Creation and Environment 5: Restoration

Posted on October 4, 2009 at 4:43 pm,

This is the final instalment in our series on how a Christian doctrine of creation should prompt Christians to care for the environment.

Part 1: Environment: Who Cares?
Part 2: Environment: Who Owns it?
Part 3: Environment: It is Good
Part 4:Environment: The Ball’s in Our Court

Today, we deal with two doctrines that are absolutely at the core of Christianity – the doctrines of the fall and the end times – and show that a good understanding of how these two doctrines interact can be a spur to care of creation.

In Genesis Chapter 3, humanity rebels against God. One of the consequences of this is that creation is affected by humanity’s sin. In Genesis 3:17-19, God says that creation will bring forth thorns and thistles, and that working to produce food will, from this point onwards, be hard work – rather than just work. In short, creation is no longer unambiguously good. However, this spoiling of creation is only temporary. Ultimately, when Jesus returns, the Earth will be reborn as God creates new Heavens and a new Earth (Revelation 21-22).

This latter point is a matter of some controversy – the language used in various Bible passages could be interpreted either to mean that the Earth will be completely destroyed and replaced with a new model, or that it will be renewed and transformed into a state that is better than it was in the beginning. There isn’t space to go into the evidence here, but my understanding is that renewal does better justice to the overall teaching of scripture than does replacement.

So how does this understanding that creation has been corrupted and will either be renewed or replaced impact our relationship with the environment?

Firstly, we need to understand that Christians are as much a new creation as the New Earth will be (see 2 Corinthians 5:17). We are called to pray and work towards seeing God’s kingdom (or rule) on Earth (see, for example, the Lord’s Prayer – Matthew 6:9-13). If our approach to doing so is to ruin, rather than care for, creation, then we are not reflecting God’s ultimate plan for the universe. We are, instead, reinforcing the curse that came with the Fall.

Secondly, it means that we have a model to look forward to. Yes, there are indications that the New Earth will be very different to the current one in ways that we cannot entirely understand – Revelation 21:4 says that death, mourning, crying, and pain will be things of the past. But it won’t be entirely dissimilar. There are several references to eating and drinking there, for example. Although the Bible does not elaborate on the details, it is fair to say that CS Lewis’s conception of heaven/the new Earth in his Narnia books – that the real world is like a shadow of heaven – is a good illustration.

Thirdly, it means that Christians do not need to worry about environmental destruction. I have demonstrated in this blog series that Christians do have many reasons to take action to preserve the environment, and to encourage others to do so, and I stand by that. But knowing that the planet will either be restored or replaced means that we need not feel worried or depressed when we discover the level of damage that humanity has done to the planet. We can rest assured that the Earth will be restored to its full glory, even if our attempts to, for example, prevent climate change ultimately fail.

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