Francis Schaeffer once told of visiting a hippie commune on a trip to speak at a Christian school. The commune and school were located on opposite sides of a ravine. But though they were neighbors, the worldviews of the two institutions couldn’t have been more different.
In the commune, the hippies adopted pagan practices and celebrated nature. As Schaeffer talked with them, he noted a stark difference between the appearance of the commune and that of the Christian school. The residents of the commune had worked to enhance and maintain the natural beauty of their land. When Schaeffer looked across the ravine at the school, he said, “I stood on pagan ground and looked at the Christian community and saw ugliness.” The grounds around the college buildings had no trees and demonstrated little concern for the integrity of creation.
The greatest task of every Christian is to get the gospel to the ends of the earth. Yet as we fulfill that mission, we should be working to bring substantial healing to all areas of the world, including the created order. As Schaeffer made clear, the way we treat creation reveals our worldview and our character.
Earth Day occurs only a few weeks after Easter. The date wasn’t selected with Jesus’s death, burial, and resurrection in mind, but it’s entirely appropriate for Christians to recognize the goodness of the material world in the shadow of our celebration of Christ’s redeeming it.
The greatest task of every Christian is to get the gospel to the ends of the earth. Yet as we fulfill that mission, we should be working to bring substantial healing to all areas of the world.
Earth Day has a plurality of meanings. For pagans like those in the hippie commune, it may be a day for worshiping nature itself. For materialist scientists, Earth Day may provide a time for exploring the science of ecology. Secular humanists may lament human abuses of nature or celebrate potential solutions achieved by human ingenuity. Christians have an opportunity to point beyond creation to the Creator who made the world, sustains it through his power, and redeems both material and spiritual through his blood on the cross (Col. 1:16–20; Rom. 8:22–23).
Aspects of some Earth Day celebrations conflict with orthodox Christian theology. On at least one point, however, believers share a common cause with unbelievers. We together affirm the material world is good and worth stewarding well.
For the Christian distinctively, the goodness of creation begins with its relationship to the Creator. God declares creation good in Genesis 1. Because he made it, it reflects his goodness. God also demonstrates the continued goodness of creation, despite the effects of the fall, through his incarnation and, finally, through his resurrection.
These two events—creation and the resurrection—are significant bases for a proper understanding of our place within the environment. Other people look into the future and see only futility, but with the resurrection in our view, Christians can point forward to hope for God’s creation.
Many Christians can rattle off the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5. That list includes the difficult virtue of patience, and it ends with the most challenging virtue, self-control. Paul tacks on this reminder to cap off the list: “Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24).
We rightly see those virtues in opposition to the sensual vices Paul condemns as works of the flesh in verses 19–21. But the fruit of the Spirit evidenced by patience and self-control is demonstrated in our lives through more than avoiding sexual immorality and anger. These virtues are signs of regeneration because they demonstrate a Christian’s hope beyond the pleasures of this world.
Schaeffer believed exhibiting spiritual fruit is a critical part of caring for creation. Amid the grandeur of the Alpine landscape surrounding L’Abri, Schaeffer was struck by the way people would sometimes ignore the creation’s integrity in pursuit of immediate convenience. Mountain villages that had spent generations without electricity were in such a rush to have the latest convenience of civilization that they ignored the damage that pursuing this convenience caused. Schaeffer wrote,
They can have their electricity in about three months: just chop off everything, tear the forest in pieces, run big, heavy wires over the whole thing, and create ugliness out of what was beautiful. Or they can wait a couple of years for their electricity; they can handle the cables and the forests with more care, hiding what they need to hide and considering the integrity of the environment, and end up with something infinitely preferable.
Electrification and the benefits of technology and human ingenuity it brings are good. Yet even such goods should be pursued virtuously—with patience and self-control.
Exhibiting spiritual fruit is a critical part of caring for creation.
In a world saturated with “green” messages, Christians who forgo conveniences and delay gratification for the sake of managing God’s world with integrity will point the way toward God’s substantial healing of creation. We may even spark the kind of conversations that cause people to ask us why we care. By making creation-friendly choices in the way we live, we can show we love the creation because we love its Creator. When we live as those who have hope in creation’s coming renewal (Rom. 8:18–25), we may also get a chance to offer a defense for the hope that is in us (1 Pet. 3:15).