Our Mandate for Creation Care

creation-care-and-the-gospel-reconsidering-the-mission-of-the-churchMark Carney, the Bank of England governor, issued a warning recently that climate change poses a huge risk to global stability. At a gathering of leading insurers at Lloyd’s of London, Mr Carney pointed out that the rapid increase in weather-related catastrophes was causing a spike in financial costs. But he also warned that the challenges currently posed by climate change “pale in significance compared with what might come”. He said our generation has little incentive to avert future problems. Ironically, insurers are among those with the biggest interest in climate change as the syndicates operating at Lloyd’s, the world’s oldest insurance market, are the most exposed to disasters such as hurricanes and floods. Mr Carney said the after-effects of such disasters were likely to grow worse: “The challenges currently posed by climate change pale in significance compared with what might come. “The far-sighted amongst you are anticipating broader global impacts on property, migration and political stability, as well as food and water security.” Who is responsible? We can blame politicians for failing to act sooner. We can criticize multinational corporations for exacerbating climate change through the exploitation of oil, gas and other natural resources. Or we can acknowledge that the Christian Church, which is the largest religious movement in the world, has largely failed to fulfil its responsibility to care for creation. Church leaders have not, until relatively recently, acknowledged that creation care is integral to the gospel.

John Stott writes in The Radical Disciple,

“The Bible tells us that in creation God established for human beings three fundamental relationships: first to himself, for he made them in his own image; second to each other, for the human race was plural from the beginning; and third, to the good earth and its creatures over which he set them. Moreover, all three relationships were skewed by the fall. Adam and Eve were banished from the presence of the Lord God in the garden, they blamed each other for what had happened, and the good earth was cursed on account of their disobedience. It stands to reason therefore that God’s plan of restoration includes not only our reconciliation to God and to one another but in some way the liberation of the groaning creation as well.” (John Stott, The Radical Disciple, pp.55-56)

That is why climate change will not be averted solely by the appliance of science or technology.  Nor will global hunger or poverty be resolved by developing better GM seeds or giving more IMF loans. Civil strife and war will not be resolved by bombing religious extremists, imposing Western democracy or by recruiting more UN peace keepers. The reason is because the problem lies much deeper, deep in the human heart. The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart.

Which is why Psalm 8 is as relevant today as when first written 3,000 years ago. There are three parts to this beautiful psalm – what C.S. Lewis described as “This short exquisite lyric”. The psalm begins and ends with the same refrain, “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth” (Psalm 8:1, 9).  This psalm spans time and space.  It looks back to creation in Genesis (8:1-3) and looks forward to the recreation of the new heaven and earth (8:6-9). And in the middle stands humanity and an enigmatic prophecy of the coming of our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ (8:4-6).

  1. The Glory of God: Revealed in Creation

“LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.  Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,” (Psalm 8:1-3)

There is something awesome about the heavens at night, with millions of stars and galaxies twinkling silently their message. Here is, as John Stott observes, “a recognition of the majesty of God’s name, or nature, which his works reveal in both earth and heaven.

The enemies of God, blinded by their proud rebellion, do not see his glory; but they are confounded by children and infants.” Indeed, Jesus quotes from this psalm to rebuke the arrogance of the religious leaders of his day. They had objected to children shouting “Hosanna” as Jesus entered the Temple on Palm Sunday (Matthew 21:15, 16). Things have not changed. Stott says, “God is still glorified in the simple faith of children and in the childlike humility of Christian believers”. The Glory of God: Revealed in Creation.

  1. The Frailty of Humanity: Stewards on Earth

“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet:” (Psalm 8:3-6)

David asks the rhetorical question that sooner or later we all ask, “Given the vastness of the universe, of space and time, and our relative insignificance, who am I? I’m convinced that the majority of us go through life insecure about who we are, why we are here and where we’re going.  Do you know who you are in the eyes of God? Do you know God’s plan for your life? Do you realise your destiny is to live as a child of God, crowned with glory and honour? What evokes David to burst into praise as he ponders the vastness of the night sky?
God’s condescension to care at all for you and me. On many occasions as a young shepherd, David must have laid on his back at night and pondered the vastness of the universe from one horizon to the other. Looking up at the night sky and seeing millions and millions of stars twinkling in the dark makes you feel very small and very insignificant doesn’t it?

“As we consider the orbiting planets of our solar system, so infinitesimally small in comparison with countless galaxies millions of light years distant, it may seem to us incredible that the great God of the universe should take any note of us at all, let alone care for us. Yet he does; and Jesus assured us that even the hairs of our head are numbered.” (John Stott, Favourite Psalms)

If our response, like David, should be one of praise and thanksgiving to God, what then should our attitude be toward the earth? The Bible makes two fundamental affirmations: First – “The earth is the Lord’s” (Psalm 24:1), “the work of your fingers” (Psalm 8:3) and second, “You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet:” (Psalm 8:6). Stott observes that these,

“complement rather than contradict each other. For the earth belongs to God by creation and to us by delegation. This does not mean that he has handed it over to us in such a way as to give up his own rights over it, but rather that he has given us responsibility to preserve and develop the earth on his behalf.” (Ibid, p.58)

We were created to share and steward God’s creation on his behalf which should ensure we avoid two extremes – the deification of nature and the exploitation of nature. Stott makes the telling point,

“…it would be absurd to imagine that he who created the earth then handed it over to us to be destroyed. No, the dominion God has given us should be seen as a responsible stewardship, not a destructive domination.”

