Why should Christians care about the earth when Jesus is coming back to destroy the old earth and create a new heaven and earth?
The end of the Bible speaks of an amazing new reality: the heavens and the earth remade into a stunning garden-city which will stand as the centrepiece of the universe, with God Himself dwelling with His people (Revelation 21:1-4). This is the incredible climax of history: God, having made all things new, in a perfect relationship with His people as they bask in His blessing. No more Covid, no more racism, no more death, no more suffering, no more sin. The old will pass away, and the new will come.
If this is the reality we’re awaiting, why should Christians care about this earth at all? Here are four good reasons (in no particular order):
Common Grace and Stewardship: First of all, we must recognize that though this creation has been irretrievably ruined by sin, it is nonetheless part of His common grace to all humanity—a good gift from God to us. As Jesus says, “he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). The sun and rain are part of creation, and are God’s means of sustaining humanity (no sun and rain = no dinner). They are undoubtedly a blessing. To be wilfully ignorant of this planet’s plight, or to continue to wreck it for the sake of greed then, is to foolishly vandalize the means which God has given to sustain life, which makes us a poor steward of the temporal resources that have been entrusted to us.
Common Sense: Another reason is that it is just good common sense. Whilst we know that there will be a day when the first heaven and the first earth will pass away (Revelation 21:1), Jesus Himself said that no one knows exactly when it’ll happen. So it might be tomorrow, or it might be in a thousand years. There’s no point speculating. Either way, you and I can reasonably expect to live here for a while yet, even as we wait expectantly for the Lord’s return.
So, to live in this world and to trash it as if there is no tomorrow is bad sense. This is what God meant in Jeremiah 29:4-10 when he called the exiles to “seek the welfare” of Babylon. They were going to be stuck there for at least a generation. The exiles needed to recognize that and sit tight; to get on with life in Babylon—to “[b]uild houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what produce”, “[m]arry and have sons and daughters” (Jeremiah 29:5-6)—and to seek the welfare of the city for their own sakes, rather than think they’d be home before long.
The same applies to us: our Babylon will burn tomorrow, but we still need to live in it today, and to continue our work here in the meantime as ambassadors of Christ. It’s no good smashing up the home we need to live in.
Loving our Neighbor: Thirdly, the second of the two greatest commandments Jesus gave is to love your neighbor as yourself. Christians are commanded by our Lord to love our neighbors, even if we do so imperfectly. To be sure, the ultimate expression of love is to point our neighbors towards the love of Jesus as expressed at the cross (1 John 4:10). But it’s more than that.
After recounting the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Jesus told the scribe to “go and do likewise”, but when He said that, He didn’t mean “only do evangelism”. He meant what he said: “do as the Samaritan did. Care for your neighbor”. In the context of global warming and environmental disaster, it is not difficult to see that today, caring for the environment is simply one aspect of loving our neighbor.
Being a Good Witness: The gospel is the only hope for the spiritually dead: it alone contains God’s power for salvation (Romans 1:16). And it is in making the gospel heard that our environmental concern becomes more relevant. If Christians are seen by outsiders as uncaring of the planet, or ambivalent to the suffering global warming causes, then there is the real danger that we, and the treasure of the message we carry, will be dismissed off-hand as irrelevant. We will be seen as bad witnesses, and this has the potential to diminish the impact of our gospel call to repentance and faith.
But we must keep the main thing, the main thing.
Finally though, it does bear saying that we get a lot wrong when we fail to emphasize what the Bible emphasizes, and over-emphazise things that it doesn’t. We must keep the main thing—preaching the gospel—the main thing. It is possible to turn what we’ve said above about creation care into the unassailable mantra of every millennial Christian (over and above the things that the Bible does emphasize). That would be a huge mistake.
Over and over again, the scriptures emphasize that humanity faces God’s judgment for their rebellion against Him. In fact, the Bible tells us that our broken world is itself evidence of this judgment (Genesis 3:17, Romans 8:20-22). Our blighted environment is literally wheezing out a message of repentance. God’s anger at our sin is the problem that Jesus came to fix. So at the end of the day, to plough our efforts into renewing creation without proclaiming the gospel is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic; the very definition of futility.
The part of this earth that we should care about supremely therefore, is her people: The pinnacle of this creation, loved by God and made for eternity. God Himself saw it fit to do the same: Jesus didn’t come to die to save the trees. He died on a tree (Acts 5:30, ESV) so that we could be in a place where trees will never die again, but instead exist for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:2).
Greta Thunberg said at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2019. “I want you to act as if the house is on fire, because it is.” She’s not wrong. Global warming causes untold suffering to millions and will continue to do so unless humanity acts. But Christians must never forget that there is a fire coming down the line that will burn unquenched forever, so we must keep the main thing the main thing and continue the mission of the Church undistracted. The house is on fire, but there is living water freely available for the world (John 4:13-14). If we really cared for this creation, we will preach the gospel.
Paul Wong is currently in training as a student at Oak Hill Theological College in London, having been the former campus pastor at Singapore Management University Christian Fellowship. He was previously also a ministry trainee at St Helen’s Bishopsgate Church, London, after spending 6 years as a corporate lawyer. He is married to Angela and they have two young daughters Elizabeth and Abigail.