I recently posed some questions to Francis (who is part of our church family) on the issue of creation care. I think you’ll find his answers enlightening and helpful as we grapple with this issue.
1. Francis, thanks for talking to me. Can you tell me about the origins of your interest in creation care and ecology as a Christian?
From my earliest memories, I have always been aware of and valued the environment, whether it was birds, or the garden, and of course the countryside. My parents were very keen for us children to enjoy nature with long walks in the county side where I grew up (edge of Bradford, and later just a few miles from Ilkley Moor). My parents were also keen gardeners.
As my faith in Christ developed, I learnt how the environment was part of God’s creation, even if somewhat damaged, first, by the Fall (Adam and Eve era) and later by our own misuse of our environment. The more I learnt about God’s creation and our environment the more I praised God for the beauty of his creation. I went on to study human anatomy and this increased my awe at God’s hand in his creation.
When I started to search the scriptures, I found numerous references to God’s creation and, hence, ecology. I was surprised to find references literally from Genesis to Revelation! It was not surprising to find the Psalms as a rich source, but more surprising was the book of Job.
In the last few years, I have become increasingly aware that, in some Christian circles, ecology seems to have become something to be avoided, or simply neglected. It’s as if Christians have given up on ecology as if it was a subject only for hippies or new agers. I believe that praising God for his gift of creation has always been a fundamental part of Christianity along with other aspects of praise and worship. Remember God’s covenant with both Noah and his creation: ‘Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.’ Genesis 9:16
2. Jesus has given his church the great commission – they are commanded to go and make disciples. Is creation care an unnecessary distraction from this?
The immediate answer is that creation care flows from the great commission because it is part of our discipleship. If we ignore it, we are in danger of undermining our role in making disciples.
I believe an explanation is warranted. If we are to implement the great commission, it is not the churched we are trying to reach, but those outside the church. There is a fundamental need to both understand the unreached (and thereby speak a language they understand) as well as not alienating ourselves as those ‘heavenly folk with no earthly reality’.
This is not to say that the care of creation, should replace any other aspect of the great commission but it is required along with the other aspects, such as the Word, evangelism and reliance on the Holy Spirit.
It seems strange that in this day, when ecology seems to be in the news almost every day, the church has little to say. Yet it appears throughout the Bible so, why, in general is the church silent?
I am not advocating voicing the views of various ecological groups but wish to present a biblical view. However, all the secular ecology groups suffer the same fundamental flaw – they do not acknowledge God as the creator of the ecology they wish to preserve. This does not prevent Christians from supporting them, but it does mean that Christians should be careful not to immediately endorse these groups. However attractive these groups seem they have different aims and objectives from ours. This highlights the need to understand the relationship of God’s creation to today’s ecology issues!
3. Some might say “Why waste our time caring for a world that is going to be destroyed on judgement day?” How would you respond?
I used to accept this view, but the more I read the bible, it did not fit in with God’s word, both in the Old as well as New Testament.
Some of the most significant verses for me are found in Romans 8:18-22 where Paul writes: ‘I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present’.
I cannot believe that the whole of creation waits in eager anticipation if it is awaiting its destruction with Christ’s second coming! It makes far more sense if Christ’s second coming marks a restoration of his creation, and in this way brings a new glory to the whole of his creation.
Concerning verses which refer to destruction on judgement day, Peter writes: ‘By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly’. 2 Peter 3:7 | NIVUK. A little further he writes: ‘But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare…….. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells’. 2 Peter 3:10+12b-13. Note in verse 7, Peter is only referring to the destruction of the ungodly in heaven and earth, not of the whole world!
Concerning the destruction, note the earth will be laid bare, and the elements destroyed by fire. It doesn’t actually say the earth will be destroyed, but to be laid bare indicates everything will be revealed for what it is! The elements are not as we imagine today as arranged in the periodic table, but rather the fundamental parts or constituents of the world as they understood it 2000 years ago in the Jewish traditions. Therefore, all that which is not honouring to God will be destroyed.
If we refer back to verse 7 to the destruction of the ungodly, this would also appear to be everything that does not fit into God’s plan for our earth, where righteousness can dwell. In Hebrew the concept of a new earth can also include a renewed earth, which has been cleansed from all evil. This would then fit in with the creation looking forward in anticipation to the second coming of Christ.
Malachi reflects this view of the end times in chapter 2 verse 3: ‘But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.’
If everything from this old world has literally been destroyed and a completely new earth created then there will be nothing left of the old, however this does not appear to be the case. Consider: ‘Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.’ Revelation 22 :1-3a
This passage includes the tree of life – symbolising a restoration of the garden of Eden; in addition it is for the healing of the nations, so the nations have not been burnt up, signifying a renewal not a total destruction.
