Creation Care in Biblical Perspective
WCIU Journal: Environmental Studies Topic
July 9, 2018
by Beth Snodderly
TWITTER COMMENT: “If your God wants our Earth destroyed and children poisoned—you need a different God!”
In Isaiah 24 there is a good description of what happens to the land when the people who should be good stewards of the earth, neglect or refuse to be wise in caring for it.
“The earth dries up and withers,
the world languishes and withers,
the heavens languish with the earth.
The earth is defiled by its people;
they have disobeyed the laws,
violated the statutes
and broken the everlasting covenant.
Therefore a curse consumes the earth;
its people must bear their guilt.
Therefore earth’s inhabitants are burned up,
and very few are left” (Isaiah 24:4-6).
Evangelical Christian presence in U.S. society is giving God a bad reputation. American evangelicals, who ignore or even mock the warning signs of global warming and environmental pollution, are doing exactly the opposite of what God’s people should be doing to demonstrate the character and glory of God to a secular world. If we represent God to be uncaring and unconcerned about his creation, many people will not want to know that kind of God.
Ralph Winter often talked and wrote about why people turn away from faith. He foresaw that the rest of the world will eventually follow the pattern of the post-Christian West if we don’t stop exporting a gospel that contains the seeds of its own destruction. He recognized that communities of believers who do not do the hard work of answering hard questions can expect their children and future generations to abandon their faith in God
Winter urged Christ-followers to lead the way in restoring God’s reputation and glory in the eyes of the on-looking world. Believers need to help potential followers of Jesus see that the suffering, violence, and evil we see in creation are not God’s will and are not from him. Rather, societies and all creation experience the consequences of human and angelic choices, both good and bad, and God does not overrule the free will he has granted his creatures. Winter pointed to the importance of seeing the historical big picture—that God is in an ongoing battle with a spiritual adversary, starting even before Genesis 1. Salvation is thus not just a “ticket to heaven.” Rather, God is asking humans to choose to join him in the battle to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8) and to demonstrate God’s will for shalom—holistic well-being and relationships—for human societies and all creation.
Excerpts from Winter’s Writings and Talks
Perspectives’ Article: The Kingdom Strikes Back
The Bible consists of a single drama: the entrance of the Kingdom, the power and the glory of the living God in this enemy-occupied territory. From Genesis 12 to the end of the Bible, and indeed until the end of time, there unfolds the single, coherent drama of “the Kingdom strikes back.” This would make a good title for the Bible itself were it to be printed in modern dress (with Gen 1–11 as the introduction to the whole Bible). In this unfolding drama we see the gradual but irresistible power of God reconquering and redeeming His fallen creation through the giving of His own Son at the very center of the 4000-year period ending in 2000 CE [and beyond]. Man was meant to be an ally in the redemption and restoration of Creation, not merely a worker for his own redemption, even though his own redemption is essential for his restoration as a worker in the Kingdom, and as a warrior on God’s side in the destruction of the works of the devil (Winter 2008b, 86).
The major theme of the Bible itself is a plan to counteract evil, the single story of God’s re-conquering of a planet which has been distorted from God’s intent and seduced out of His fellowship. An understanding of this mystery begins to bring meaning into all else. The Divine response to the entrance of evil was a plan to defeat The Evil One, restore creation, and reclaim all the peoples of the earth. A principal means for this is the redemption of man through a chosen nation, on the basis of “the lamb slain before the foundations of the world” (Snodderly 2009, 26).
All this was not supposed to have been a mystery down through Jewish history, since it was made clear to Abraham in Genesis 12:3—that a chosen people was called to be blessed and to be a blessing, called to special service not just survival. However, this way of looking at things—radically different from current Evangelical thinking—allows us to understand the appearance of human beings as an additional creation for the specific purpose of aiding in the restoration of what already had been created—a process referred to as advancing God’s Kingdom. In 1 John 3:8 we read, “the Son of God appeared for this purpose that He might destroy the works of the devil.” By contrast, however, through the seduction of homo sapiens, human history has become for the most part a story of human self-salvation rather than of redeemed humans being counted among the forces seeking the conquest of evil (Snodderly 2009, 27).