Absurd perhaps but so true. The fall inspired not only the rebellion against God, and enmity between people but the destructive abuse and selfish exploitation of creation, for which we are now reaping the consequences in climate change. While our divinely ordained status is only slightly inferior to angels, sin has marred God’s image in us. It has corrupted God’s purposes for us. As a consequence, creation has been cursed (Genesis 3:17). And with every passing generation the dire condition of life on earth seems to get worse. Everything in creation is not as God intends.  Mankind has rebelled against God and treated the world as something to be plundered and exploited and fought over as if it were ours by might and right.

The Glory of God: Revealed in Creation.
The Frailty of Humanity: Stewards on Earth.

  1. The Grace of God: Fulfilled by Jesus Christ

“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet:” (Psalm 8:3-6)

Through the lens of the New Testament we realise this Psalm moves from the vastness of the universe, to the littleness of human beings, then, albeit enigmatically, to the greatness of God’s redemptive plan for all people on earth revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ. Quoting these verses from Psalm 8, the writer to Hebrews points to God’s rescue plan to redeem mankind and restore the harmony and order of creation.

“In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them.  But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” (Hebrews 2:8-9)

Humanity has indeed “sinned and fallen short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:23) in the way we have treated His world. Consequently, in Jesus… this dominion has been restored. It is in Him rather than in us that humankind’s dominion is exhibited. Jesus has now been crowned and exalted to God’s right hand. So in these verses, David is describing God’s original purpose for mankind, “you made him ruler over the works of your hands” (Psalm 8:5-6) but points to the One who would come to earth to fulfil that purpose and redeem not just people but creation also. The Lord Jesus Christ.

The Glory of God: Revealed in Creation.
The Frailty of Humanity: Stewards on Earth.
The Grace of God: Fulfilled by Jesus Christ.

  1. The Purposes of God: Realised by the Church

“You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:6-9)

So the dominion described here is first and foremost referring to the Lord Jesus Christ. God’s expectation is that as we acknowledge him, and His Spirit dwells within us, we will demonstrate our servant hearts  as stewards of his creation. The apostle Paul also quotes this psalm to describe how in Jesus Christ, we regain our position in Jesus Christ.

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:4-10)

Here we find both our position and purpose now and in eternity, predicted in Psalm 8 and fulfilled in Jesus Christ – to serve him now – to do good works. This earth is therefore not ours to claim or plunder as we wish, but our responsibility to steward. As we saw last week in Genesis 1-2, Adam was given responsibility for God’s garden “to work it and take care of it.” (Genesis 2:15). John Stott observes,

“This is often called the cultural mandate. For what God has given us is nature, whereas what we do with it is culture. We are not only to conserve the environment but also to develop its resources for the common good.” (The Radical Disciple, p.59)

That means every human being, including the boat people, the refugees, the asylum seekers, the homeless, the widows, the orphans, the vulnerable, the elderly, are all created in the image and likeness of God. Christ died for each one of them. Our rights are not superior just because we are more powerful or more wealthy or speak English. Our rights are not absolute. We are not independent. The earth belongs to God. He has entrusted it to us to be shared, equally. Our responsibility is therefore related to our status. Only when we know who we are, we will know to what we are called to be.

“You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet:” (Psalm 8:5-6)

This also means that “In this way our work is to be an expression of our worship since our care of the creation will reflect our love for the Creator.” (Stott, Ibid., p.59)

Only when we understand what Christ has done for us, only when we are in a right relationship with God, only when we understand our position, our destiny, our calling, our responsibility, only then will we become part of the solution instead of the perpetuating the problem of climate change.

What can we do practically to make a difference to climate change and undo the damage caused by greed and exploitation? One way is to help us become an Eco Church. Together with Tearfund and A’Roche, the Church of England is encouraging each parish to become an Eco Church. We gave out leaflets last week. If you did not collect one, pick one up from the back table. On their website you ill find plenty of resources about creation care. We are also recommending a book on the bookstall, Creation Care and the Gospel which is helping us reconsider the mission of the church. Anne Martin has also produced five Bible studies for our Home Groups which you can access from our church website.

Last year on Mission Sunday we were blessed to have Chris Wright of the Langham Partnership as our guest speaker. If you remain sceptical about creation care, I’ll give Chris Wright the last word:

“In the past, Christians have instinctively been concerned about great and urgent issues in every generation… These have included the evils of disease, ignorance, slavery, and many other forms of brutality and exploitation. Christians have taken up the cause of widows, orphans, refugees, prisoners, the insane, the hungry – and most recently have swelled the numbers of those committed to ‘making poverty history’… It seems quite inexplicable to me that there are some Christians who claim toi love and worship God, to be disciples of Jesus, and yet have no concern for the earth that bears his stamp of ownership. They do not care about the abuse of the earth and indeed, by their wasteful and over-consumptive life-styles, they collude in it.” (Chris Wright, The Mission of God cited by John Stott in The Radical Disciple, p.p.64-65)

“God intends… our care of the creation to reflect our love for the Creator.” (John Stott)

From Psalm 8, we have discovered:

The Glory of God: Revealed in Creation.
The Frailty of Humanity: Rulers on Earth.
The Grace of God: Fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
The Purposes of God: Realised by the Church.

Three parts to this beautiful psalm. In each we learn something about the Lord God. He creates (8:1-3); He cares (8:4-5); He calls (8:6-9). Let’s heed His call, preserve this beautiful planet for our children’s children and fulfil our destiny. Lets pray.

 

I am deeply grateful to John Stott, Favourite Psalms, and The Radical Disciple; Robert S. White and Colin Bell Creation Care and the Gospel and Charles Swindoll, Living Beyond the Daily Grind

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