Following the Biblical narrative of creation, fall, redemption and new creation, Scripture gives us the best understanding of why we are in this situation and the only hopeful solution to go forward.
Creation is good!
As we go right back to the beginning when God created the world, the first chapter of Genesis tells us God’s resounding verdict on the earth: ‘God saw that it was good.’ (Genesis 1v4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25). We understand from elsewhere in the Bible that the earth and everything in it is the Lord’s (Psalm 24v1), and that creation displays God’s glory (Romans 1v20).
Therefore – as opposed to the Western secular view – we can confidently and joyfully affirm that creation is good, that it is designed. The billions of species, the myriad of stars in the night sky, the oceans teeming with life, the colours of the rainbow, the changing seasons, the snow-capped mountains and the green valleys, the vast deserts and the rainforests all full of hidden wonders, all displaying God’s glory. These matter to God!
Do they matter to us?
Humans are very good!
In the first chapter of the Bible, the verdict on creation is that it is good. As the creation of humans is described, the narrative slows down and the creation reaches a climax as this addition now warrants the divine pronouncement: ‘it was very good’ (Genesis 1v31).
There is something different about humans, a staggering honour which is not endowed upon anything else in creation:
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
This is the greatest stamp of approval and highest value that can be given. We are different to creation, there is an order here. A baby is more important than a rat and a leaf because that child is made in the image of God!
There is another differentiation which is significant. Genesis 2v7 tells us that humans are formed from the dust. We are special, but we are still created and in that sense like the rest of creation. We are important but we are not God.
Humans have responsibility
This is key as we understand the responsibility which is given to human beings.
Humans are given the task of ruling over creation, to fill the earth and subdue it. (Genesis 1v26, 28). The following chapter adds more shape to this as humans are put in the garden to ‘work it and take care of it’ (Genesis 2v15).
Part of what it is to be made in the image of God is to care for creation and also to enjoy it, using the resources God has given us to give him glory.
What a wonderful picture this is! A personal creator God who makes a wonderful world for humans to enjoy and to look after. What a privilege, honour and responsibility for human beings!
Do we feel that?
Because of course this is not the way that things look now. Adam & Eve paved the way when they were put in a paradise but felt what God had provided wasn’t enough for them. They took the fruit, turning their backs on God – leading to devastating consequences (Genesis 3).
These consequences were far reaching – causing the breakdown of the three key relationships:
– Between humans and God (Genesis 3v8-10) – leading to a breakdown:
– Between humans and each other (Genesis 3v16)
– Between humans and creation (Genesis 3v17-19)
The fall affects everything. It has led to a broken humanity but also a broken creation. Creation is bound up in the fall as well.
And that is the world that we live in now, as we live out those consequences.
The world around us blames each other for climate emergency. Blame the West, blame the adults, blame Capitalism, blame the governments, blame others who don’t care enough.
But the Bible tells us that we cannot simply look out of the window – we need to look in the mirror too. We have followed in Adam & Eve’s footsteps in doubting that God can provide all we need. We have not fulfilled our responsibilities as God’s image-bearers. Our human greed has led to the disaster the world is now facing. Our desire for more, for luxury, and to have it now. And so often we have ignored the effects this has on God’s creation, but also on people across the world who are suffering the effects of this now.
How do we turn the tide? Well all the protests, reforms, demonstrations in the world, may be good, but they cannot ultimately deal with the root case: the human heart.
There is only One who can. The One who made it all, the One who gave us this wonderful gift and has seen our destruction and greed and selfishness and irresponsibility. And yet in his mercy he does not simply wipe us out, exterminating the polluting race of humanity.
No, the Creator of all demonstrates that he is still committed to his creation as he steps into it and lives as a man. The Son of God show us shows us what humanity can be – the new Adam shows us what Adam should have been. A man who always loves God, who always loves his neighbour, who cares for the things which God cares for. Never greedy, never selfish, no insatiable desire for more.
And yet he, the innocent one, willingly bears the guilt which should be ours. All of the damage we have done to the world and each other – Jesus takes the blame even though he played no part in it. He lived the life we should have lived and he died the death we should have died. The punishment that we deserved fell upon him!
But that’s not all. Death could not hold him – Jesus rose from the dead as a physical human being three days later (another affirmation of the physical) – showing that there is hope for both humanity and creation.
What is this hope?
We can be redeemed
When we trust in Jesus, we are able to live a new way of life. We can be changed! The love of Christ compels us to live for him and not for ourselves (2 Corinthians 5v14-15), and we have the power of Christ to work in us (Galatians 2v20).
Now as we are changed we can make a positive impact on our world as we loose the grip of sin on our hearts.
Creation can be redeemed
Just as the Fall affected everything – humanity and creation – redemption must also affect both humanity and creation. Christ will reconcile to himself ALL things – in earth and heaven (Colossians 1v19-20, and the “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God” (Romans 8, see vv18-25).
Through our redemption, redemption comes to the whole world. As we are transformed so this world is transformed!
Christ redeems humans and he redeems creation. This helps to allay the potential danger that caring for the environment could be a distraction from sharing the Gospel: if you want to care for the environment then the very best thing you can do is to share the Gospel! It is the gospel which changes human hearts to be a force for good in this world.
Much of the action being taken at the moment is driven by fear – the fear of what will become of our world and become of us. To return to the words of Greta Thunberg:
I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic, I want you to feel the fear I feel every day.
Is that the right response? Well, if our only hope was in humanity, then perhaps. But we have seen that God has intervened, and we can also see that this intervention gives us a real, and certain hope. Look at this picture of the future:
Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death” or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’
When looking at this wonderful vision it is helpful to emphasise two things.
First, continuity. The language of ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ echoes Genesis 1v1 – showing us that there will be a restoration of the created order. Just as the creation was affected by the fall, and included in Christ’s redeeming work, so it will experience restoration when Christ returns to make all things right. God is not planning to throw this world away – rather to continue the world he is already doing and ultimately bring it to perfection.
However, there is some important discontinuity between now and then. None of the things which spoil life on earth are still there. There will be no more chaos and disorder, no more sin to wreak havoc in human hearts and over creation! There will, once again, be a perfect relationship with God and each other and creation! What a hope to look forward to! And we can absolutely certain of this because Jesus Christ really did rise from the dead.