A Christian perspective on protecting the earth
In day two of our examination of the religious need to tackle climate change and protect our planet, Helen Stephens looks at what Christianity can teach us:
I write this on a beautiful autumn day: a clear blue sky, multi-coloured leaves on the trees and warm sunlight seeping through the window. I am reminded of why God looked at everything he had made and saw that it was ‘very good’.
The Christian faith is underpinned by our belief in a God who created, loves, sustains and will one day restore this earth. He delights in it and as humans, part of his creation, we’re wired to delight and find joy in it too in all its beauty and fragility.
During this season of decay and slowing down, I sometimes wonder where birds go to die – one of those questions a child might ask. We rarely see birds drop from the sky and yet not one sparrow falls to the ground without God knowing. Imagine then God’s reaction to the million or so species that are now at risk of extinction.
As Christians, we are called to be ‘stewards of the earth’ – to ‘till it and keep it’, as some biblical translations render it. The environmental challenges that we face today though – climate change, loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, to name a few – are in large part because we’ve done far more tilling (working) the earth, than we have of keeping (looking after) it.
Whilst we might find joy in God’s creation, we also need to acknowledge the extent to which human activities have damaged the earth and to seek forgiveness. Made as we are in the image of God, we have distorted that image in the way that we have related to the earth and all other living things.
The emergence of the Schools Climate Strike and Extinction Rebellion is a response to the urgency and depth of action required to transform our societies at local and global levels to avert widely predicted environmental disaster. This, though, is not the end of the story. Christianity teaches that the earth will one day be renewed and restored but that, as we wait for this, we are also called to act. Our hope is in future restoration but our practice is to work towards it so that God’s ‘will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’.
Our work at A Rocha UK is to mobilise Christians and churches to care for the environment. We run an ecumenical programme, Eco Church, which provides a framework to help churches of all denominations care for the earth across every aspect of church life.
Some of the 2,000+ registered churches are just at the start of their journey; others are well along the path of changing the culture of their churches by, for example, using their spaces for recycling hubs, pay-as-you-feel-able cafés sourced with food that would otherwise have gone to waste, and engaging in activism to bring about deep-rooted change. They are working in their communities with people of other faiths (and none), united in a belief that we must act now, and that the earth – and everything in it – is precious and worth saving.
So, at this season of slowing down and decay, we can look beyond to ultimate renewal and restoration. And if we all love this earth in the way that God does, we can create here and now a foretaste of what that will be like.
Helen Stephens is Church Relations Manager at A Rocha UK