Editor's Note: This is part one of a two-part series on global warming and creation care written in a point-counterpoint format.
Climate change is deservedly grabbing more attention. The "People's Climate March" in New York, my town, drew 300,000 participants on September 21, according to the New York Times. President Obama then made some bold challenges to other large nations at the United Nations Climate Summit, September 23. It is quite disappointing that world-wide carbon emissions increased 2.5% last year, aided by the United States' own increase of 2.9%. Increases in carbon emissions by other large countries were even greater. After all, we now have technologies for more efficient and clean uses of hydro-carbon fuels, believed to be the main human contributor to global warming.
Global warming is alarming – even if only 1.5o F in 200 years – as well as the quality of air crises that inefficient fuel usage creates. Please note that both of these valid concerns for our human health and safety beautifully give unspoken praise for the brilliant ingenuity of our Creator to strike the right balances of air content and temperature for our good in the first place. These present environmental issues are huge. Greater yet are both the enduring teachings of creation-care that were revealed thousands of years ago in the Bible and the rising crises fueled by ignoring them.
In 2014, the agenda for right action when it comes to the creation, our environment, is still best described by the Scriptures. Creation-care guidance includes four vital Biblical teachings, all four of them introduced early in the Bible and then repeated significantly throughout its pages. We have earlier introduced the enduring principle of creation care as one of the eight main principles for Biblical civic engagement.
Two of the four Biblical teachings of creation-care are introduced in the first chapter of Genesis. First, however old the earth is, it was made by the Lord through whatever processes he chose, and it was good. When we humans have messed up some aspects of God's creation, we should seek to restore them. For decades I have taught also that pollutants are resources out of place, and that we ought to actively look for additional ways to utilize positively what some people throw away. After all, our "pollutants" are still part of God's good creation. Not that we can always immediately solve the challenge of putting "pollutants" to positive use. However, seeking to redeem "pollutants" is always a fruitful attitude toward wise, activist, bankable, creative planning. This restorative creativity especially honors our Creator.
The second creation-care teaching in Genesis 1 is first introduced in the Lord's instructions to our earliest ancestors for them to be his stewards of the earth. Immediately after being created in God's own image, man and woman were assigned to the godly role of caring for God's creation. Some interpreters of the Bible have incorrectly implied that people can exploit creation without accountability to the Creator, because we were given "dominion" over it. In contrast, that "dominion" is described in Genesis 2 as "improving and protecting" nature.
Third, "love your neighbor as yourself." Jesus' Good Samaritan teaching applies to the neighbor across the street, but also the neighbor on another continent. Can we care about that person and sacrifice something for his/her benefit? Decreasing our environmental pollution and reducing resource depletion are two of the most available ways to show our love of other people.
The fourth Biblical teaching is very personal: that the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our Creator and Savior, dwells in his creation, sustaining everything that exists. We are taught in Hebrews 1 that Jesus holds the world together by his powerful word. In Colossians I we read that "In Christ all things hold together." We have all heard of the sought-after "unified field theory" which scientists have not yet discovered. Well, in a deeper sense there is already a working "unified person theory." However we treat "nature," that is how we are treating Christ, because he is the cosmic glue – he is the one who holds it all together.
By the way, our Creator cares so much for his creation that he chose to become part of it! The Word became flesh and lived among us – moved into the 'hood. To help you more fully celebrate Jesus' birth, explore Biblical devotions for the upcoming Advent season, "A Green Advent: 30 Days of Green Anticipation for Christmas," offered free by the wonderful World Evangelical Alliance, on www.GreenAdvent.com. Traditional Advent themes of Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy are unpacked in 30 focused Biblical studies. Each one-page Biblical devotional includes (1) a Biblical passage to read, (2) a golden text, (3) some Biblical background, (4) guiding questions to unpack the Biblical meaning, (5) reflective questions to guide personal action in light of the Biblical text, (6) a Biblical truth to celebrate, and (7) a specific suggestion for a creation-care "Advent-Action." These 30 Biblical engagements are useful for many kinds of ministry from individual devotion, a church-wide 30-day walk with the Creator, sermons and Sunday school lessons, neighborhood Bible studies, home schools, Christian academies, or other fruitful actions. This Scripture engagement and application are serious, but not requiring specializations in hermeneutics or theology.
For example, on Advent Day 10, the focus of the day is on Romans 8:18-30, where the Apostle Paul teaches how our own behaviors reveal whether we are the true children of God. The golden text is Romans 8:19-21: "The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God." [NIV]
The Scriptures teach us that Jesus Christ, God the Son, was born to empower other people to become God's children, too (John 1:12-13). However, this passage in Romans 8 makes it clear that if we now are the children of God – having experienced the new birth so that we are his reclaimed children – we will serve our Creator and take some responsibility to free his creation from its being so badly "subjected to futility" (Romans 8:20, partly through pollution) and its being in "bondage to decay" (Romans 8:21, partly through depletion of natural resources).
Environmental pollution and depletion are measures of our spiritual alienation from the Creator. Active care for God's creation is a distinguishing mark of those who truly are God's children. Let us reawaken the enduring four Biblical teachings of restoration, responsibility, neighborly love, and Godly awareness – all more sustainable than any UN resolutions.