Once restored in repentance and faith, in the blessing of God, redeemed man is expected to resume his original purpose, to work with God for the restoration of all creation, and in the process make crystal clear that Satan and not God is the initiator of evil and depravity. It may well be that neither a full restoration of creation nor even the full restoration of humans will take place before the end of time. Meanwhile, humans must continue not just to resist but to fight Satan, joining with the Son of God in the destruction of all Satan’s works (Snodderly 2009, 27).
Thus, the New Testament often speaks in military terms. The Kingdom of God manifested in the church will contest the kingdom of darkness (“the gates of hell will not prevail against it”); we are called as soldiers, not just survivors who are mainly candidates for heaven. The love of Christ constrains us to go to deliver people (and God’s creation) from the actual power of sin and disease and fear, and then enlist them in the mission to which God has called us all, the destruction of the works of Satan, that His Kingdom might come as His will is done on earth, and His glory rightfully restored (Snodderly 2009, 28).
The gospel is not just about dispensing good news. It’s also about a battle. Humans were created to restore creation by advancing God’s kingdom. The corruption of creation by intelligent evil has turned the story of our planet into the story of a battle. Unfortunately, there is a widespread blindness to the corruption of all creation and our responsibility to restore it (Winter 1999). Several types of theology would seem to frustrate any substantial efforts against evil. One theological tradition might emphasize that the world is getting worse and worse anyway, so why bother? Focus on the next world. Another, more virulent form of theology, would actually attribute all tragedies to the initiative of God Himself, rather than to the initiative of fallen angels, or fallen humanity. This latter type of theology is so pervasive that even Christian leaders have written books like, When God Doesn’t Make Sense, or Where is God When It Hurts? In both cases, God’s mysterious will, to which we are told we must resign ourselves, is the main emphasis, not an intelligent evil power against which we have a mandate to defeat, or at least die in the attempt.
Even more pervasive is the assumption that Christianity is primarily the rescue of human beings rather than the restoration of all creation. It is as though to escape this world is more important than to restore God’s glory through the conquest of the destructive and distorting elements of Satanic fury against God (Winter 2008c).
Our God is being blamed for all kinds of evil today. You need to get it clear in your mind that to glorify God is to restore his creation, not merely get people into heaven. All creation groans and strains according to Romans 8 waiting for the redemption. But if we talk about redemption we have to talk about restoration of creation, you can’t just talk about the ticket to heaven. Getting human beings redeemed is not the end, it’s the beginning (Winter 2005). The Genesis mandate to man to care for life would thus seem to include serious human efforts in collaboration with God to work with Him to restore (to redeem) all perversions of disease or violence in the various forms of life. In this activity we can “Let our light so shine among men that they may see our good works and glorify our Father which is in heaven” (Matt 5:16). This is part of “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10) (Winter 2008a 26-27).
Winter Prayer Log Entry
I forgot one thing. The reason I am so concerned to identify evil and become known as a believer in Jesus Christ who is fighting it, is because a great deal of evil in this world is blamed on God. How attractive is our invitation to people to return to and yield to their Father in Heaven if they continue to believe he is the one who contrives for most everyone to die in suffering? Unless Satan is in the picture and we are known to be fighting his deadly works we are allowing God’s glory to be marred and torn down. Doesn’t that make sense?
“The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:19-22).
Snodderly, Beth. 2009. The Story of the Battle for Our Planet. Compiled Excerpts from Ralph Winter’s Writings and Talks. In Foundations of the World Christian Movement: A Larger Perspective, Course Reader. Rev. ed, edited by Ralph D. Winter and Beth Snodderly, 25-32. Pasadena, CA: Institute of International Studies.
Winter, Ralph D. 1999. World Christian Foundations Module 2 Introduction. Module 2 Reader. Pasadena, CA: Institute of International Studies.
______. 2008a. Basic Concepts. In Frontiers in Mission: Discovering and Surmounting Barriers to the Missio Dei. 4th ed, edited by Ralph D. Winter, 26-27. Pasadena, CA: WCIU Press.
______. 2008b. The Kingdom Strikes Back: Ten Epochs of Redemptive History. In Frontiers in Mission: Discovering and Surmounting Barriers to the Missio Dei. 4th ed, edited by Ralph D. Winter, 85-104. Pasadena, CA: WCIU Press.
_______. 2008c. “Seizing the Future.” Foundations Course Lecture, William Carey International University, Pasadena, CA. http://www.foundationscourse.org/uploads/documents/intros/20_lecture.pdf.
_______. 2005. “One in Love Address.”