Today some around the world are marking Good Friday, the commemoration of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Many are celebrating Earth Day, the reminder that we should care for our natural environment. What does the one have to do with the other? More than we might think.
Some have charged Christians with holding an inherent hostility to environmental protection—rooted often in a caricature of evangelical views of human dominion, Armageddon, and the imminence of the end times. Such caricatures do not stand up to close scrutiny. Or, at the very least, they shouldn’t.
Evangelical Christians agree that the kingdom is both here and not yet. An understanding of salvation as both individual and cosmic in scope should inform the way we, as followers of Jesus, think about the doctrine in our churches and the recycling bin next to the cubicle down the hall.
Jesus, after all, doesn’t save us simply to “go to heaven when we die.” That human beings bear the image of Jesus, the perfect icon of God’s nature, is at the very heart of the Christian understanding of the universe. The earth was indeed created, Christians believe, for human beings—or, more correctly, for a human being: Jesus Christ.
God saves us to be as we were intended to be—to be even more than we could have been, apart from Christ—that is, to be kings and queens of the universe, in resurrected and glorified bodies. It’s not just that the meek shall go to heaven; they shall inherit the earth.
God created all things, and declared them good, for the purpose and goal of presenting the universe as an inheritance to Christ Jesus. Humanity, God’s image-bearing vice-regent, declared treason against God’s lordship and plunged the natural order into captivity to a curse. In Christ, Christians believe, God is redeeming the world—by putting away sin and death. And, ultimately, God will redeem his creation by freeing nature from its curse.
Human beings, then, are not a almost parasitic presence on the earth, rather than intended sovereigns over it.
Believing that salvation includes the restoration of creation does away the notion that the earth is irrelevant to the kingdom purposes of God—be they now or not yet—by declaring the place of the creation in the the establishment of the kingdom from the original creation through the Noahic covenant (Gen 9:8-17) to the final regeneration of the cosmos (Col 1:20).
We understand that we live in the “already” of an “already/not yet” framework of this restoration. We cannot therefore share an economic libertarian’s purely utilitarian view of the earth and its resources. Nor can we share a radical environmentalist’s apocalyptic scenarios of the complete destruction of the earth. In our care for creation, we must maintain both the necessity and the limits of environmental action, knowing that the ultimate liberation of creation has everything to do with our resurrection and the resumption of human rule through Christ over this universe.
That means that this Good Friday, and this Earth Day, we need to love what God loves: his entire creation. We need to conserve and care for the good earth that God has created. And we need to remember that, ultimately, the curse is rolled back by a bloody cross.
The risen Jesus, for his life and death and resurrection, saves us from an ecological catastrophe of the worst kind. And he raises us to newness of life to reign with him in a new creation—a different kind of Earth Day, a different kind of earth.