‘Earth Day’ in the circles where I have developed as a Christian has traditionally been seen as at best lacking importance and at worst some form of New Age, Gaia worship. These views were driven by the radical, apocalyptic nature of the sects I was around. According to 2 Peter 3:10-11 there was coming a day when the earth would be destroyed in judgment in favor of the “New Heaven, New Earth” that is pictured in the Book of Revelation 21:1-9. Any thought or concern for this planet, in the here and the now, ought to be considered a waste of time when contrasted with the larger, more important issues of Christian mission.
In the writings of the Apostle Paul we see his view of Christian ethics hints at our current sanctification preparing us for our resurrected life at the return of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 6:1-7 Paul decries the lawsuits taking place between Christians. He argues that Christians should not appeal to the court system of the world around them, but instead ought to learn now how to judge such matters, since one day “we will judge angels” (v. 3).
While the subject is much too large to delve into here I would like to suggest that a similar principle may be found as regards Christians and earth care in the writings of Paul. In Romans 8:19 the Apostle Paul argues that creation is waiting for the redemption of the sons of God so that creation itself can also be redeemed. I believe that J.R. Daniel Kirk, and others like him, correctly read this passage in light of resurrection and sonship in the Book of Romans (see Unlocking Romans: Resurrection and the Justification of God pgs.132-160). In other words, the creation awaits our redemption, as sons of God, because it is the purpose of the people of God to care for creation and to rule over creation. As Kirk has shown (I encourage you to read his book) God intends to resurrect us in preparation for the resurrection of the cosmos. Christ will rule and we will rule with him in the new creation.
These ideas are adapted from Genesis 1:27-28 where humanity is created and then given the task to rule the created order. In Genesis 3 Eve and Adam “fall” from right standing before God when they ignore the commands of God in favor of a talking snake (a part of the very creative order they were to rule). The Apostle Paul sees the path humanity took afterward as one where being the “image” of God (God’s representative to creation) was cast aside for the worship (idolatry) of the very creation that humans were to rule over (see Romans 1:21-25).
The restoration of all these things–and here I will make this statement without taking the time to support it, because, again, I think Kirk does a fine job in his book and you should purchase and read it–begins with the resurrection of Christ who is the descendant of King David, the heir of the promises of Abraham, the rightful ruler of the world (e.g. Romans 1:2-4). Those who are “in Christ”, or in union with Christ, are adopted sons who also rule with Christ.
If ruling with Christ, as seen in 1 Corinthians, is to be, in some sense, “practiced here”. If Romans 8:19-25, in the context of the book, refers to resurrected believers joining Christ as ‘sons’ who are given a new creation as a restored creation, as a second chance as Eden (but better), do we Christians need to see earth care as a form of sanctification of sorts? As preparation for ruling the new creation with Christ?
This may be objected to but we must be careful not to reject this idea outright. If our current, dying bodies are to be maintained sexually, in preparation for our new spirit-driven bodies, then why should we not see the creative order as it is now as preparation for a new, resurrected cosmos?
Kirk puts it like this,
If the resurrection life of Jesus is brought to bear in other realms of ethics, then creation, too, should begin to know its future at the hands of restored humanity. The natural world of the environment should begin to know its cultivation at the hands of those who consider themselves stewards rather than simply consumers. Within the paradoxical tension of continuity and apocalyptic surprise, Christian should pay heed to the idea of a “cultural mandate” to rule and subdue the earth, pursuing a cultivation of not only earth, but also the culture and systems of the world in a manner that liberates the whole creation to enjoy a foretaste of the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Unlocking Romans, pg. 216)
What do you think of all this? First, what do you think of the canonical view of new creation? Is it creation restored? Or another creation ex nihlo? Second, In what sense does our sanctification prepare us for the life to come? If it does in any sense prepare us to rule with Christ, what does that look like? And what role does creation care play into this whole concept?