This Just In: For the Beauty of the Earth
By Joshua Ulm
Earth Day seems like something Christians should celebrate, doesn't it? After all, our God is the creator of the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1).The earth is His! (Psalm 24:1) The whole earth is full of His glory (Isaiah 6:3). With these verses in mind, it would seem that Earth Day should fall into our wheelhouse as Christians. And in fact, nearly every Earth Day celebration or exhortation has something that we as Christians can call "good": admiration of the earth's beauty, exploration of the earth's wonder, and encouragement towards care of the earth. Still, many Christians find that Earth Day articles and celebrations are missing something. We'll discover what that might be and gain something to share with others as we answer the simple question: Why do we value the earth?
God Created the Earth
The first reason why we value the earth is simply that God, our God, created it! The earth is quite beautiful. The Grand Canyon is breathtaking, the changing colors of the fall are inspiring, and a clear sky on a cold winter night evokes awe in even the most reserved among us. But the earth isn't generically or coincidentally beautiful. That beauty is an expression of its creator! One of our family's best friends is an artist. In many of her paintings, she uses a pallet knife to apply swaths of rich color and texture to the canvas. This special way of painting leaves a mark. Even without reading the signature at the bottom, I can recognize her work because it bears her unique style. Just like artists leave their marks on their sculptures, paintings, and drawings, God left His mark on creation! The beauty of the earth is an expression of the power, the might, and the creativity of our God. For example, similarities between species of creatures on the embryonic level show the "style" and order of God's creation, yet striking differences between full-grown creatures show His innovation and creative prowess. If you look at a chicken embryo and a human embryo, they look quite similar, but nine months later the differences are unmistakable! It is simply incredible. We could go on and on about God's amazing creation, but the reason that we value the intricacies, details, and wonders of the earth is not merely for their beauty, but because they are creations of God!
God Created the Earth for Us
As Christians, we don't stop with admiration of God's creation of the earth, but we recognize that God created the earth for His human creatures. He created the perfect home for humans, the crown jewel of His creation. In the Hebrew language, it is easy to see the connection between mankind and the earth. One word for earth or ground in Hebrew is "Adamah." The name of the first man is, of course, "Adam." God explains to Adam in Genesis 1, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the Earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food." Genesis 2:9 says, "Out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food." The observations made of the created world by scientists and researchers join with Scripture to remind us that the earth is just perfect for us. It is close enough to the sun so that we don't freeze, but far enough away so that we don't fry. The earth's gravity is just right to provide a habitable atmosphere for human life. All of the details are just right, planned, and executed by our creator. He has made a perfect home for His creatures.
God Created Us to Tend to the Earth
One of the main focuses of Earth Day is our responsibility for the care of the earth. Christians have a great deal to bring to the table regarding this. God created us in His image. He therefore created us with responsibilities and duties within His created order. Because we are made in His image, our vocations reflect His creative work. God made all the animals and named Adam. Adam was then given the task of naming the animals. God made the garden. Adam was given the task of tending it. God made Adam and Eve. And then God delegated further "making" of human beings to Adam and Eve, giving them the privilege, duty, and blessing of being fruitful, and multiplying--filling the earth with more human beings.
In his poem, "Mythopoeia," J.R.R. Tolkien (also the author of The Lord of the Rings trilogy) refers to humans as “little makers.” This term reminds us that our tasks of caring for God's creation flow from our creator, and yet we are not "The Maker," but "little makers," carrying out our tasks only by His grace and provision. We are called to care for and be good stewards of the earth. This is a joyous thing! Our care for the earth does not flow from fear of losing it or an overestimation of our abilities to stop the impact of sin and death on God's good world. Instead, we care for the earth because it is God's creation, and because He has called us to do so as His creatures who are made in His image.
God Is Recreating the Earth
Lastly, we value the earth because of Jesus. Jesus is, of course, the One through whom all things were made, but He also came to earth to dwell with us. Jesus came into His creation as it groaned under the weight of human sin and its consequences. He suffered along with us in toil and futility, and He began to make things right. The stuff of creation was not insignificant to Jesus. Jesus brought bounty and abundance at His first miracle, turning water into the best wine. He is the Word of God, who created the universe, recreated the eyes of the blind, the ears of the deaf, and the lips of the mute, freeing them from bondage. When Lazarus died, the same voice that spoke in the beginning spoke again, crying "Lazarus, come out!" and the stopped heart, dormant brain, and decaying limbs of Lazarus were recreated, coursing with life. The (formerly) dead man stood up and walked out of his tomb.
When Jesus died, He died for the sins of the whole world. When He rose, He defeated death, deadened its sting, and demolished its power. Many of our Easter readings point us to the life of the world to come, when the risen and ascended Jesus will make His triumphant return to the earth. On that day the earth will be a place of life and perfection. We will enjoy the bounty and abundance of God's creation as we partake in the great eternal feast (Isaiah 25:6). The things that have caused us grief and pain on the earth will be put right by the hand of God Himself (Revelation 21:3-4). All will be at peace on the earth, not because of us, but because of God who created and is recreating and restoring the earth.
Turn on your "discernment meter" each Earth Day. Think carefully through the articles you read, the posts you see on social media, and the celebrations that may take place in your community. I hope you find celebrations and expressions of Earth Day that glorify our creator, that recognize the love shown as God created the world for us, that take seriously our roles as "little makers," and most importantly recognize God's redemptive work in Christ, re-creating His fallen creation. If you find your community's celebration of Earth Day lacking these things, you have something to share when you attend and engage with others!
Rev. Joshua Ulm is husband to Mary, father of 3, and pastor at Ascension Lutheran in North Olmsted, Ohio. Special thanks and acknowledgment are given to Charles Arand and the class “God and Creation” at Concordia Seminary.
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