Christians are called by God, their creator, to put the care of creation at the centre of their faith and actions.
As Christians we believe that God creates human beings in his own image. This means that we are a wonderful mixture of the human and the divine. The incarnation of Jesus shows us that that human flesh is also divine flesh. When we share in the mystery of Holy Communion we believe that the ordinary elements of bread and wine become, for us, or, at the very least, represent to us, the body and blood of Christ. This means that, for us, the ordinary physical and material world is at the same time the world of the extraordinary and the divine.
God the creator is present in his creation. This means that God is present in all things. Every atom and molecule vibrates with the energy of the divine and all things are connected. Modern science seems to confirm that all is energy and that everything is connected.
However, our corner of creation is in crisis. Human beings have become separated from our creator and by our actions we are damaging our home planet. In the wider universe creation will continue as stars and galaxies continue to die and be born. Scientific research leads us to believe that at some time in the future our own star, the sun, will grow and consume planet Earth.
However, our crisis is more immediate as we have it in our power to destroy or to create at this period of time in the history of our planet. Can we rise to the challenge and become co-creators with God or will we continue to damage the planet to such an extent that we cut short human survival on the Earth?
As Christians the pattern of death and resurrection is central to all that we believe. We see this mirrored in all creation as the cycle of birth, death and rebirth goes on. We do not put our faith solely in the physical and material world, as everything that comes into being is only present for a limited time. Human beings are born, live for a certain time, and then die. The planet itself is born and will die. The whole created order is subject to change and the patterns of energy in the universe are constantly changing.
Christian faith leads us to believe that God the creator is in all this change, and that we are moving to a new heaven and a new earth. We see this pattern of death and resurrection in the process of creation. So we believe that our physical death is not the end, but that we will rise with Christ and be with God forever. Our faith in resurrection also leads us to not fear the death of our planet, as we believe that a new heaven and a new earth is being created.
As a Christian it is tempting to say, ‘OK, so why should I care about creation if it is all going to pass away and God is creating a new heaven and a new earth?’ But this would be exactly the same argument that Paul rebutted when he argues in Romans 6:1 saying, ‘Should we continue in sin that grace may abound?’ If God by his goodness and grace loves us so much that he is creating a new heaven and a new earth why not trash this creation because he is getting rid of it anyway? The point is that God is calling us to a much higher way.
He is calling us to reconnect with him and to become loving creatures with care and love in our hearts. He loves his creation and he is calling us to be co-creators and lovers with him. The evil in human beings and in the planet is passing away, but we are very much part of that process as we die and rise with him. And Paul’s teaching is that creation itself is in the labour pains of new birth and so is longing to obtain the same freedom as the children of God. This theology therefore implies some continuity between old and new, just as there will be some continuity between our physical bodies and our resurrected bodies.
So Christians come to the care of creation from a unique standpoint and with a special calling of care. We are the first fruits of all that is to come. We are invited by the love and grace of God to be partakers in bringing to birth the new creation.
Again the cross of Christ is central to our calling. ‘Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies it remains just a single grain; but if it dies it bears much fruit’ John 12:24. The human crisis in creation is fuelled greatly by selfishness and greed; human beings consuming more than they need and putting short term monetary gain before treading gently on the earth. When we die with Christ we become aware of the larger community, which includes all of God’s creatures. We respect God’s creation and begin to name all created things as our brothers and sisters.
We begin to see the world as one world because Jesus is the Cosmic Christ who has come to unite all things in heaven and on earth. There is nothing quite like spending time in the beauty of God’s creation as nature seems to have a special power to bring healing and wholeness. In order to transform the world we need transformed people. Troubled minds and dualistic combative behaviours lead to a troubled and warring world. The peace of Christ, which passes all understanding, leads us to a place beyond the troubled mind and to the mystic Christ who is the Word made flesh.
Above all Jesus shows us how to love one another and it is only by love that the world is transformed. As we wash each other’s feet and serve one another then we find true freedom, which the sons and daughters of God enjoy. It is from this place of freedom that we can truly love God, one another, and the planet, which is crying out for our care. By caring for the planet we are God’s agents, indeed, co-creators with him to bring wholeness and healing to a broken world.
All our practical actions of care for the planet are at their most healing and transformative when they come from that place of love.
Rev Philip Young is the Diocese of Norwich Environmental Officer for the Church of England. He is also a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and a member of the Third Order of Franciscans (TSSF). His work for the Diocese of Norwich is part time. The rest of his time he reads and writes on spiritual matters. He is available to give talks, presentations or to preach and can be contacted at email@example.com
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Photo: Warren Wood, Thetford Forest - Copyright Bob Jones and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.