What Is Creation Care?

John Shepard

3/7/20235 min read

green mountain across body of water
green mountain across body of water

I can’t imagine putting all my thoughts on this subject in one article. So I hope it will give you a taste — a sampling of what I think are the basics of what we call Creation Care.

For starters, I care deeply about our connection to the earth and to one another. I am a Christian and approach creation care from a particular point of view. Many other people of faith have their own unique understanding. What's interesting is how we hold many similar beliefs when it comes to taking care of the planet and, much to learn from other perspectives (see below: Creation Care From Other Faith Traditions)

Perhaps the best way to sum up my calling and life's goal is what Jesus said to his followers in Matthew's gospel. We live and practice our faith by two biblical commands:

* Love God with all our heart, soul, and mind.
* Love our neighbor as one’s self.

These two, Jesus said, sums up all of the Old Testament laws and the words of the prophets (Matthew 22:37-40) These two loves are inseparable — one illustrates the other and is not complete without the other. Loving God and loving one’s neighbor are bound together.

But how we love God and each other can sometimes be challenging. Below is a simple and practical approach. For the Christian, love is more than a feeling, a desire, or a wish. It is always initiated by God and is concrete, and real. I can tangibly receive and give love. (1 John 4:7–8…God is Love.)

Throughout our scriptures, this is how the Christian faith understands love: God offers it in tangible ways from creation that we can see, touch, and feel. Whether it is the rains for moisture or the sun warming the earth, all is from God’s handiwork. The pinnacle experience for the Christian is what God gave of Himself through His Son: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him should not die but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) That’s our faith in a sound bite. Through creation and the self-giving life of Jesus, God initiates and creates . In turn, we respond by placing our trust and belief in what God offers us in creation and through God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

God loves the world

And yet the first five words of this verse have often been overlooked or ignored. God loves THE WORLD, not just humankind but the entire created order (“cosmos” in the original Greek translated “world,” not just human life). My belief in God, centered on Jesus Christ, is dependent on the inherent goodness, precious value, and care for all of creation. We don’t want to hang our care for the earth on one verse, but it does add new light to a passage often misquoted.

Perhaps there is no better place to expand our view of the Creator’s love than to start at the beginning. In our Scriptures, the first book of Genesis chapter one, we are told all of nature belongs to the Creator. Seventeen times in this chapter, God makes, God calls into being the natural world. It is God’s creation! Seven times over, God says, “it is good.” The word for “good” in Hebrew is “tov,” meaning it was fashioned right — it brings joy and delight to the Creator.

Psalm 104:31 tells us the Lord takes joy in what he fashions and puts together. God enjoys this home of ours we call earth, and He delights in it…ALL of it. With this in mind, here is my personal definition of creation care. It's a work in progress but, for now, here it is:

Creation care is how we express God’s love for this world and all the relationships that give it life. Simply, it is our deep connection with the air, soil, water, the earth’s heat, and each other. Remove or compromise any of these relationships, and life becomes destructive. Cherish it and take care of them and we flourish.

Our Role

Because God delights in and loves His creation, our scriptures tell us we’re given a special gift, a role to have. We are right there in the story of the garden of Eden- we are created in God’s image with a calling, a vocation to share with God in the work of caring for this world… “tending the garden.” (Genesis 2:15)

As one of my Old Testament seminary professors stated: “God’s making the world was like a king planting a farm or park or orchard, into which God put humanity to ‘serve’ the ground and to ‘serve’ and ‘look after’ the estate.” (Meredith G. Kline, Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview, Meredith G. Kline Wipf & Stock, 2006, p. 69.)

A Privilege and Responsibility

The garden itself is not ours but reflects God’s image, where we now have the privilege and responsibility to tend it and protect it (Genesis 2:15). God initiates a plan for us (the word ‘adam’ here is a word for “collective humanity”). We are to “have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth” (Gen. 1:26). This is all within the realm of tending to the garden. God finishes the work of His creation by creating us to work with Him.

As Ian Hart puts it, “Exercising royal dominion over the earth as God’s representative is the basic purpose for which God created man… Man is appointed king over creation, responsible to God, the ultimate king, and is expected to manage, develop and care for creation…” (Ian Hart, “Genesis 1:1 — 2:3 as a Prologue to the Books of Genesis,” TynBul 46, no. 2 (1995): 322).

Image Bearers and Gardeners

We work as image bearers of God, cultivating the earth just as He would, enhancing and strengthening its beauty and purpose (never killing or ruining it). With this in mind, we exercise dominion over the created world, knowing that we mirror God. We are not the originals, but the images, and our duty is to use the original — God — as our pattern, not ourselves. Our work is meant to serve God’s purposes more than our own, preventing us from domineering all God has put under our control.

So as gardeners, we are to direct and harness the abundant resources of this garden we call earth under the skillful care and coaching of the Creator. Here there would always be enough. Progress would not pollute, and resources would be replenished. Growth, as in any healthy garden, would renew and restore. The privileges of the strong would strengthen the weak, and humanity would strive for the same aspirations as God: to take care of this beautiful garden.

Does creation care sound like a big task? It is. The climate issues we face are complex and come at an enormous cost. When reading the rest of the book of Genesis, one catches a glimpse of not only an ancient people turning for the worse but also seeing our flawed human story. Yet throughout our scriptures, God offers hope. The Creator doesn’t cave or give up on us, and neither should we. (I will expand on this in another post).

Perhaps the best reminder of the Christian’s responsibility comes from the first two chapters of Genesis. We are given only one calling: to care for the garden. It is what we are created for. It's in the DNA of our belief. It’s a fundamental part of our character and motivation in life.

Creation Care From Other Faith Traditions