The Mission of the Church: Creation Care, Part 1 (The Old Testament)

Eucharist-Mission1If the mission of the church is to get people to heaven when they die, then the church has no reason to care for the Creation or human flourishing or abundant living (John 10:10) in general.

The scriptures don’t emphasize environmental concerns as much as you might expect, but then humans had much less ability to injure the environment in biblical times than they have now. It’s now very much within our power to completely destroy the planet, should we be so foolish. That wasn’t true 2,000 years ago.

But the doctrine of Creation Care is plainly revealed nonetheless.

Gen 1:26-28

(Gen. 1:26-28 ESV)  26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”  27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Christopher Wright comments,

The first mention of human beings in the Bible states two fundamental things about us, two things that are put so closely together that they are clearly connected: (1) God made us in his image (both male and female), and (2) God intended us to exercise dominion within creation. It is not that having dominion is what constitutes the image of God, but rather that exercising dominion is what being made in God’s image enables and entitles us to do. We humans have a mission on earth because God had a purpose in putting us on it.

So God instructs the human species not only to fill the earth (an instruction given to the other creatures in their habitats), but also to subdue the earth and to rule over the rest of the creatures. The words kabaš (“subdue”) and radah (“rule”) are strong words, with a sense of imposing of will upon another. However, they are not terms that necessarily imply violence or abuse (though some critics of Christianity lay the blame for ecological disaster at the door of these two words and the freedom they allegedly give to us to rape the environment—a charge that has been well refuted).

Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission, Biblical Theology for Life, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 50.

Gen 2:15

(Gen. 2:15 ESV)  15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 

Wright says,

The verb ʿabad means “to serve”, with the connotation of doing hard work in the process of serving. So although most translations render it in this verse with meanings like “to work it”, “to till it”, or “to cultivate it”, the essential core of the word still has the sense of serving. Humans are servants of creation, and that is the way they are to exercise their kingship over it.

The verb šamar means “to keep something safe”, with protection, care, and watchfulness. It means to treat something (or someone) seriously as worthy of devoted attention (thus, for example, in a moral sense it can mean to keep the way of the Lord, or to keep God’s law—i.e., by studying, understanding and obeying it).

Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission, Biblical Theology for Life, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 51.

A little philosophy

There are those who see the Creation as God — Gaia worshipers and Pantheists. They see all creation as equally valuable, and many would just as soon that humans be removed from the planet so they would no longer use its resources.

Others see humanity and God as so far removed from Creation that the Creation is only a temporary holding area pending the real creation that comes when Jesus returns and takes us all away from here. Therefore, “it’s all going to burn,” and we have no reason to concern ourselves with this third rock from the sun.

The truth is that God created the heavens and the earth and declared his Creation good. It’s not corrupt and evil, as the Gnostics taught. It’s not disposable as so many Christians teach. Rather, when we’re saved we become “new creations” (2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15). Our redemption is a renewal of what God did in the beginning.

“New” translates kainos rather than neos, and the sense of being restored or refreshed or renewed — not made all over again from nothing. Our own salvation points back to the original Creation, restoring us to what we were always meant to be — in charge of the Creation for the sake of God, not as destroyers and pillagers but as caretakers and protectors — who also are given the Creation for our own flourishing.

Psalm 148

(Ps. 148:1-14 ESV)  Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights!
2 Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his hosts!
3 Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars!
4 Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
5 Let them praise the name of the LORD! For he commanded and they were created.
6 And he established them forever and ever; he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away.
7 Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all deeps,
8 fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word!
9 Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
10 Beasts and all livestock, creeping things and flying birds!
11 Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
12 Young men and maidens together, old men and children!
13 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his majesty is above earth and heaven.
14 He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his saints, for the people of Israel who are near to him.
Praise the LORD! 

The psalmist sees the Creation — even the inanimate portions such as the moon, sun, starts, and mountains — as singing together a chorus of praise to God! Why? Because God is going to throw it all away in some heavenly trash heap? Or because God made it good and has promised to redeem it — just as he’ll redeem us humans?