Further in Isaiah 11 we find a description of a restoration of the world: ‘The lion will lie down with the lamb…’ Hardly a description of total destruction, but again one of restoration or renewal!
4. Since we are rightly concerned to keep a focus on gospel proclamation, what other things should we be doing to care for God’s creation?
I think we should read the Bible making mental notes about what God says about his creation. The best places to start are Genesis, the Psalms and the whole of Job, especially the chapters near the end when God speaks of what he has created.
If we have a good grounding on what the Bible says about creation, then we can use it to praise and thank him for this wonderful gift, and to let the Holy Spirit guide us as to how we can examine our life style so that we live in harmony with God’s creation.
5. Can you give us some practical tips on caring for the environment? It’s such a big challenge we often don’t know where to start.
If we care about God’s creation all around us, and we are looking to take some form of action, then I would recommend first prayer, then trying to use the following principles:
- Stop damaging the environment.
- Try to prevent further damage.
- Seek to repair damage done.
All of which depend upon what is reasonable, for example it may not be reasonable to immediately get rid of the car, but eventually it may be possible for it to be replaced by a less damaging replacement!
Damage to the environment takes on a whole number of aspects, basically it is pollution in all forms including what is referred to as our carbon footprint. The reality of life in modern Scotland is that we cannot eliminate the damage we cause to our environment; we can only reduce it to more reasonable lower levels.
Preventing further damage entails planning our lives better (warning, this may need us to change our lifestyle) so that much of the hidden pollution which we are causing is reduced.
Recycling is an excellent method of trying to prevent further damage, including re-using, selling (including donation to a charity shop) or not buying in the first place.
Repairing the damage may entail taking up things like gardening, encouraging wildlife by what you plant in your garden, whether to encourage birds, bees or butterflies. If you got rid of the car, maybe remove the concrete parking spot, and plant bushes.
Specific areas of action may include:
Recycling is probably the easiest, to do and hopefully something we are already doing!
Maybe we need to re-examine the local council guidelines to ensure we are following them as mistakes, especially mixed or contaminated items cause problems and thereby end up increasing items sent for landfill or incineration and their subsequent higher pollution levels. Note: Moray’s recycling system appears to be different from all other areas, so don’t assume it’s the same as elsewhere. For further information check with Moray Council : Recycling guide
Transport, our choice of transport is important. Public transport is generally better than using one’s own car. Cycling has the additional benefit of being good for our health (as long as we have safe routes). Trains are better than buses. Flights cause a lot of pollution, but if you need to travel long distances there is little choice. Electric vehicles look like being the least polluting form of powered travel – this does assume that the electricity is generated using renewable energy sources, such as hydroelectric or solar panels. Further information on Energy saving transport.
Food, is a major form of pollution as not only is waste food problematic, but overeating and poor diet can give rise to both pollution as well as self-harm. If, and when we eat meat, if we insist on only the choicest cuts, we considerably increase the demand for more livestock, with the cheaper cuts being discarded (dog food etc.) and increasing waste. Over buying of food, leading to discarded food – which never reached a plate, is a major area of waste in the UK. Further information on food waste reduction.
Clothing – modern clothing with its synthetic materials, is a headache for recycling, it won’t rot (even cotton and wool have synthetic fibres or threads added). A lot is incinerated or ends up in landfill. Using charity shops for purchasing new or nearly new clothes helps, whether we bring them or buy them. Fashion is a major cause of waste.
Gardening and tree planting are major areas where we can restore some of our environment. Whatever space we have as a garden can be used, even pots in a concrete yard are better than nothing. Low maintenance gardens can be included if they are planted up with bushes or even trees. Expanses of gravel or ‘chuckies’ are not doing much for the environment; they are, however, better than concrete or paved areas as they at least allow rainwater to drain and over time will start greening up as weeds become established. Tree planting is perhaps one of the most healing things to do for the environment. We live in a part of the world that historically was heavily forested, so much so that transport to Aberdeen or Inverness from Elgin was quickest by boat along the coast! So, any tree planted whether in our garden (assuming space) or in the street, or up a mountainside – is restoring our natural environment, just that little bit. If you wish to support reforestation I would recommend “Trees for life”.
Heating is one the most polluting features of our modern era. For our grandparents heating would have been limited to a stove in the kitchen and an open fire in the living room – no central heating, and certainly no heating in the bedroom! It has become not only a heavy pollutant and it’s very expensive, especially as most of this area does not include mains gas as an option. However, it is likely to be even more expensive and inconvenient to change our heating system. What can be done is to cut down on wasting heat, by properly insulating our homes, having the thermostats kept reasonably low, preferably not above 20 degrees C. If you still feel cold, put on a jumper. In addition, solar panels, and heat exchange systems can be fitted if we have the available money to invest. For further information see “Scarf”.