“The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it.” (Ps. 24: 1 NRSV)
In the context of a discussion on environmental stewardship, a Pentecostal friend recently posed a question. “If you came upon a burning house,” she asked, “what would you do first – try to save the house and then see if there were still occupants inside, or do your best to save the occupants and only then worry about saving the house? For, after all,” she said, “the Lord will return soon to take the saved to heaven and then the world will be destroyed by fire. So, Christians shouldn’t worry about saving a doomed world, but should rather concentrate on saving lost souls.”
In a short column it’s impossible to provide a full critique of the theology that informs my friend’s claims, but part of a rebuttal might go something like this:
At the end of the creation account in Genesis, God is reported as stating emphatically that what God had created was “very good” (Gen 1:31). And what God had created was everything, not just human beings, but the entire cosmos with a special focus on human image bearers who were to be the caretakers of God’s earthly creation. Sin entered the world and changed all of that, but in Jesus “there is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17).
Saviour of all things
Christ came to restore the relationship between God and humankind to what it was intended to be right from the start. And a major part of that relationship was, and is, the caretaking of the earth: an earth that will pass through a refiner’s fire, to be renewed when Christ returns (Rev. 21).
“All things came into being through him. And without him not one thing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:3). Thus, Jesus, the Saviour, is the saviour of all things including the physical cosmos of which our earth is a part. It is difficult to imagine that Jesus is not concerned about the jewel of his creation.
There are hundreds of passages in the Bible that attest to God’s love for creation and the need for humans to do so as well. Many Psalms, and especially the last four chapters of Job, express the importance that the Creator gives to creation. And this love is not some romantic, general feeling of beneficence; no, it’s a nitty-gritty, down-in-the-dirt kind of love. Here are just a few examples from the Old Testament:
Deut. 23:12-13 “You shall have a designated area outside the camp to which you shall go. With your utensils you shall have a trowel; when you relieve yourself outside, you shall dig a hole with it and then cover up your excrement.”
Deut. 22:6-7 “If you come upon a bird’s nest . . . with fledglings or eggs . . . you shall not take the mother with the young. Let the mother go, taking only the young for yourself.” (Thus preserving the breeding stock.)
Ex. 23: 10-11 “For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the wild animals may eat.” (This is an ecological principle of land care as well as concern for poor people and animals.)
Yes, people need to be saved from burning houses, but they will still need housing once they are saved.