Indeed, at present the world is in mourning for our sins —

(Hos. 4:1-3 ESV) Hear the word of the LORD, O children of Israel,
for the LORD has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land.
There is no faithfulness or steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land;  

2 there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery;
they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed.  

3 Therefore the land mourns, and all who dwell in it languish, and also the beasts of the field and the birds of the heavens, and even the fish of the sea are taken away.

But the Creation anticipates the redemption from God —

(Ps. 96:10-97:1 ESV)  10 Say among the nations, “The LORD reigns!
Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved;
he will judge the peoples with equity.”
11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
12 let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy  13 before the LORD,
for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness,
and the peoples in his faithfulness.  

The Creation rejoices in anticipation of the reign of God — the kingdom of heaven!

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
This entry was posted in Missional Christianity, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to The Mission of the Church: Creation Care, Part 1 (The Old Testament)

  1. laymond says:

    “The truth is that God created the heavens and the earth and declared his Creation good”

    Jay, just because something is described as “good” does not mean it is eternal. It can be “good”
    for the purpose , for which it was created. Maybe this universe is like a spaceship designed to travel to the moon and back, it is not eternal, but it filled it’s purpose quite well.
    I don’t have a clue as to what God has planned for “man” , but I am sure he does.
    I believe the bible describes a baptized Christian as a “new creation” created from the old man.
    Maybe the old earth was re-created at the same time as man was re-created.

  2. laymond says:

    P.S. and in the same way. sorry I left this out.

  3. “If the mission of the church is to get people to heaven when they die, then the church has no reason to care for the Creation or human flourishing or abundant living (John 10:10) in general.”

    While I’m not tied to the idea of “heaven is somewhere else,” I’ve always found these assertions to be troubling. And very wrong.

    If creation care is right and taught in Scripture, then those who believe they will one day be judged by God according to what they have done have EVERY reason to care for creation. Those who want to please God will do what he wants because it’s right, not because it’s somehow tied to their final dwelling place.

    You could also say that those who think God will one day renew the earth have no reason to care for it now… because God’s going to renew it later! I know that statement is silly, but no less silly than the one that opens this article.

    Some will base the concept of being good stewards of God’s creation on their belief in a renewed earth. Some will base it on other beliefs. Some who believe in a renewed earth won’t be concerned about caring for creation. The ideas are not inseparably linked.

  4. Dwight says:

    Will we be judged by how we treat creation (the earth, plants, animals, etc) and/or will we be judged by how we treat our brother (who was created in the image of God)?
    I have my concerns about the first one, but no doubts about the second one.
    We have no example of Jesus being involved or promoting earth-care-taking.
    Now should we be good stewards of the resources that God has blessed us with, yes, and we should have some sense of compassion about the things that God has created, but this was never a point of justification or command or even put forth as a Godly example.
    Jesus didn’t die that the earth might be healthy, but that we might be saved and reconciled to God who is spirit and who is in heaven.

  5. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Dwight wrote,

    Will we be judged by how we treat creation (the earth, plants, animals, etc) and/or will we be judged by how we treat our brother (who was created in the image of God)?

    Seriously? I have to pick? Why can’t it be both? I mean, God made both. Maybe he cares about both.

    PS — NT scriptures on the subject will be in the next post of the series. But you seem to ignore the explicit OT commands —

    (Gen. 1:26-28 ESV) 26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

    (Gen. 2:15 ESV) 15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

    (Gen. 2:15 NIV) The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

    Jesus died, in part, so that we’d be restored to our original, Edenic purpose. Study the “image” and “likeness” passages, as well as the passages that speak of our dominion or reign to come — which is a return to Gen 1’s reign.

    How can we be in the image of God and not be faithful in the exercise of the dominion given us in Gen 1 and 2?

  6. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Tim,

    You’re reading NT Wright into my argument. Take the argument for I actually said.

    For the entire history of the Churches of Christ, we’ve argued that the only point of salvation is to go to heaven when we die. Therefore, we spend our lives as saved people seeking a salvation we already have. Our “mission” is to do Five Acts and organize correctly and to restore the First Century church, because if we don’t, we’re damned. And it’s all about chasing heaven until we die.

