Written by Layton MacCabe
One of the Bible’s most memorable and important teachings on prayer takes place in Matthew when Jesus teaches His disciples how to pray. He leads them through a radically simple but bold prayer that houses not only a plea for the Lord’s provision but also a declaration of what humans should be praying and working for in the world.
“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” reads Matthew 6:10’s audacious reference to the way God would have things be.
Although this exact prayer is prayed thousands and thousands of times a day by Christians throughout the world, the Church needs to wake up to the implications of what they are praying for. In particular, the relevance to our relationship as Christians with the environment is incredibly overlooked.
Unfortunately, Christianity has a reputation for working against environmental action and advocacy. An understanding has formed in some churches that believers must deny the importance of these environmental issues. However, the narrative of Scripture does not allow for apathy about any of God’s creation—either for the coming generation of humans or an endangered species.
If the environment on earth actually looked like it does in heaven, what would that look like? What does bringing the good news to all creation entail (Mark 16)? If God originally created us with the task of keeping a garden healthy (Genesis 2), what does that say about our ideal relationship with the rest of creation? As I reflected and prayed about these passages, the Word of God began to reshape my understanding of His heart for our planet.
“The planet we are on mirrors the journey we are on as humanity.”
The planet we are on mirrors the journey we are on as humanity. Our fall away from God left us damaged in the very essence of our being and twisted from our original creation. In much the same way, our planet is damaged by the consequences of sin and has been twisted from the way it was created.
However, Jesus’ sacrifice and work on earth gave us the hope of new life and a new earth! In response, the Great Commission in Mark 16 tells believers to spread the good news to all creation, healing the brokenness from the fall both spiritually and physically. A reasonable extension of taking the good news and healing power of the gospel to the world is working towards an earth that is also healed from the weight of sin and death.
No more species going extinct. No more pollution of the beautiful rivers that God created. No more irresponsible destruction of wildlife habitats. Christians who truly want their earth to be “as it is in heaven” should work towards these goals and pray for them.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Calvin Blewitt, a graduate of Redeemer University’s environmental studies program and an environmental advocate in Kenya. He was able to give me some insight into what he’s discovered through his studies of the environment, the Bible, and the work of Wangari Maathai, a Christian environmentalist from Kenya who helped trail-blaze an environmental movement in the country, founded Green Belt Movement and became the first African woman to receive the Nobel Prize.
“A steward is not the owner but merely the caretaker.”
“In the Christian religion, there has historically been a hierarchy between humans and the environment,” says Blewitt. “This hierarchy has created a disconnect between the two. Many theologians and environmentalists argue that Genesis 1:28 has been one of the root causes for this distinct theological attribute. ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’ A quick, hasty reader may get the idea that a separation of the two is exactly what this verse is suggesting.
“However, a more careful and discerning reader is needed. God is not demanding we suppress it, rather that we steward it. Remember, a steward is not the owner but merely the caretaker. We are given dominion over the land—we are responsible for it, and are expected to take care of it. Genesis 2:15 says clearly that He put man in the garden of Eden to ‘work it and keep it.’ Psalm 115:16 says the earth has been given to the ‘sons of man,’ implying that long-term sustainability is needed in order to sustain it for future generations. As one can see, the Bible is peppered with various verses calling us to take care of the natural world.”
Blewitt’s insight into the harmfulness and unbiblical aspects of a Christianity that does not steward the environment but rather suppresses it is an important warning to the Church. It is time for believers, empowered by the equipping and healing power of the Holy Spirit, to begin a work of renewal of the world around us in response to the Great Commission.
So, I leave it in your hands! How can you make a difference for Jesus in the environment, helping restore and bring to life the dying world around us, just as you have been resurrected by the power of the gospel?