“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him." — John 3:16-17
Perhaps the most famous of all Bible verses is John 3:16, which begins,
“For this is how God loved the world….”
Often however, when we invoke this verse we absently assume “the world” that God loves begins and ends with humankind. We fail to recognize our Creator’s devotion extends to all creation—from the big blue planet we call Earth to the farthest reaches of the cosmos.
From the beginning to the end of the story, the scriptural imperatives to care for the natural world are clear and strong. Imprinted into our genesis as human beings is not only the license for us to enjoy the beauty and majesty of nature but a mandate to steward the broader creation of which we are a part. Reminders that we are but trustees of God’s handiwork—the land, the seas, the air, and the animal kingdom—are conveyed through words like these: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it " (Psalm 24:1).
Too often, we have collectively neglected our role as caretakers of creation. We have exploited and abused what is not ours to despoil. Our daily choices and attitudes, driven by human comfort and convenience, have accelerated species extinction and climate change much faster than normal. Different kinds of plants, animals, bacteria, and fungi essential to a balanced and healthy ecosystem have been prematurely lost. Weather patterns have become erratic, while seasonal weather conditions have become more severe in their impact, prolonged nature, or total absence.
Debating the reality and urgency of the crisis before us avoids reckoning with the larger problem. Our fatal flaw is our sense of entitlement in remaking this world according to our perceived needs rather than our Creator’s intentions. For we view and treat the beauty and diversity of all that surrounds us as property to be claimed, as resources to be consumed rather than as gifts we have been given to lovingly tend and equally share.
When we operate from a position of scarcity, we attempt to reshape creation according to our economic interests and concerns. Only when we see the world through our Creator’s eyes, do we come to recognize the abundance to which we have been entrusted. That if we honor and yield to the embedded rhythms and cycles of the world in which we live, we have more than enough—more than enough for everyone.
If all life is sacred, then we must not cheapen the inestimable riches of the land, the sea, and the sky through human exploitation. Rather we must conserve and respect the life that has been placed in our hands—the wonder of a forest, the majesty of the ocean, the canvas of the heavens above. For creation is not a commodity for us to exploit. Creation is something of which we are inseparably a part. The stewardship of creation is not valuing the planet more than people. The stewardship of creation is understanding that caring for the planet impacts how we care for each other. The effects of environmental degradation extend to human health. Bad problems become worse. Food scarcity leads to growing malnutrition. Unclean water results in higher rates of disease. Pollution increases respiratory and cardiac distress.
Of course, creation care is more than a cost-benefit analysis of human welfare. Creation care is respecting and celebrating the beauty and bounty of the world in which we share and, in so doing, rightly honoring and worshiping the Creator of all. Viewed in this way, lament and repentance are appropriate and necessary responses to the crisis before us, but we must not despair. We cannot resign ourselves to hopelessness.
For there is hope to be found in the divine, cruciform love that shapes our faith—a love that is always stronger than death. Hope borne of resurrection is forward looking and forward moving in the promise of a better tomorrow. The biblical story's final, crowing vision is redemption, reconciliation, and restoration. It is a picture of the positive transformation not only of humankind but the whole cosmos. It is the image of a river not contaminated with the excesses and wastes of human enterprise or empire but flowing with life-giving water for the healing of the nations and the nourishing of all creation.
But this eternal horizon is not one for which we must wait to arise in the future—simply wishing or praying for a positive change someday. No, the Bible’s final picture of the old order passing away and all things becoming new is a vision we are called to embody—to bring into focus now. The reduction of unnecessary waste and pollution. Mindfulness in the conservation of energy and natural resources. Practicing sustainability. Recycling and repurposing rather than discarding the products we use. These are all small but significant, hopeful acts we can take.
This creation of which we are a part longs for its redemption. Our commission as faithful stewards is to seek the betterment rather than contribute to the destruction of this earth, this universe, we call our home. Opportunities for the healing and transformation of our planet are available to us at this present moment. Walking by faith, may we reflect the love God indeed has for all the world through the care we demonstrate toward all that our Creator has made.
Words: Chris Tweitmann
Photography: Andreas Haslinger, Xavier Senente