    In such a world, we become hyper-focused on obedience as the path to salvation. We even insist on “precision obedience.” And we care nothing for the mission of the church — except that we want to do evangelism since that scores points with God — and nothing matters but getting saved and getting other people saved.

    Evangelism is preached as obedience that is essential to salvation. Preachers look for new and better ways to declare damned those who don’t do their part. And so the church is purely about our going to heaven even when we’re saving others.

    Benevolence is an afterthought. We care for the poor because it’s commanded and a church without a benevolence program may not have all the right marks. But the point is to score heaven-going points through benevolence. Not to do benevolence for the sake of those in need. I should do benevolence out of fear for my own soul — and so I help others to help myself. Our legalism creates fake love for the lost and fake love for the poor. And as a result, we aren’t very good at any of it.

    Count the Church of Christ hospitals in the US. The only hospitals we found are in foreign lands as mission points — because benevolence is targeted to the damned. In a Christian nation, we’re happy to let the Catholics and Baptists found hospitals. Because it’s not about helping the sick. It’s about earning salvation points for ourselves, which is accomplished through evangelism.

    Just so, we found orphanages, but it’s for the sake of saving the lost souls of orphans. It’s not out of concern for the orphans themselves as people in need — as shown by the extreme low participation of Church of Christ members in foster care. (I have stories.)

    We don’t do affordable housing — not in Christian lands. Every other denomination our size has an affordable housing parachurch organization. We don’t. No salvation points in the US. But we might do it in a nation where we can be confident of high baptism counts as a result of our generosity.

    We are hyper-focused on evangelism and it distorts EVERYTHING. We aren’t good at it (the numbers are dismal, of course) but it’s still how we think.

    There are, of course, exceptions. But the overall trends in the 20th Century are plain — and we’re just now starting to change. (Notice how many articles in the Gospel Advocate or Spiritual Sword talk about caring for the marginalized in society.)

    But if we see mission not as a path to heaven (or the new heavens and new earth) but a consequence of becoming like God, if we think in terms of theosis — being perfect as God is perfect — a God who is seeking the good of those he loves solely because they are his people and he loves them, everything changes. We’re freed to act out of our love for others, even when there are no salvation points in it for us. Love becomes its own reward. Joy is found in service, not in point scoring. Right relationship and shalom compel us to take action. We get to be peacemakers.

    Viewed in such a way, what is God’s attitude toward the creation that he made? And whatever that attitude is, it should be ours as well, to the extent our mortality doesn’t get in the way.

    I should also look at the orphan, the poor, the widow, etc. not as a means to earn my way to heaven — or a task I must achieve on penalty of losing heaven — but as part of God’s good creation, broken and flawed by sin and in need of redemption. Does that include evangelism? Absolutely. But not for my sake. For the sake of God’s good creation — which includes people most especially, but not just people.

    The NT is quite clear that it’s not just humans that will be redeemed by God. And if I am a new creation, re-created in the image of Jesus (who is LORD = YHWH), then maybe redemption becomes the mission.

    The challenge in grasping a truly biblical concept of mission is to get out of the “going to heaven when I die” mindset, not because heaven is the wrong place. It’s the wrong motivation even if you substitute “new heavens and new earth” for heaven. Far bigger than the problem with where we wind up is our legalism. But it’s not just legalism. Even the Baptists and most other evangelicals are so caught up in evangelism as the be all and end all of Christianity that Christianity becomes defined as evangelism. Which distorts everything.

    Most evangelicals cannot define “mission” in terms other than evangelism. We give lip service to “love your neighbor” because it’s one of the two greatest commands — so it’s about obedience, not a way of being. Which is messed up. Again: earning salvation even if you’re much more grace oriented that we in the CoC. It’s still obedience to please an angry Deity. And the only atonement theory we respond to is penal substitutionary atonement — so that unless God is angry and Jesus saves us from damnation it’s not the right story — and that makes escape from damnation the driving motivation for very nearly everything — even for those who are not caught up in CoC legalism. We are still caught up in a story that builds everything on fleeing hell and gives no motivation outside that story. The story ends with forgiveness but offer no answer for: forgiven to become what? So we figure the only possible answer is to save people from damnation — which is not bad or wrong (of course) but not the entirety of scripture and our relationship with God. We erase roughly 97% of the Bible when we evangelize solely to create more evangelists.

