Ten reasons why looking after God’s world matters, regardless of what happens to it in the future.
Dear sister- or brother-in-Christ,
This is a letter about lifeboats. To be precise, it’s a letter about lifeboat theology, and how it influences Christian engagement with the world around us, particularly the environment. Author Paul Marshall describes lifeboat theology like this:
“It is as if creation was the Titanic, and now that we’ve hit the iceberg of sin, there’s nothing left for us to do but get ourselves into lifeboats. The ship is sinking rapidly. God has given up on it and is concerned only with the survival of his people. Any efforts to salvage God’s creation amounts to rearranging the deck chairs. Instead, some say, our sole task is to get into the lifeboats, to keep them afloat, to pluck drowning victims out of the water, and to sail on until we get to heaven where all will be well.”
This letter is a heartfelt response to this argument and to my fellow Christians who hold to it. For even if the world will one day vanish in a puff in smoke, and even though it is indeed riddled with sin, pain and suffering, I passionately believe that considering our relationship to God’s world carefully and lovingly still matters in the here and now. Here are ten reasons why.
1. Revelation. Creation speaks of the glory of God (Romans 1:20). Yet the more it is degraded and despoiled, the more it reveals only our flawed human nature, rather than the Divine. We wouldn’t consider ripping pages out of God’s book of words, so why do so with God’s book of works?
2. Relationship. We weren’t just made to have right relationship with ourselves, others and God, but with the rest of creation too. That’s why contact with animals and nature is so good for body, mind and soul. It follows then that the opposite is bad for us relationally, whether due to a lack of contact or the wrong sort of contact.
3. Commission. God has ordained the natural world to provide for many of our vital needs. Dependence on it is therefore not optional but integral, and a wondrous thing at that. We need, for instance, water, food and air to preach, teach, and reach the world: there can be no Great Commission without God’s Great Creation.
4. Poverty. Dependence on local natural resources is especially pronounced for poor people the world over. And the poor are usually the most impacted by the breakdown of such ecosystems, whether locally (e.g. polluted rivers) or globally (e.g. climate change). For the sake of the poor alone, looking after the environment is essential.
5. Consumerism. Yet it is not poverty that poses the greatest threat to creation but wealth, principally the over-consumption of goods and services that accompanies it. This is usually achieved by driving down their financial costs at the expense of their social and environmental ones. Such injustices, as well as the faith-, finance- and focus-sapping effects of consumerism make it a mortal threat to not only to creation but to the Church as well.
6. Fruit. In every relationship-type, the guiding values that shape it ought to be the Fruit of the Spirit. So why is it that in many of our attitudes to nature – and the economy too – it is the rotten fruit of the human spirit that predominates: greed, selfishness, envy, apathy and denial?
7. Pressure. Despite much positive change, in some circles creation care is still seen as a distraction or even a danger. Major barriers to speaking out on this matter within the Church may include being given the dreaded label ‘liberal’, or the influence of powerful vested interests. Theological and cultural peer pressure like this cannot be allowed to triumph over truth.
8. Tradition. Similarly, much opposition to creation care within the Church is primarily influenced not by truth but by tradition. In fact, secular thinkers like Plato, Descartes and Darwin have strongly shaped negative Western attitudes towards nature, which are so deeply ingrained that they are presumed to be biblical. They’re not.
9. Grace. Every individual taught and tended today by teachers and nurses will one day die. But that does not detract from the magnificent value of these tasks. In the same way, the possibility of future planetary degradation or apocalypse cannot be used to justify apathy or antagonism towards creation today. To do so is, quite simply, an abuse of grace.
10. Fatalism. Even if the world vanishes one day in a puff of smoke, and even if nature continues to be fatally tarnished here and now, eco-fatalism is no way for Christians to live out our relationships with the rest of God’s wonderful world. The ultimate theme that should define these interactions ought to be not how much longer it will exist in the way we know it today, but how deeply God loves it, now and forever. Lifeboat theology or not, in everything that we do, this is the reason.
In light of all this, and although God in His wisdom knows best, I don’t really feel quite ready for the lifeboat just yet. For into the stormy sea of life, the Father has thrown me a life-ring, a wet-suit and a first-aid kit; the Son has gone ahead of me and shown me how it’s done; and the Holy Spirit swims beside me in these choppy waters. I don’t know about you, but I’m going back to the wreck for the others. By the grace of God, we’ve got a ship to save.
Gloria in excelsis Deo.
For more on reasons to care for creation see the peopleplanetprophet manifesto.