Thinking on the verse, "the earth will wear out like a garment," (Isaiah 51:6) and remembering vaguely back to a sermon I'd once heard, where the pastor had mentioned how everything modern scientists are sharing about our planet, the Bible agrees with.
And the question comes: "If we know that the environment is damaged and going to be increasingly so until the Lord comes again, then why participate in any kind of activism for environmental justice?"
(an important caveat, before I go on, when I use "we," "us," and "our," in this post, I am mainly referring to Christians - the body of the worldwide Christian church, collectively - not us as individuals. Also to people/humankind on the whole).
So, with both modern environmental scientists and the Bible, we know our home planet earth is struggling. Likewise, injustices of racial inequity, persecution and genocide of people groups, human trafficking, longstanding effects of colonialism and human hierarchy can be traced to many modern activists alongside Biblical statements, accusations, and laments of their existence in our world. I will stick with the environment for now.
Although it may be true that the "wearing out" of the earth is inevitable, that does not change God's original intention for His creation. God did not make the earth to destroy it or gradually exhaust it, because in His original design He offered a home that provided every need - satisfying for the undying life He'd given to his first two members of mankind.
The fall from that perfect plan did not negate the original intent - only distracted and frustrated the path to getting there. Humankind would now need to get food from the ground with great challenge, thorns, thistles, fields, and sweat - only to one day be buried in the very dirt that fought them (ala Genesis 3:17-19). But God did not want this toil and death to be the end of the Biblical storyline for our relationship with the earth.
A quick run-by gospel: Jesus came, as a man and God, to live a perfect life and die a terrible death that would re-frustrate the existing track humankind was on - Now, instead of death and toil, Jesus offers us life. He offers us His Spirit, developing His character in us, and builds us up into a unified community helping live out His purposes for the world.
Christians now live in the in-between of freedom from sin, in a sin-infected world - ambassadors, sojourners - confident in hope and patient in affliction.
And, because there are so many of us, we can, "do even greater things than these," which we witness Jesus do in His own short life on earth (John 14:12, extrapolation).
What does this mean for our roles in relationship with the environment?
God gave us roles "to tend and keep" the earth, as stewards of His creation. He's invited us to cultivate what is already here - and also invited us to create new things (more on this in Andy Crouch's book, Culture Making). We, as humankind, have often fallen short in both of these areas by either failing to cultivate and appreciate the creation He's already given - or in creating new things that exploit rather than benefit our home planet.
These roles are a challenge that requires us to live in community with nature, listening to its groans for help - rather than boxing ourselves in to further protect ourselves against the consequences of environmental exploitation.
They also require us to live in communion with God, teaching us how to steward His creation: when to build and when to tear down, when to prune and when to fertilize - after all, He is the Gardener of our souls and the original Maker of all these things we are building off of.
Lastly, these roles require us to live in community with one another. What does it matter if the United States exports 16 million tons of recyclable materials to China in a year, if 1/3 of those materials were unusable and ended up polluting China's countryside and coasts? (in 2016, source post) Most of us are completely disconnected from the realities of farming labor that help get food from the ground for us - we walk into the grocery store. We do not know the young immigrant family trapped in bonded labor who harvested our tomatoes. Nor do they know us.
We cannot operate in isolation and dis-communication across political, socioeconomic, religious, cultural, and identity lines. To fulfill our God-given roles stewarding this planet, we gotta be One. Sound impossible? I'm sure glad Jesus prayed for it (John 17:21).
What does this mean for our roles in relationship with any injustice?
The beautiful, humbling thing: there is no perfect way to fulfill our roles as Christ's ambassadors, individually. I write out everything here knowing that my knowledge of environmental issues is minuscule, and the injustice I most seek to make right is human trafficking. Both are needed. I need my family in Christ who care about other issues more than me, precisely so that I can care a WHOLE LOT about one thing, while listening to you about how to be a better steward in the thing that YOU care a WHOLE LOT about.
Most of all, we fulfill these roles best only when we consistently recognize that Jesus has already finished the work. We do not advocate for justice with futile, frivolous hope. We don't even need tangible results within our lifetimes. We KNOW that God is is the business of renewing all things, and we joyfully participate alongside Him.
Nobody knows the day or the hour that Jesus returns. We cannot sit around waiting for the earth to wear out like a garment while Jesus has invited us to participate in His redemption of it.
With thanks and love,
- My mom healing from a nose surgery she had on Tuesday (discomfort more than pain, praise God)
- joy in the Christmas season exceeding beyond any limitations or frustrations.
- genuine worship (vague, I know). Pray into music/worship/songs for me and let me know what the Spirit says to you.
as always, please send me your prayer requests. I will pray.