    I mean, go to the local Bible bookstore. How many books on church growth? Lots and lots. How many on personal evangelism? Quite a few. How many books on running a foster care program? Doing affordable housing? Providing medical care to those who fall through the cracks? Caring for the mentally ill? Dealing with poverty in a way that restores the poor to dignity and self-sufficiency? You’ll find far more on that subject in the secular social sciences section than the Christian section of Barnes & Noble.

    It’s not just creation care where we just don’t get it. It’s everything.

    And I’m probably just making it less clear. It’s been a long day and I’m too tired to lay this out clearly as I would like. But I’ll give being clearer a shot at some point, Lord willing.

  7. You’re right in that I’m reacting a bit to Wright while reading your stuff. That’s a mistake, and I apologize for it.

    That said, I’m not convinced that a flawed eschatology and a lack of concern for the present necessarily go together.

    As for spending, the shift from evangelism to social justice has already taken place within churches of Christ. Trust me, I work for an evangelism ministry that tries to raise money within the churches of Christ. Before I arrived, there was a move on within our organization to become a relief group, because it’s so much easier to get our people to fund those programs.

    Look at the typical mission trip. How many evangelistic mission trips do you see any more? Let’s go dig a well, let’s go work with orphans, let’s go feed people. Go talk about Jesus? Not interested. That’s been going at least since I was in college in the 1980s.

    All of that without a major shift IN OUR PEWS regarding eschatology. I do see the shift in preachers; hasn’t reached the pews yet.

    I guess I shouldn’t get too picky, for I do agree with the main thrust of your articles. But I still strongly disagree with your opening paragraph.

  8. Nick Gill says:

    If Jay’s reading of Thompson’s thesis on the mission of the church is correct, though, the two should never have been severed. Churches whose mission is transformation will engage in evangelism and social justice along the way.

    Part of the issue that Thompson has pointed out is that we have pushed personal evangelism so much more than the NT does, that a mindset was created that first said personal evangelism is the most important thing a Christian can do. Over time, it went from “most important” to “the only important thing.” Then those who weren’t and aren’t gifted as evangelists come to believe that, since personal evangelism is the only thing that matters, all that they’re good for is their money.

    So they come to church, they put their check in the plate, and they’re confused when leadership asks for more than that.

  9. Larry Cheek says:

    Tim,
    I missed you at Nashville. I was so excited when I recognized a name whom I might meet in person. I believe that your assessment is very correct. Just read the actions of Jesus and it will become very apparent that he did relieve hunger but we should also notice that it was only after his delivery of a message, and even then it created the wrong reason for them to follow him. They soon forgot the message looking only to the physical.

  10. Larry Cheek says:

    Jay,
    “Rather, when we’re saved we become “new creations” (2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15). Our redemption is a renewal of what God did in the beginning.”
    If he has already made us a “new creation” just as he did in the beginning, why would he need to do that again?

  11. dwight says:

    Jay, I don’t really see those scriptures you gave as commands, which incur blessings or wrath, but rather general common sense realities for mankind that he had to do to survive. If “be fruitful and multiply” is a command, then was Paul telling people to sin in not marrying and to be single.
    When we read the Law we don’t find laws on treat your animals with dignity or don’t burn your waste near the river or don’t over farm an area, etc. And while he might have been put in the garden to take care of it, he also was kicked out of the garden, with no general rules to do the same.
    Now having said that I believe we should, because we are dealing with God’s creation, deal with it with a sense of wonder and respect, but not to the point where the creation becomes secondary to the creator who made it.

    But I do believe we in our quest for bringing people to God, often we don’t behave Godly in that we don’t seek the best interest of another person in all ways…this would be called love. Jesus fed those around Him not because that was His mission, but because he saw a need among the people and out of compassion and love fulfilled it. He healed and fed thousands, even when one act would have showed his Godly power, but it was His actions of love that showed his Godly character. Jesus often gave, such as healing the 10 lepers, without verbally spreading the message of the Gospel and getting much back, but through His actions he showed the gospel.

