Caring for Creation

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We acclaim you, holy Lord, glorious in power.
Your mighty works reveal your wisdom and love.
You formed us in your own image,
giving the whole world into our care,
so that, in obedience to you, our Creator,
we might rule and serve all your creatures.
(Eucharistic Prayer D, Book of Common Prayer, p. 373) 

Give us a reverence for the earth as your own creation,
that we may use its resources rightly in the service of others and to your honor and glory.
(Prayers of the People, Form IV, Book of Common Prayer, p. 388)

What does it mean to “care for creation”?

It means that Christians are commissioned to model for all humankind how to love and serve this earth, the part of the creation upon which we dwell.

What is the source of this commission?

The Holy Bible declares our obligation to care for God’s creation.

What specifically does the Bible say about this obligation?

Genesis 1:26-28 states that human beings are created in God’s “image and likeness” and given dominion over all other creatures. “Dominion” does not mean “domination,” but refers to the need for humans to exercise stewardship over the earth on God’s behalf. In Genesis 2, the human beings are given the garden to tend and serve, symbolizing our obligation to care for creation. Human beings do in fact exercise dominion over “this fragile earth, our island home” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 370). God wills that we exercise it in accordance with God’s desires and purposes. God declared the whole of creation to be “very good” (Gen. 1:31): earth and all of its living creatures have value in and of themselves. As “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Ps. 24:1), we human beings are called upon to tend and serve the earth as a sacred trust for which we shall one day give an accounting.

What does “created in the image and likeness of God” mean in relation to our obligation to care for the creation?

The God who is Love unconditionally loves all of the creation and not merely us who are able to enter into a conscious relationship with God. We may express the divine image and likeness by loving the creation as God loves it, and by exercising stewardship and earth-keeping as an act of love.

Why is it difficult for human beings to love the creation as God loves it?

We humans have fallen into sin (Eucharistic Prayer A, Book of Common Prayer, p. 362), and expressions of greed, lust for power, neglect, and a willingness to turn a blind eye work against the mandate to be good stewards and keepers of God’s good earth. Economic, political, and social structures and processes can also make this work difficult. But contrition, repentance, confidence in God’s forgiveness and the power of God’s grace, and amendment of life provide a pathway for carrying out earth-keeping as a labor of love.

What has science taught us about our relationship with the earth and its other creatures?

Science has taught us two important facts. First, all creatures including ourselves; bacteria, archaebacteria, protists, fungi, plants and animals; are genetically related. Second, all living beings are bound together in countless ecological communities of life. Therefore, when we exercise stewardship, we are caring for an earth in which God has made everything interdependent. How we carry out our vocation to stewardship has great consequences for ourselves and for all of God’s creatures on this good earth.

Why is this a time in which Christians should be especially concerned with the state of God’s earth?

By the end of the twentieth century the human population had grown to six billion and by the mid twenty-first century it may increase to nine billion. These huge increases and the economic development that accompany them are harming the earth’s ability to support both the human population and the rest of God’s creatures. Thousands of species are dying off as they are being hunted or their habitats degraded or destroyed. The earth’s air, waters, forests and soils are suffering more and more pollution and depletion. Less land for farming is available to feed this huge and growing population, and disease, malnutrition and starvation are ever-present facts for millions of people. Greatly expanding usage of fossil fuels contributes to global warming, with consequences not yet fully understood but possibly severe for the whole earth. The very beauty of the earth is in peril. Furthermore, the vast majority of earth’s human population is made up of the poor, those on whom God’s heart is especially fixed, as Jesus taught, and they suffer in greater proportions from this “groaning” of creation (Rom. 8:22).

Given these conditions how can we as Christians show our love for the creation and care for it in ways that meet these challenges?

