds out a vision of hope for the earth.
In this regard, you may also like to consider what you understand the creation of, “a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1) to mean?
Many Christians believe that this verse may not be about the creation of a new universe in the sense of destroying or rejecting the old. This is because the word ‘new’ in Greek is ‘kainos’ which means ‘renewed’ rather than ‘neos’, which means ‘brand new’. Therefore, many believe that Christ’s death and resurrection begins the redemption of the existing creation. This then gives further encouragement to intentionally care for creation now.
5 In these verses, Jesus repeats what is known as “the Shema” or ‘the Golden Rule’.
To love God means to love what God loves – and this includes creation.
Secondly, as the parable of the Good Samaritan reminds us, loving our “neighbours” means that we are to take care of their bodies as well as their souls. Our love of others is holistic. Given that the welfare of others can be influenced by their environment and that ‘the poor’ can be particularly vulnerable to changes in the wider world, it is important to bring in the biblical understanding of justice.
The Hebrew word for justice is mishpat. Far from being some abstract concept of fairness, mishpat is about the practical way that we conduct all relationships. Mishpat is about meeting the obligations of our relationships. It highlights our duties and responsibilities towards others and is particularly invoked in the Bible in the context of oppression of the poor and vulnerable. This is where our care of the environment comes in.
Are we looking after God’s world in order that the needs of our neighbours can be met fairly?
Are we meeting our obligations to the poor through caring for the environment?
Or do we need to re-examine our habits of consumption because they are actually based on people being treated unjustly and natural resources (e.g. minerals; oil; wood) being used ‘unjustly’?
Therefore, a failure to care for creation is a failure to conduct our relationships in the way that God commands. It is a failure of justice and it is also a failure of love our neighbour and God.
I recognise that the scale and complexity of caring for our environment is such that we can think what difference can we make? But we can and are making a difference. For example, consider how in the last ten years, recycling and using low energy light bulbs and more efficient cars are now an accepted way of living.
“Planetwise: Dare to care for God’s World” Dave Bookless (IVP, 2008)
“Jesus and the Earth” James Jones (SPCK, 2003)
“How then shall we live?” Samuel Wells (Canterbury Press, 2016)
“Doing the right thing” Rob Frost (Monarch, 2008)
“Enough” Will Samson (David C. Cook, 2009)
“Just Living: Faith in an age of consumerism” Ruth Valerio (Hodder & Stoughton, 2017)