  12. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    dwight wrote,

    When we read the Law we don’t find laws on treat your animals with dignity or don’t burn your waste near the river or don’t over farm an area, etc.

    Actually, we do.

    The Torah requires the land to be left fallow every 7th year.

    (Exod. 23:11 NET) But in the seventh year you must let it lie fallow and leave it alone so that the poor of your people may eat, and what they leave any animal in the field may eat; you must do likewise with your vineyard and your olive grove.
    (Neh. 10:31 NET) We will not buy on the Sabbath or on a holy day from the neighboring peoples who bring their wares and all kinds of grain to sell on the Sabbath day. We will let the fields lie fallow every seventh year, and we will cancel every loan.

    (Deut. 23:13-14 ESV) 13 And you shall have a trowel with your tools, and when you sit down outside, you shall dig a hole with it and turn back and cover up your excrement. 14 Because the LORD your God walks in the midst of your camp, to deliver you and to give up your enemies before you, therefore your camp must be holy, so that he may not see anything indecent among you and turn away from you.

    (Exod. 22:30 ESV) 30 You shall do the same with your oxen and with your sheep: seven days it shall be with its mother; on the eighth day you shall give it to me.

    (Deut. 25:4 ESV) 4 “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.

    (Deut. 5:13-14 ESV) 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you.

    The more immediate practical motivation and effect of the sabbath commandment, however, was socio-ethical. It is the pivot of the Decalogue that, along with the fifth commandment, directs attention both to God and to human society. The liberation from slavery in Egypt and the gift of a land of their own set Israel’s world of economic work in a totally new context. They would now work as free people, no longer in the indignity and insecurity of economic bondage. On that basis, they were to avoid oppressing and exploiting the weak and vulnerable in their own society. Hence the sabbath commandment is specifically for the benefit of the whole working population, animal as well as human (v. 14). That indeed is its express purpose: so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do (cf. Exod. 23:12). The benefit of sabbath was not to be enjoyed only by Israelite landowners, while dependent laborers continued to work. The rest was specifically for the benefit of those laborers. Significantly, even the alien, non-Israelite residents were included in this “surprisingly egalitarian law,” (van Houten, The Alien, p. 92). Lohfink has also pointed out that while many human societies divided work and leisure along class lines (slaves, women, and the lower classes did the work; leisure was for the more privileged), the biblical sabbath principle by contrast divides work and leisure horizontally in time, not vertically in society. All should work and all should have rest (Great Themes, pp. 203–21). The sabbath was thus one part (arguably the most important part) of OT law’s concern for workers, and especially for those most at risk in the world of work (cf. C. J. H. Wright, Eye/Living, pp. 77–81). Harold Macmillan, the British Prime Minister from 1957 to 1963, is reported to have described the sabbath as the first and greatest worker-protection act in history.

    Christopher J. H. Wright, Deuteronomy, eds. W. Ward Gasque, Robert L. Hubbard Jr., and Robert K. Johnston, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012), 75–76.

    That’s not an exhaustive list of verses, but the Torah does indeed concern itself with sanitation, overfarming, and the treatment of animals with dignity. There’s even this —

    (Deut. 20:19-20 ESV) 19 “When you besiege a city for a long time, making war against it in order to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an axe against them. You may eat from them, but you shall not cut them down. Are the trees in the field human, that they should be besieged by you? 20 Only the trees that you know are not trees for food you may destroy and cut down, that you may build siegeworks against the city that makes war with you, until it falls.

    God even issues commands to protect the needless destruction of trees, even in time of war.

    Now, in terms of commandments, I would urge you to think less legalistically. As I said in the post,

    We are saved to become like God and to join him in his redemptive work. We’re on a mission from God and with God. And like God, even though we can’t take away all the pain and suffering in the world, we can enter the world to be with the pained and suffering.

    So the question isn’t: Is there a BCV making me care for animals and streams and the rest of Creation? Rather, it’s: Does God care for animals, streams, and the rest of Creation? If so, if I’m going to be “perfect as the Heavenly Father is perfect,” I should aspire to care about what God cares about.

