Common Questions Christians Ask About Creation Care
By David Chong and Friends from “Biblical Environmental Stewardship Malaysia”
Question 1: Why care for creation if it is to be destroyed by fire eventually (2 Peter 3:10-13)? Why bother since we'd be whisked away safely in our spirits from this God-forsaken physical planet?
Our Christian duty to be responsible stewards of God’s creation is based on clear biblical instruction in the Creation Mandate and motivated by love for the Creator and love for our neighbors, whose well-being depends very much on a sound ecosystem. (See Dr Leong Tien Fock’s article on Creation Care in this edition of Kairos for more details).
Therefore, it does not ultimately rest on any eschatological debate on whether the present universe will be utterly destroyed and replaced by a new universe created from scratch. It is clear though that the earth as it is now will not remain forever but will pass away.
The passage in 2 Peter 3:6-13 seem to imply that the present world will be subjected to judgment by fire but would ultimately result in the new heaven and the new earth. John Piper writes, “When Revelation 21:1 and 2 Peter 3:10 say that the present earth and heavens will ‘pass away,’ it does not have to mean that they go out of existence, but may mean that there will be such a change in them that their present condition passes away. We might say, ‘The caterpillar passes away, and the butterfly emerges.’ There is a real passing away, and there is a real continuity, a real connection.”
Through fire, the present universe will be refined, restored, renewed and transformed into the new one. Just as the old world was destroyed by the Flood and the present world arose out of it, so also would the present world be dissolved by fire to give rise to a purified new heaven and new earth (2 Peter 3:5-7).
God did not create the physical world only to annihilate or abandon it. Rather, He will completely transform and rescue the present fallen universe. "We are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth" (2 Peter 3:13). There are two Greek words for the word "new": Neos means “new in time or origin” while kainos means “new in nature or quality”.
Here Peter uses kainos to denote that the present heaven and earth will be changed in its nature. We see the same meaning in 2 Corinthians 9:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new (kainos) creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new (kainos).” It means that the same person who is regenerated will be radically transformed, rather than being replaced by someone else.
When many people think of the resurrection, they also think of those popular cartoon sketches of people floating around in fluffy clouds, wearing white gowns with a harp in their hand and a halo on their head. The idea is to escape as a ghost-like spirit from this physical world. It creates a mentality where we withdraw from life and passively wait for the afterlife.
But the Christian hope of eternal life is not about running away from reality. We look forward to a resurrection just like Jesus’ where we will be raised to life in a glorified body. What God has done in Christ on Easter morning, He would do on a cosmic scale for the entire creation, including us! In the meantime, we are to live today as if the future is already present. The way we live should point forward to what God’s reign in its future fullness would look like. Therefore we have every reason and motivation to care for creation today!
“As God may gather the scattered DNA and atoms and molecules of our bodies, he will regather all he needs of the scorched and disfigured Earth. As our old bodies will be raised to new bodies, so the old Earth will be raised to become the New Earth. So, will the earth be destroyed or renewed? The answer is both—but the “destruction” will be temporal and partial, whereas the renewal will be eternal and complete.” (Randy Alcorn, “Heaven”)
Question 2: Shouldn't we spend our time and resources helping poor people rather than animals or plants?
Vinoth Ramachandran once remarked that the question is like asking a poor mother not to bother about her child’s education because feeding him is more important. Of course, both basic needs should be our concern although in some contexts, saving lives would have higher priority than environmental conservation.
In most situations, however, it’s not an either/or choice. The well-being of rural poor is often dependent on a sustainable ecosystem. The natural resources are their ‘pharmacy’ (from which they gather medicinal herbs) and ‘local supermarket’ (from which they are supplied daily needs) and water supply system. Environmental degradation disproportionately affects the poor. Since there is close interdependence in the ecosystem, animal and plant extinctions would ultimately be unhealthy to people as well. Helping people to manage and develop their natural resources in a sustainable manner would in turn alleviate poverty.
Therefore, we must care for both people and for non-human elements of God’s creation. Obeying God’s commandment to be responsible stewards of His world is also an expression of love for the Creator and for people, especially the rural poor.
The main challenge to creation care is to start with ourselves. None of us likes to change our lifestyle if it involves perceived inconvenience. If each of us care enough to act in the light of what we discover, we can begin to live a simpler lifestyle, reduce pollution load and free up more resources for those really in need. Dean Ohlman wrote, “We must not prioritize our ethical obligations to such an extent that we excuse the plight of animals made to suffer unnecessarily by our neglect or cruelty.”
Question 3: Isn't this business about ‘saving the earth’ a distraction to the church’s task of ‘saving souls’?
This question is best addressed by asking a similar question – “Is parenting a distraction from our Christian task of evangelism?”
For those of us with children, parenting is a time-consuming responsibility we carry out daily. It’s part and parcel of living in obedience to God. We rarely need to choose between caring for our children and witnessing for Christ. We perform each duty when it is required and doing either one does not contradict the other.
In the same way, Dean Ohlman observed that “earth-keeping is a natural and integral aspect of our day-to-day decision-making regarding spending, work, consumption, transportation, waste management, and so forth. The problem is that not until recently have we come to understand how irresponsible we have been regarding this foundational aspect of daily living.”
A Christian analysis of environmental degradation sees its primary cause in our broken relationship with God which leads us on a futile quest for fulfillment at the expense of the earth. Instead of purveying more gloomy news and passing more laws, lasting progress can only come about when people have a radical change of heart. And the fruit of gospel witness should result in transformed hearts and reordered lifestyles towards God, other people and the creation as part of our discipleship. The conservation movement today is in dire need of hope that the good news has to offer.
Not only that. Every time we care for creation, we are really witnessing to the Creator. We are demonstrating to the community the practical outworking of the gospel with our lives.
For instance, A Rocha, a Christian conservation movement, took a piece of unkempt land in West London and turned it into an oasis for wildlife called Minet Country Park. It raised questions among the neighboring people, “Why are they doing this?” It gives opportunities for them to find out that our ecology is based on the gospel and our gospel is centered on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Question 4: What’s the point? The ecological problems are so huge. What I do won't make any difference.”
Environmental stewardship is a loving response to God and turning away from consumerist lifestyles. As Christians, we can do what is right not primarily because of the perceived usefulness, but as an act of worship. This perspective frees us from the despair that secular environmentalists face – to act rightly while trusting in the sovereignty of God for the results even when the circumstances look bleak.