In Part 1 of this series Douglas and Jonathan Moo, via their excellent book, Creation Care, helped us see that God intends us to care for the natural world as stewards. We are meant to further develop the potentialities of God’s created world, but only in ways that recognize and respect its goodness. God never turned over to us ultimate ownership of the earth, and never gave us license to deal with the natural world as we please. Creation belongs to the Lord, and always has.
Our rulership is meant to be that of a vice-regent. We are to exercise dominion over the natural world precisely as God would if he were directly present. Meaning our delegated authority should never give rise to exploitation. Rather, God has always intended that our dominion be exercised in ways that reflect the character and intentions of our king. We are meant to preserve and sustain creation, not abuse it.
Some readers, however, might be thinking, ‘That all may be true. But doesn’t the Bible also tell us that this present version of creation will eventually be destroyed by fire, to be replaced by ‘the new heavens and the new earth?’ And, if so, isn’t a preoccupation with the care and preservation of this version of the natural world unnecessary, or even anti-biblical?’
This understanding has influenced more than a few Christians, and even caused (some) believers to oppose efforts aimed at environmental protection and preservation. So the Moos tackle it head on, making several compelling arguments. The first is that this is an issue of scriptural interpretation in which there are two seemingly competing, but quite unequal, sets of passages.
On the one hand, there are a great many passages, from Genesis 1 on, that show God’s love for his creation — both pre- and post-Fall — and teach that God will redeem (restore) this present creation at the end of time. The Moos tell us that the most important of these in the New Testament is Romans 8:19-22. Here Paul proclaims that eventually “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”
From this and many other passages, the Moos conclude that, “God’s concern for his creation is woven into the fabric of the entire biblical narrative, culminating with the renewal and restoration of all things.” As it relates to the eventual fate of (this present version of) creation, the Moos label all these passages as teaching a ‘transformation’ model.
Nevertheless, there are a few passages, most notably 2 Peter 3, that seem to suggest this present creation will be annihilated in a great conflagration and replaced by something entirely new. Specifically, Peter tells us that, “The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.” A couple verses later, he adds, “That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.”
This ‘replacement’ or ‘annihilation’ model for creation seems to stand in sharp contrast to the ‘transformation’ model. How, then, the Moos ask, can we harmonize Peter’s teaching with that of the many ‘transformation’ passages?
Primarily, they suggest we can do so by recognizing that Peter is using prophetic/apocalyptic imagery. He is being evocative more than literal. In particular, the fire to which he alludes is, they suggest, best understood as one that refines rather than annihilates. Meaning God plans to purify his creation, not destroy it.
Peter himself actually suggests the same thing. Just a few verses earlier in chapter 3, he refers to the world having been destroyed via the Flood. Of course, both Peter and we know that the Flood did not actually destroy the earth. God’s intent was to purify, or restore, his world, not end it. The Moos suggest, therefore, that the fiery conflagration Peter portrays almost in the same breath should be similarly understood. They conclude, “Peter is predicting that God will ‘destroy’ this world by judging evil, establishing justice and peace, and radically transforming the creation into a place where “righteousness makes its home,” reflecting God’s original intentions for it from the beginning.”
This seems to dovetail nicely with Paul’s own understanding. In 1 Corinthians 3 he describes a Judgement Day in which fire “will test the quality of each person’s work,” only some of which will survive. Meaning the fire Paul anticipates will be one that purges, finally liberating both creation, and human culture, from all its previous corruption.
The Moos draw a similar lesson about creation’s destiny from Jesus’ resurrected body — the very ‘first fruits’ of the kingdom to come. They note that the resurrected version of his body was both continuous and discontinuous with what had come before. Jesus bore a resemblance to his earlier self, but was also different enough that he often was not immediately recognized. He ate food as he had previously, but he also walked through walls. In the same way, they suggest, God’s intent for creation will be an entirely better version of what we know currently, but not a ‘starting over from scratch’ replacement.
They further note, though, that even if we choose to believe that this (version of the) world will burn, God expects us to care for, love, and keep it exactly as he would if he were ruling directly. We do so because God loves his creation. And we do so to witness to the goodness of our king and his coming kingdom. It’s not surprising, then, that the Moos feel called to leave us with a pointed admonition:
It is therefore sobering to consider how our cavalier treatment of God’s good creation, our carelessness in how we live on the earth, and our diminishment of the abundance and diversity of life have not only made us unfaithful stewards, but have also profoundly hindered our witness to the glory of God in Christ.
Sustainability and Stewardship
All of which provides a convenient segue back to our original topic. Sustainable practices, most notably sustainable business practices, are those which can be carried on indefinitely — they don’t harm or otherwise diminish the natural world. But clearly the Moos (and many of the rest of us) realize that much of human activity, especially business activity, is far from sustainable.
In Part III we’ll deal with this sustainability issue from an investing perspective. For now, though, let’s close with this solemn exhortation from Billy Graham:
Why should we be concerned about the environment? It isn’t just because of the dangers we face from pollution, climate change, or other environmental problems — although these are serious. For Christians, the issue is much deeper: We know that God created the world, and it belongs to Him, not us. Because of this, we are only stewards or trustees of God’s creation, and we aren’t to abuse or neglect it. The Bible says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1). When we fail to see the world as God’s creation, we will [necessarily] end up abusing it. Selfishness and greed take over, and we end up not caring about the environment or the problems we’re creating for future generations.