    The SOTM is quite clear, if we must find a command. But the concept of becoming like GOd (theosis) is bigger. It’s found in the unity passages in John 17. It’s found in Phil 2 when we’re called to be like the self-emptying Jesus. Jesus emptied himself to redeem people but also to reconcile and redeem to the Creation (Rom 8, Col 1).

    To follow Jesus to the cross is not just to suffer and die. It’s to suffer and die for the right purpose.

    (Col. 1:16-20 ESV) 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities– all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

    God, through Jesus, will redeem ALL THINGS in earth and in heaven. The ENTIRE CREATION. And Paul surely thought of the Creation primarily in Gen 1 terms: animals, fish, birds, sea, land, man and woman — not just humans.

    (Col. 1:21-23 ESV) 21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

    How can Jesus present me holy and blameless if I deny that the gospel should be “proclaimed in all creation under heaven.” Or maybe Christopher Wright misreads this text. Let’s see what the other commentators say,

    O’Brien aptly cites Ephesians 1:10, which asserts that God plans to “bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” The vision of Christ in relationship to creation is thus comprehensive, and reminds us that “For those who have been redeemed by Christ, the universe has no ultimate terrors; they know that their Redeemer is also creator, ruler, and goal of all.”

    Douglas J. Moo, The Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 2008), 124.

    It’s worth, then, going quite slowly through the poem and pondering the depths of meaning that are to be found in it. Christianity isn’t simply about a particular way of being religious. It isn’t about a particular system for how to be saved here or hereafter. It isn’t simply a different way of holiness. Christianity is about Jesus Christ; and this poem, one of the very earliest Christian poems ever written, is as good a place to start exploring it as any. This is what the Colossians needed to know, and we today need to rediscover it.
    There are three things in particular which the poem points us to about Jesus Christ and about what God has done in and through him.
    First, it’s by looking at Jesus that we discover who God is. He is ‘the image of God, the invisible one’. Nobody has ever seen God, but in Jesus he has come near to us and become one of us.
    If there is somebody sitting in the next room, I can’t see them because there’s a wall in the way. But if there is a mirror out in the hallway, I may be able to look out of my door and see, in the mirror, the mirror-image of the person in the next room. In the same way, Jesus is the mirror-image of the God who is there but who we normally can’t see. We may be aware of his presence; many people, many religions, many systems of philosophy have admitted there is ‘something or somebody there’. But with Jesus we find ourselves looking at the true God himself.
    The great thing about that is that the more we look at Jesus, the more we realize that the true God is the God of utter self-giving love. That’s why this poem comes right after Paul’s prayer that the Colossians will learn how to be grateful to God. When you realize that Jesus reveals who God is, gratitude is the first and most appropriate reaction.
    Second, Jesus holds together the old world and the new, creation and new creation. The ‘salvation’ or ‘redemption’ on offer in Christianity is sometimes described as if it meant that the old world, the ordinary world of creation we all live in, was worthless—or, worse than worthless, was itself evil, perhaps the creation of an evil deity, a devil. Some people, recognizing that this won’t do (creation is full of beauty, power and sweetness as well as pain, bitterness and evil), have tried to say that evil isn’t really all that important; or perhaps, in some more extreme philosophies, that evil and pain don’t really exist. Getting this balance right, it seems, is very difficult. But this poem does it brilliantly.
    Jesus Christ, says the poem boldly, is the one through whom and for whom the whole creation was made in the first place. This isn’t just a remarkable thing to say about an individual of recent history (which shows how very quickly the early Christians came to see Jesus as one who had been from all eternity the agent of the father in making the world). It is also a remarkable thing to say about the ‘natural’ world. It was his idea, his workmanship. It is beautiful, powerful and sweet because he made it like that. When the lavish and generous beauty of the world makes you catch your breath, remember that it is like that because of Jesus.
    But it’s also full of ugliness and evil, summed up in death itself. Yes, that’s true too; but that wasn’t the original intention, and the living God has now acted to heal the world of the wickedness and corruption which have so radically infected it. And he’s done so through the same one through whom it was made in the first place. This is the point of the balance in the poem. The Jesus through whom the world was made in the first place is the same Jesus through whom the world has now been redeemed. He is the firstborn of all creation, and the firstborn from the dead.
    Third, Jesus is therefore the blueprint for the genuine humanness which is on offer through the gospel. As the head of the body, the church; as the first to rise again from the dead; as the one through whose cruel death God has dealt with our sins and brought us peace and reconciliation; and, above all, as the one through whom the new creation has now begun; in all these ways, Jesus is himself the one ‘in whom’ we are called to discover what true humanness means in practice. We have so often settled for second best in our human lives. Jesus summons us to experience the genuine article.

