Caring about God’s creation…

darted elephant
Sedated Elephant with Radio Collar

Working with Son Safaris has increased my appreciation for God’s presence in creation and my recognition of the interdependent relationship between humanity and nature, especially as concern for global climate change grows.

Son Safaris’ staff arrived in South Africa this week to prepare for the summer Mission to Africa teams to arrive. For the next seven weeks they will live at Welgevonden Wildlife Reserve and will engage in many creation care projects side by side with the intern researchers from around the world studying with Wegevonden Research. 

Our main project will be putting radio transmitter collars on elephants to both protect them from ivory poachers and to learn more about the habits of these magnificent animals. You can be part of our care for God’s creation by contributing to the Elephant Radio Collar Fund.

Creation care is a Bible mandate – that means for Bible believers it is not optional. A very short version of why I believe creation care is no more optional than evangelism, benevolence, or any virtue God clearly reveals as His will for us follows..

The fundamental mandate for creation care comes from Genesis 2:15 “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”  Here God places Adam in the garden to “work it and take care of it” (NIV).  Most Hebrew scholars believe a better translation from the Hebrew is “to serve it and to preserve it.” In Genesis 1:26-28, God created humankind to have dominion over the earth. This acknowledgement that humanity is unique among the species on earth does not, however, give license to drive those species to extinction nor is it permission to exploit the planet. In fact the next two verses affirm the right of animals to share in the bounty of the earth’s produce (Gen 1:29-30)

The problematic word in these verses is “dominion”, taken by many to give us carte blanche approval to do with creation whatever we want. But taken in context of Genesis “dominion” is best practiced in serving and preserving God’s creation, in being good stewards of what has been placed in our trust. The story of Noah surely illustrates this when Noah is charged with implementing God’s first endangered species act.

Psalm 104, the great creation psalm views humanity as one species among many animal species, all meant to flourish together (Psalm 104:14-23). In the next verse the psalmist exclaims, “O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures” (v. 24).

God created the world in wisdom and out of love. John 3:16 (For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.)tells us that God in wisdom and out of love for the world sent Christ to redeem it 

In Christ “all things hold together” according to Colossians 1:17 (He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.), and “every creature under heaven” is to receive God’s good news that if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. v. 23. 

God’s work in the world, according to Revelation 21:5 (And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”is making all things new” . God will bring about a new creation that does not destroy the old but transforms and renews it. 

Just as surely as the church is the sign of the new creation, is the church mandated to lead the way in caring for creation!

 “The gospel declares that God put us here, that God is here, and that God makes our home here, his home here. The gospel places us in the world that God loved in such a way that he gave his only son on its behalf.…God joins us, down here amongst the malaria-ridden swamps and the dry, overworked hills. God makes our home his home. God declares this planet worth his time and attention.

— Daniel J. Stulac in “Plough Quarterly” No. 4: Earth

Creation Care

 

Through my work with Son Safaris I have developed a strong desire to see Christians take a more active role in caring for God’s creation.  The term “creation care” may be new to you but it simply means being stewards of God’s creation of which we are apart. But why is this stewardship important? To oversimplify I believe creation care is a “gospel issue”.
The “gospel” (“Good News” in Greek) is a way of speaking of the teachings at the heart of the Christian faith -the redemptive death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. When I place creation care as a “gospel issue” I am saying that it is an expression of our worship to God for our redemption through Jesus Christ. That means that we should care for God’s creation whether it were in crisis or not.
However there is a real crisis in God’s creation now. People, animals and plants are dying because we human beings have abused God’s world. But I believe this present environmental crisis is not the primary reason for creation care. Christians should be set apart from other environmentalists because we do what we do because we love God and His creation. So if we lived in a world with no environmental problems, we would still be tending God’s world. As the Lausanne Cape Town Commitment put it:
“Therefore, our ministry of reconciliation is a matter of great joy and hope and we would care for creation even if it were not in crisis.”
Just imagine if the global community of Christians were to accept the premise that caring for God’s creation is a core part of our identity. Love God! Love others! Care for God’s creation.  Perhaps we would not have such a critical crisis in God’s creation as we do today. But we haven’t taken creation care seriously and there is an environmental crisis that must be addressed by everyone in society, especially God’s people.  Today both God’s human and  non-human creation is being devastated by violence against the environment in multiple ways, of which global climate change, deforestation, biodiversity loss, water stress, and pollution are but a part.  Just imagine if Christians were to lead the charge to solve these ecological challenges.
Much suffering and devastation is directly tied to human activity. Some of the damage is directly caused when poor farmers abuse their land in a futile attempt to wrest a little more food from already exhausted soils. Much of the suffering though, comes not from their own actions but from that of others. Excess consumption in the richer parts of the world is creating great problems among people who have had nothing to consume.
We are failing in the sacred trust given to us by God to care for His creatures. In the last 40 years we have lost half of earth’s entire stock of wildlife, according to the World Wildlife Fund. This should bother any human being; it should devastate those of us who are Christians.
Christians have a unique role to play in guiding human society toward a healthier and happier relationship with God’s creation. The church has global reach – a truly multinational network. The church has political influence. The church has money. And the church has people – billions of them. All of these are reasons why anyone who cares about God’s creation or the environmental crisis should want the church to be involved.
But there is another deeper but more important reason why the church needs to take on this task.  Bluntly stated environmental problems are sin problems. What I mean is that the root causes of every environmental issue in some way gets back to flawed human beings and sinful hearts: Materialism, greed, selfishness, fear. All of these lie at the root of the things that we do as individuals and as a society that have produced the crisis we now find ourselves in.
For environmental problems to be conquered, human hearts must be reconciled to God. Human hearts can only be reconciled to God by the Gospel – the redemptive death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. What better platform for the Gospel could there be than to mobilize the church to care for God’s creation? Imagine the impact if Christians were leading the charge to care for God’s creation!