By Ps Lim Wei-en
This weekend, we will be starting the first of a two-part series on Creation Care.
At face value, caring for creation seems like a common-sensical and Biblical thing to do. After all, in the Creation Narrative, God affirmed creation as very good (Gen. 1:31) and commissioned humans to rule over the creatures he has created (Gen. 1:28) and to take care of the earth (Gen. 2:15).
However, a pushback against Creation Care has been the idea that if the earth is going to be destroyed in the final judgment anyway, then there is no point in being too concerned about things like pollution, the extinction of animals or climate change. In fact, if Christians care too much about these things (so it is argued), they would be distracted from the “real and spiritual” work of saving souls for eternity.
It is important that we take this pushback seriously, because if what is asserted is true, then it isn’t just our involvement in creation care that will be affected. If indeed the earth is going to be destroyed, why bother with anything in this created realm? Why bother with studies, work, play, justice, even our bodies, if all that is material will be gone one day?
Why bother indeed?
The answer lies in a careful reading of Scripture. The main passage that has given the impression that the earth will be destroyed (by fire) is found in 2 Pet. 3, specifically, in the following verses.
By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. (2 Pet. 3:7)
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. (2 Pet. 3:10)
… That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. (2 Pet. 3:12)
However, this impression changes when we consider potential meanings of the word “elements” (Greek: stoicheia, v. 10, 12) as well as the purpose of the fire referred to in these verses. If by “elements”, we mean the basic substances that constitute matter, then it appears that the whole of the created order would be burnt up. However, stoicheia could also refer to “transcendent powers that are in control over events in this world” (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, c.f. Gal. 4:3, Col. 2:8), in which case it would be these powers rather than the heavens and earth that are burnt up. Even if we take the elements to refer to components of matter, the context of this passage suggests that the fire that will burn up the elements is more of a refining rather than a destroying fire. Peter had previously referred to the refining quality of fire in 1 Pet. 1:7. Also, the waters spoken of in 2 Pet. 3:6 that “deluged and destroyed” the world (i.e., the great flood of Gen. 6) did not obliterate the world as much as purge it of wickedness. By the “same word” (2 Pet. 3:7), Peter says, the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, suggesting this fire, like the great flood, is purgative rather than destructive in function.
In other words, as ravaged and fallen as this world is, God has not given up on it or condemned it. He is actively at work to renew creation for eternity. God sent Christ “to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Col. 1:20). At the climax of this reconciliation, when Christ comes again to usher in the “new heavens and the new earth” (2 Pet. 3:13, Rev. 21), we are told “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” (Rom. 8:21). Christ himself gave us a foretaste of this new, liberated creation when he rose from the dead, not with a brand-new body (leaving the old one in the tomb), but with a renewed body that still bore the marks of nail and spear and yet was raised imperishable, in glory and in power (1 Cor. 15:42-44). The resurrection of Jesus is God’s definitive proof that creation is still very good!
Unlike the modern consumer who disposes of things and replaces them with new things the moment their value wanes, God will not abandon his creation. He is deeply committed to cleansing, purifying and renewing this present creation. And by the power of his Spirit, he invites us to partner him by reclaiming our role as stewards of his good creation.
Thus, even as we go about the work of making disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:18-20), let’s not forget that part of being a disciple is not just to “save souls” but to care for God’s beautiful but broken world.
Why bother with creation care? Because God bothers with it.