We can show our love in at least two ways. First, those of us called to be scientists, engineers, and technologists may use our Spirit-inspired creative minds to contribute to creation’s care through scientific discoveries and technological innovations. Second, all of us can exercise stewardship by prudently and sensibly using those elements of the creation we need to sustain our own lives and the generations to follow. At the same time, we can work to preserve whenever possible other creatures and their habitats. Specifically, we can care for the land upon which we dwell and grow our foodstuffs, by preserving or restoring the earth’s soils, air, and water, and by protecting the creatures that form its ecological communities. Also, we can protect places of beauty that have value in themselves, that feed our spirits and support life for other species.

How can we sensibly use the things we take from the earth?

We can use fuels, crops and materials for housing, clothing, food, entertainment, and other purposes in a way that sustains these things for future generations and creates as little harm to the earth and other creatures as possible.

What can we do to preserve other creatures and their habitats?

We can learn about the great diversity of living things and their environments, and urge our neighbors, churches and governments to become better educated about regional, national and global pressures on the environment. With better knowledge we can do a better job of keeping species and their habitats free from harm.

What can we do to preserve the land upon which we dwell and raise crops?

In the spirit of the Old Testament instruction to give the land a Sabbath year’s rest from planting crops (Lev. 25:7), we can promote wise farming techniques that preserve the land and avoid poisoning the soil, air and waters with excessive use of chemical fertilizers. We can seek to sustain the wide diversity of plants and animals used for food. We also can find ways to preserve valuable farmland from thoughtless conversion to housing and commercial uses, and to create community gardens in city neighborhoods and small towns.

What can we do to preserve places of beauty and intrinsic value?

We can initiate, support and take part in the efforts of individuals, organizations and governments to set aside for both urban and rural residents places of beauty for their natural value and our delight and refreshment. Such places would include city, state, and national parks; ecological preserves; wilderness areas; green spaces in urban areas; and recreation sites. They would also include places of beauty designed by landscape architects and gardeners.

How can we as members of the Body of Christ act in all our caring for creation?

As individuals we can choose lives of voluntary simplicity, rejecting habits of wasteful consumption and making thoughtful choices for decent living. As congregations we can practice conservation and care wisely for our church properties. As individuals and congregations we can become examples and provide leadership to our local communities of wise stewardship. Likewise we can seek to influence our governments to develop wise environmental policies.

Many Christians are suspicious of environmentalists and oppose activities to preserve the earth. What can we say to them?

We can invite them to study with us the biblical principles that show that caring for the environment is God’s will. We can ask them to think of those who are not Christians but are working to preserve the environment as also caring for creation, whatever their reasons, and to work with them to carry out God’s charge to the whole human family.

What can we say to Christians who believe that Christ will come again soon, and therefore there is no need to try to “save the environment”?

Scripture says that no one but the Father knows when the Christ will come again (Mark 12:32), and until he does we must continue to carry out God’s commission to care for the earth. Even if the power by which God holds the whole world in existence were to be withdrawn next week, we still must give an accounting to Christ for our stewardship until that moment. We want him to say to us, “Well done, good and faithful stewards” (cf. Matt. 25:22).

What do we say to those Christians who say that Christ came only to save human souls and other creatures do not have souls. Therefore, we should only be concerned about saving souls and not the environment?

Christ is the Word through whom all things were made (John 1:3) and the one who holds all of creation together in himself (Col. 1:16-17). The New Testament teaches that Christ came to redeem the whole of creation and not merely human beings (Rom. 8:19-22; Col. 1:20), and makes the sobering declaration that judgment awaits “those who destroy the earth” (Rev. 11:18). Therefore, we should be just as concerned about the physical state of the earth as we are with the spiritual state of God’s human sons and daughters.

The problems facing our earth seem so enormous. How can Christians keep from becoming discouraged about the future, given these problems?

As Christians we have the power of the Holy Spirit and the indwelling Spirit of Christ to give us hope and courage. Confident in that power, we may act with energy to make God’s good earth a fit dwelling place for all of God’s creatures, now and for the future.