    Tom Wright, Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters: Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon, (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), 150–152.

    THe Creation exists and was made for Jesus and even by Jesus. Jesus is Lord over the Creation — and he holds it all together (present tense). How can he not care about its care and upkeep? Just because humans sinned and so are no longer in Eden, well, we’re being restored to the image and likeness of God though Jesus (several verses you already be familiar with by now). If I’m going to become like Jesus as the very image of God, then the fall of man in Gen 3 is no excuse to avoid caring for the Creation. Rather, it’s a restoration to what we were always meant to be. True humanity. Ideal humanity — like God, exercising dominion over his creation, sitting on the throne of heaven with Jesus (Eph 2:7-9).

    (Ps. 8:3-9 ESV) 3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, 4 what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? 5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. 6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, 7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, 8 the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. 9 O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

    Means what it says, says what it means.

  13. Larry Cheek says:

    As I was writing this I noticed that you promised that another post would deal with NT accounts, but can you fill in some of the gaps that I am seeing?
    Could you show us some of the things Jesus did in the way of caring for the creation as you are suggesting was in the Torah? Studying the life of Jesus on earth, I have not found where he taught men about saving the environment. As a carpenter, have we any messages as to the need to plant more trees to replace what was being used. What about his knowledge of alternate substances for structures, did he revel anything? He had the ability to totally revise the way men used their resources, do we find any instructions? I don’t remember him referencing any of the information which you have cited from the Torah to correct any of the abuses which were commonly used by cities and governments. I do remember garbage dumps (odor, disease), destruction of waste by burning. Do we assume that a city the size of Jerusalem would have had such a good sewage system in place that even Jesus did not see a need to have taught them how to bring it into a more earth friendly use? I noticed the communication about the trowel and planting the excrement. In a city like Jerusalem how many holes would be dug in one day? How long would it take to fill the whole city and country side within a distance that a human could travel to a place to deposit his excrement? I feel very confident that Jesus could have taught mankind living in the day while he was on earth valuable lessons about sanitation and disease control. Were there no better methods to control leprosy that Jesus could have taught in A.D. 30 than those which were legislated in the Law?
    Were the Jews in the time of Christ obeying the law about the Seventh year Jesus would have lived through at least two possibly three of these seven year commands to leave the land fallow? Does his silence indicate that they were in obedience? There could have been a fiftieth year within his life on earth, even if there was not he would have known if they had been obeying it also, but all his communications regarding the Law were in the context of men dealing with each other, never about laws of creation abuse.
    Jay,
    You commented, “God, through Jesus, will redeem ALL THINGS in earth and in heaven.” I cannot find that concept in scripture. You made this comment following this, “19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” Some how (reconcile to himself) was paraphrased into (God, through Jesus, will redeem ALL THINGS). This does not appear to me to be a parallel. Even if it was, the position in time and the action is out of place. Redeem and reconcile by Webster are different concepts. Then I see a problem with the time, “Will redeem” is future tense and “reconcile to himself” was done at the cross, (making peace by the blood of his cross). There surely must be a more correct text to portray this concept if it is true.

