Should global warming change how we live? It’s a question we get on occasion, and this time from a podcast listener named Timothy — a question for Pastor John who joins us again over Skype. “Hello, Pastor John. In a day and age where we’re bombarded with strong environmentalism, and save-the-earth propaganda, and green ideas, what should be the proper response of a Christian to all these pressures? Should we assume that climate change is caused by humans? How do we find a proper balance in ecological concerns when we are faced by so many things that seem like extremes: eliminating plastic straws, demonizing fossil fuels, and the rise of couples who refuse to have children because of the ‘impact on the environment’? It feels like the culture really is worshiping the creation instead of trusting the Creator. So how should a follower of Jesus care for a creation that will one day be destroyed by fire?”
Let me start by saying, and I hope I don’t disappoint too many folks here, I don’t know the answer to the question “Is global warming mainly or only caused by human behaviors, like the use of fossil fuels?” So, answering that specific question is not what this episode of Ask Pastor John is about. I wish I knew more and had greater wisdom on that, but given my limitations in what I can attend to and study and get clarity on, I don’t. And you’ll need to do your own work to get what I can’t provide.
Creation Care for Christians
The reason I’m willing to say anything at all in response to this question is because it does raise issues that I think the Bible is clear about and which importantly affect the way we should live. For example, there really is a danger — a spiritual danger — on the one hand, of elevating creation more highly than we should. And on the other hand, there really is a danger of being so opposed to environmentalist excesses that we’re unwilling to affirm or encourage anything, any kind of creation care, lest we sound like tree huggers. And we, of course, don’t like tree huggers, and therefore, we don’t say anything. I think that’s a huge danger.
That last point — just linger on that for just a moment. It cuts both ways in a culture like ours, where our decisions about what we will say and what we will do are based so much in our culture on which groups will approve of us if we talk a certain way, rather than being based on what is really true and good, regardless of what people think or say about us.
People on the right and on the left are often afraid of taking a position for fear of appearing defective to the group they desperately want to please. The Bible calls them “people-pleasers” and says that those who have Christ as their true Master won’t crave that kind of approval or fear disapproval from mere man (Ephesians 6:6–7). What can man do to you (Hebrews 13:6)?
So, my point is this: we should decide what kind of creation care is fitting for a Christian, quite apart from who calls us a tree hugger or who calls us an ice-cap melter. It doesn’t matter what people call us; what matters is truth and taking the right, courageous, clear stand.
Instruments in God’s Hands
Timothy asks, “How should a follower of Jesus care for a creation that will one day be destroyed by fire?” And I think the answer that I would give is this: the same way we should take care of our bodies even though they are going to rot in the grave. That’s my answer.
The body will be raised from the dead, and the creation “will be set free from its bondage to corruption” (Romans 8:21). Neither the eventual dissolution of the body or the eventual dissolution of the earth makes either of them worthless now. It does keep us from deifying them, making them God — this was the questioner’s point, and it’s a good one. Neither the body nor the earth is God, though some people treat bodies and earth as if they were. They will both die, but both are precious gifts of God now. The reason they’re precious is that both the body and the earth are meant to serve the fullness of Christ-exalting, God-glorifying life.
“Both the body and the earth are meant to serve the fullness of Christ-exalting, God-glorifying life.”
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:19–20, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” And then in Romans 12:1 he says, “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” And then again in Philippians 1:20 he says, “It is my eager expectation and hope that . . . Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.”
That’s what the body is for: it is an instrument for glorifying God, magnifying Christ, honoring the indwelling Holy Spirit.
I’m arguing that your body is your little earth. Let that sink in. I’m arguing that your body is your near, little earth, your nearest earth. It’s not your soul. Your body is not your soul. Jesus made a distinction and Paul made a distinction. Paul calls it your tent (2 Corinthians 5:1–4). It is the way your soul puts its decisions and its loves and its desires into action, right? Our body acts what our heart desires. And your body is one of the ways that God’s goodness is experienced in the pleasures he gives.
For example, in 1 Timothy 6:17, Paul instructs the rich not “to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy..” And a lot of that enjoyment comes through the five senses of the body. So, we receive gifts of beauty and goodness and pleasure through the eyes and ears and nose and skin and tongue of the body. Paul says in 1 Timothy 4:3–5,
God created [these pleasures] to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.
So, the body is the portal of God’s goodness through physical pleasure. And then it’s turned around and the body becomes the means of thankful worship and faithful obedience. The body receives and reflects the glory of God. We use the body to put the obedience of our hearts into visible action. That’s what Paul says when he makes the members of our body “instruments for righteousness” in Romans 6:13. Our bodies are instruments of our hearts’ righteousness.
Divine Calling to Dominion
Now, in the same way, not only is your body your little earth — your little world where you receive good from God and reflect his goodness in the acts of bodily obedience — but so also is the earth your bigger body. So, you see the shift I’m making now: the body is your little earth, and the earth is your bigger body. Just like Paul said we are to master our body and bring it into subjection (1 Corinthians 9:27) and make it the servant of righteousness (Romans 6:13), so we have been given a mandate as God’s highest earthly creatures to subdue the earth — just like we subdue our bodies and make them instruments of righteousness.
We subdue the earth, take dominion over it, and make it serve righteousness and justice. Psalm 8:6 says, “You have given [man] dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet.” We see the same thing in Genesis 1:26: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over . . . all the earth.”
So, the care of our bodies and the care of the earth are not driven by the worship of the body or the worship of the earth. That care is driven by a divine calling to make our body, our little earth, and to make our earth, our bigger body, both a means of glorifying God. That’s why we have a body, and that’s why we have an earth. By receiving pleasures through them, body and earth, we respond with thankfulness to God, and we respond by making both of them instruments of Christ-exalting righteousness.