In this three-part series, we are looking at how caring for the whole creation – including the human part of creation – goes to the heart of the Christian faith and how it does so because it is rooted in the community of God in the Trinity.
In my last post, we looked at God as a God of Justice: a God who raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, and who calls us to be active in doing the same. In Part 2 we now turn to think about God the Son, Jesus Christ. Our starting point will once again be the Scriptures, where we discover Jesus as the Lord of All Creation. Colossians 1:15-20 describes this in beautiful and powerful words:
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
God the Son in whom and through whom and for whom all things were created. There is, of course, so much that can be said about this passage, but the key point for us here is that powerful affirmation of the value of all things. The God of Justice calls us to take action with and for people living in poverty. But understanding this passage in its fullness asks more of us: we worship the Lord of All Creation, who values the whole world that he created. It’s a powerful affirmation that all things are loved and are valuable to God. Yes, people. But not only people. Verse 20 is one I come back to time and time again, that Jesus’ blood shed on the cross has made peace and reconciled all things in heaven and on earth to God.
We see this elsewhere in the Scriptures. The Bible begins of course with the statement that God is the Creator of the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:31 says that God looked at all that God had made and said that it is ‘very good’. We also see it in the laws of the Old Testament – the jubilee and the sabbath weren’t only about people, but also about the land and the livestock. We see it in the prophets, in the way they held together righteousness, justice and the state of the land. We see it in the Psalms and in the vision of the book of Revelation, where, as theologian Richard Bauckham says in his memorable phrase, we are pictured as part of ‘the community of creation’, taking part in that choir of worship to God.
So we worship the Lord of All Creation, and recognise that we have been created and placed in this world, not separate to it, but as part of that community. And we have a job to do – to be God’s image, to mirror God’s care, love and valuing of the wider natural world by tending to it.
We’re facing a terrible environmental crisis, with environmental degradation on an unprecedented, heartbreaking scale. I sometimes teach on a Master’s course on environmental ethics, and I begin by getting the students into pairs and asking them to make a list of every environmental problem that they can think of that we’re faced with today. Then we go round the room and take it in turns to share one, and continue going round until we’ve shared them all – it’s a long list! We are facing environmental degradation on a scarcely-comprehensible scale.
Covid itself is an environmental crisis, demonstrating the utterly broken relationship we have with the wider natural world. We are pretty sure that it is a zoonotic virus (one that can jump between species to find new hosts) that has come about because of our mistreatment of the wider natural world. It is also likely that Ebola developed because of the destruction of the rainforest in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Covid opens our eyes to deforestation, illegal trafficking and poaching of animals, the wet market trade, and the many other terrible ways that we are treating the wider creation that God loves so much.
Our climate crisis isn’t only impacting people, but it is causing ecosystem collapse and extinction at an unprecedented rate. My eldest daughter’s boyfriend is from Hawaii and he’s grown up diving amongst the coral reefs around the island he lives on. Through his childhood and now into adulthood, he has seen the coral reefs of his home be devastated. They are heartbreakingly different from what they used to be.
A recent UN report found that 66% of marine environments and 75% of land environments have been changed because of us. I was struck watching one of the Perfect Planet programmes by David Attenborough’s assertion that the planet he saw as a young man has now changed beyond recognition. How terrible!
So alongside our worship of the God of Justice, we also see that we approach the climate crisis as followers of the Lord of All Creation who has created us and placed us in the world as members of the wider community of creation. If we truly believe, as the apostle Paul did, that all things have been created in and through and for Jesus, then we cannot sit idly by as those things are harmed and destroyed: we must respond and act.