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It is Not Only Humans that Matter to God

Monday, 13 December 2010  | Mick Pope


When Anglicans are asked where they go to church, they sometimes say that they worship at St X. Anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time and been involved in a church has probably been through ‘worship wars’ – arguments over what style of music to use in church. In our more lucid moments we are willing to admit that a closer reading of Scripture shows that the whole of life is worship, a service to God (Romans 12:1-2). Having said that, some still think of this worship primarily in terms of evangelism and private piety rather than contribution to larger issues.

We live in a time of ecological crisis, where it is important that we be able to link worship to creation care. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) states that the current species extinction rate is some 1,000-10,000 times the natural rates at which species disappear. Habitats are being destroyed. Human polluting activities, including greenhouse gases, are destabilising ecosystems, yet biodiversity and healthy ecosystems are what support life and human civilisation.

In the arena of conservation the Christian Church has lost ground to ‘Green’ thinking, which is generally either agnostic or pantheistic. In their The Cross and the Rain Forest Whelan et al. don’t help matters when they adopt a strong dominion model of creation care, where trees are not needed for worship but are simply a source of wood. In accusing Christians who show too much care for creation of being Pagan, they are both divisive and ignorant of a deep Scriptural vein of material supporting creation care as an act of worship.

Scriptures prompt us to imagine even the trees as contributing to the worship of God (Isaiah 44:23) and not just as part of God’s earthly temple (Isaiah 60:13). In that temple, everything that God has created takes its place to testify of his wisdom (Psalm 104:23). God loves his diverse creation and its wondrous variety calls forth awe and wonder, ‘How many are your works?’ (v24). He cares for it, providing water not only for human agriculture but also for wild creatures outside of the human economic order. In a drying climate due to global warming (to say nothing of natural variability) and the current debate over water use in the Murray-Darling basin, it should cause Christians to stop and think carefully not only for pragmatic but also doxological reasons about how water is used.

While Christians often focus on the image of God’s appointed gardeners (Genesis 2:15), the reminder that there are ‘wild places’ outside of the human economy that God tends directly for their own sake (Psalm 104, Job 38-41), should give us a sense of humility that it is not only we humans that matter to God. It should also provide us with some sense of shame and responsibility. In our post-industrial era, human activities dramatically affect the entire planet and the ‘groaning’ of creation of which Paul speaks takes on a more urgent meaning (Romans 8:19-20). According to Old Testament scholar Derek Kidner in his commentary on Genesis, a creation without humanity playing its proper role is like a choir grinding on in discord. This speaks against both atheistic and pantheistic claims that humans are merely a cosmic accident, if not one that nature would be better off without. The biblical picture is one of humanity needing to take its rightful role in a redeemed creation, not seeking to escape from it or our responsibility to care for it. If God will liberate creation from its bondage in the future, why not work now for its preservation? Have you ever heard of a Christian recommending moral laxness because our complete sanctification lies in the future?

Finally, the imperative to love our neighbour as ourselves has never been sharper than in a globalised economy where industrialised pollution and environmental damage have extended to the third world. Greenhouse gases know no national boundaries. Of course, complex problems abound. If we reduce greenhouse gases (and hence impacts on the poor) by eating local foods, we deny growers in developing nations income. Yet consuming cash crops exported to pay unserviceable interest on debts ruins local ecosystems. The link between ecosystems and economics is a close one in God’s oikos (household). Doing justice means looking after all of God’s household so that all people may live in peace and all of creation may flourish in anticipation of God’s final redemption.

Dr Mick Pope is a Meteorologist and heads up the ETHOS Environment think tank for ETHOS, the EA Centre for Christianity and Society. His blog is ethos-environment.blogspot.com. ETHOS environment will be running a conference in early March next year on climate change with Dr Michael Northcott and a national day of prayer and action on creation care later in the year. See www.ethos.org.au or the ETHOS Facebook page for details

This article appeared on the TMA website:
http://www.melbourne.anglican.com.au/NewsAndViews/TMA/Pages/2010/2010-12/God-cares-about-more-than-humans-025.aspx

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