Earth Day 2012 is a day that should be important to Christians. I am not saying that we need to spend our day participating in local celebrations, but I do think that the basic message that the earth is important and that we are responsible to protect her is something Christians should affirm. We are not  like those who see the earth as Gaia or Terra, a goddess. Rather, we see earth as the creation that the Creator God called “good” before gifting it to humanity. Humans are her overseers, responsible to her because the Creator God has given her value.

As expected, Christian versions of “creation care” are influenced by how we read various biblical texts, especially those with an eschatological message. What do these passages say to us about creation, her future, and our role?

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1.1).”

“Then God said, ‘Let us make human in our image, according to our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the beasts and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ God created human in his own image, in this image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it…(Genesis 1.26-28a)

“The earth is YHWH’s, and all it contains,
The world, and those who dwell in it (Psalm 24.1).”

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away (Mark 13.31, cf. Matthew 24.35; Luke 21.33).”

“For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together even until now (Romans 8. 19-22).”

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heart, and the earth and its works will be burned (2 Peter 3.10).”

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away and there is no longer sea (Revelation 21.1).”

We could examine many more passages, but I think it is fair to say that the biblical canon presents us with a diverse picture of creation and her future. There are passages that seem to indicate the replacement of this creation with another like Jesus saying his words would last longer than the created order or the Apocalypse speaking of old passing away for new. There are those passages that give us the image of purging like 2 Peter 3.10 that comes after the author writes about the prehistoric flood that cleansed the earth. There are those passages like the words of the Apostle Paul that seem to emphasize more continuation, almost rebirth. We have the Hebraic confessions that the earth is YHWH’s and that YHWH the Creator God said his creation is “good.”

As I said, Scripture gives us tension here, but I think there is an analogy between the present and future state of creation and the present and future state of human bodies. We see in the Gospels that after the resurrection Jesus is presented as being hard to recognize, able to appear and disappear, yet able to eat food and his wounds from the crucifixion remain. Jesus takes his wounded yet resurrected body into the heavenly realm merging the physical of our world with the “physical” of heaven. Likewise, the Apostle Paul seems to make similar connections between the current state of our body and its future state (see 1 Corinthians 15) and he seems to connect our process of resurrection with the change that will come over creation (see Romans 8.1-25). In a sense the Christian vision for creation is neither strict continuation as if this is the “best of all possible worlds” but neither is there strict discontinuation as if God didn’t mean it when he called creation “good.” Rather, it is analogous to resurrection. God did make a good creation that he intends to resurrect and renew to the point that we can call it “new.” It will be reborn and purged of evil. In a sense the imagery is a return to Eden, but that falls short. Eden is inferior in imagery to the New Jerusalem linking the New Earth to the New Heaven.

As we are told to care for our bodies because they are the temple of God even though we know we will die, so we should care for creation as the cosmic temple of God even though we know it will be renewed. If we are honest we can barely fathom the future. We see it through imagery and poetics alone, but if we affirm that God has plans for creation we will care for her now our of respect and hope. Besides, we don’t know how long it will be until the restoration of all things is complete, so we should aim to make this earth as livable and useful to all of humanity as possible in the meantime.