Many of us have a good doctrine of salvation and a bad doctrine of creation. Some of us don’t have a doctrine of creation at all. We’re not interested in the works of the Lord, but we ought to be.
So said our Founder and world-renowned author, evangelist and theologian John Stott in his first sermon on creation care in 1977. In his talk, Stott was explicit about how the environment was a key part of both Christian mission and the authenticity of Christian witness. The Great Commission in Matthew 28 included service, in all its forms, as well as evangelism as part of Jesus’ followers’ mission when He sent them out into the world.
Loving our future neighbours
In the present day, climate change has pushed the environment far higher up on the global agenda than it was in 1977. As Christians, the question we must ask ourselves today is, how can we truly serve and love our neighbours if we are simultaneously damaging, and even destroying, their local environment? Even if we are only acquiescing in its harm, we are still complicit to a certain extent, making it increasingly difficult to say in good faith that we treat our overseas neighbours as we wish to be treated.
This goes for our future neighbours as well. Our mandate to love our neighbours – whether they be the next door down or in the next country or continent across from us – is for the entirety of humankind. We are not loving our neighbours if we do not love our neighbours’ children. Christian influence and opinion is needed if we are to shift humanity’s long-term habit of short-term thinking and encourage individuals, businesses and governments to take responsibility and prioritise future generations over money and greed.
In Genesis 1, God created the land and the sea, the plants and the animals “and He saw that it was good”. Whilst we all know these famous verses in our heads, it is now crucial that we begin to take them to heart. God loves His creation, and he intends for our care of it to reflect His love for us, and our love for Him.
Whilst looking after our environment is not a law that Christians are explicitly mandated to follow, it does reflect the Biblical principle of stewardship found throughout the Bible. Genesis 2 tells us that when God put Adam in the garden of Eden, He did so with the intention that Adam would work it and take care of it, ruling over every living creature. God blessed us to have dominion over the world, not to exploit it for our own benefit. It is impossible to proclaim Christ’s Good News with integrity if we have been putting our own desires ahead of those of our neighbours.
Hope through climate disaster
However, though God designed the natural environment to reflect his beauty, we have been exploiting his masterpiece. Plastic in the ocean, air pollution and bleached corals are all symptoms of humanity’s short-term thinking and self-centredness. But more importantly, these symptoms are now having a significant impact on the lives of real people, our neighbours. Natural disasters such as droughts, floods and hurricanes are occurring both more frequently and severely as a result of climate change and are leading to the displacement of as many as 25 million people each decade.
After seeing the destruction brought on by super typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines in 2013 – one of the most powerful typhoons in recorded history – the former mayor of Davao City now turned president of the country, Rodrigo Duterte, said “I think God was somewhere else when the typhoon hit or he else forgot that there was a place called planet Earth.” The same feeling of divine abandonment appears throughout the Bible, including in Lamentations, Job and Habakkuk.
However, the Bible tells us in Habakkuk that God remains present and active in the world. Though He does not always move in ways that we like or even recognise, we must continue to have faith and trust that he is in control. When Habakkuk finishes his book, he was still terrified, but was determined to ‘rejoice in God’ and live out his purpose. His last words were “The sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to tread on the heights.” In other words, Habakkuk was not going to sit back and wait for God to intervene, and we must be equally proactive.
Christian voices can powerfully weigh in on environmental action in the court of public opinion and make unique contributions because of our beliefs. Recognising our place as His subjects and waiting joyfully for His new heaven and new Earth to come gives us an appreciation for the world as God created it. We must therefore raise the importance of ecology in our thinking.
If we love God, then we must also love the things that are on his heart, and that includes His creation. Whilst individuals switching off their lights will not save the planet, caring is the first step to realising the importance of taking responsibility for our own actions and stewarding this world gifted to us. We are in our Father’s masterpiece, are we able to leave it better than we found it?
Tayo leads the spiritual and strategic direction of Langham Partnership, working with the Programme and National Member teams around the world as well as the International Council. He is from Nigeria, has been Director of Ministries at London City Mission, served in church planting and pastor training ministry in several countries in Africa, in the UK and in continental Europe, seeking in each case to align biblical mission theology with clear strategic vision and effective practice. Tayo has also worked to strengthen relationships and missional vision among the wide variety of diaspora Christian communities in the UK.
Written by: Rev. Tayo Arikawe