  14. Dwight says:

    Jay, You got me…somewhat. There were laws on over farming (at least stopping every seven years), but many today just rotate crops and it seems to have more of a religious concept imbedded within it. In regards to waste, it wasn’t for the environments sake, but for God’s sake of not seeing it and waste in general was burned outside of the city walls…burning causes air pollution. Now animals were still killed for sacrifice, per God.
    But my over all point was that there is no overt message that the people were supposed to care for the land on the same level as caring for the people and this concept of care for the earth isn’t remotely carried forth in any sense in the NT.
    Now, I am in most things a naturalist and a preservationist and love nature. I go camping and try to teach my kids to respect what God has given us and we should take care for future generations, but this is not something that I can with any real certainty teach from the scriptures and if so in any sense it is not pronounced and largely on God’s radar. Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness and I bet they left a mark, unless God had a “pack in, pack out” law.
    Even if we did mess up the earth pretty bad, if there is going to be a new creation, then it will be better by God’s will than the old creation and it is not up to us to preserve something God will replace.

  15. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Dwight wrote,

    it is not up to us to preserve something God will replace

    Like our bodies?

    Just because they’re temples for the Spirit?

    But then, the heavens and earth of Gen 1 are God’s temple. John Walton has written extensively on the subject and I’ve frequently posted based on his writings and YouTube videos.

    You’ve ignored a number of my arguments. Let’s return to —

    (Ps. 8:3-9 ESV) 3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, 4 what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? 5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. 6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, 7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, 8 the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. 9 O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

    The Psalm is clearly built on Gen 1:26-28 but is also clearly written post-Fall of Man.

    What is so helpful about this psalm is that it gives us reason to celebrate what we take for granted. Since day to day we humans normally need not struggle for our position in the natural world, we tend to accept it as a given. But the key revelation of this psalm is not that humanity can dominate the animal world but that you made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him, and you made him ruler, and you put everything under his feet. This psalm reminds us that our supremacy in the natural world did not result from our own efforts or from something inherent in nature but from God’s deliberate choice. The psalm takes a radical departure from ancient Near Eastern ideology by its declaration that Yahweh has made every human a king (cf. the terminology used in 21:5, a royal psalm).

    Robert L. Jr. Hubbard and Robert K. Johnston, Psalms, 2012, 72.

    6–8 Man’s position over creation was granted before the Fall (Gen 1:28), but it was not taken away from him (Gen 9:1–3, 7). Man is God’s appointed governor (vassal) over creation. His function on earth is to maintain order, to shine his light on creation, and to keep a beneficent relationship with all that God has created on earth and in the sea: beasts of the field, birds of the air, fish and the creatures of the sea (vv. 7–8). The Great King has appointed man to maintain dominion over creation (“put everything under his feet”) and not be controlled by creation. All creatures, domesticated and wild, are subject to man’s authority and may at his will be used for food (Gen 9:3).

    Willem A. VanGemeren, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, 1991, 5, 114.

    Seems like a very straightforward argument to me.

    BUT it doesn’t mean I have to agree with the Sierra Club on the Keystone Pipeline or nuclear power. It does mean that God expects me to exercise authority over the Creation responsibly – just as I’m to take care of my body. God has chosen to dwell there, and we’re his vassals, priests, servants to maintain his his dwelling places.

  16. Dwight says:

    Jay, I eat lot’s of preservatives, but they (sadly) will not help in prolonging my life (or my looks) and may actually contribute to the downfall of my health. While I might take care of my body, I am under no compunction to do this in order to please God. And on the other hand disfiguring or abusing my body will not please God, either.
    I haven’t tried to ignore them i.e. Psalms 8:3-9, but I fail to seen a direct command in this passage, as if Psalms was used as a command. I see a fact, but not a command and it is overtly poetic. And the fact is that man has dominion over everything on this earth, meaning that he has control or is at least higher in order.
    But it doesn’t mean we, in our dominion, are given the job of pampering the earth so it can be the best it can be, any more we are given the job of pampering our body so it can be the best it can be, at least to the point of then “worshipping the creation and not the creator.”
    Jesus didn’t go from town to town healing the sick and planting plants.
    And He didn’t teach them to be earth bound, but heaven/Kingdom bound.
    Now I do agree that we should “exercise authority over the creation responsibly”, but I’m just not sure there is a command to do it, but rather it is a matter of respect for the blessing of God. We should treat our bodies well, but the scriptures never advocate a routine of exercise to strengthen it, but do advocate spiritual exercise to strengthen the soul by praying, reading, helping others, etc.

Leave a Reply