Serve God by caring for God’s beautiful creation

Christians can and must find our own do-able ways of serving God by caring for the beautiful Earth God created, writes Lynne M. Baab. 

Right before the turn of the millennium, Philip Mote joined the board at the Presbyterian congregation in Seattle where I was an associate minister.

He was an atmospheric scientist and a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, something I had never heard of at that time.

He was eager for our congregation to engage in "creation care''.

I helped Phil organise a group focused on that issue.

Over the next few years, we put on events: a yearly transportation fair with examples of hybrid cars and electric bicycles, and a monthly "walk-bike-bus to church'' Sunday in summer.

We sponsored seminars.

Phil found interesting speakers, including an expert on wind power and a person who talked about non-toxic ways to do household cleaning.

One of our speakers came from A Rocha, a Christian creation care organisation which has a presence in the United States, New Zealand and many other countries.

I taught several seminars on the biblical basis for care of creation.

Key scriptures include Psalm 24:1, "The earth is the Lord's,'' and Psalm 104, which John Stott, a well known British Bible expositor, calls "perhaps the earliest essay on ecology in the literature of the world''.

In Genesis 2:15, God commands Adam to "till and tend'' the garden.

The meaning of these words for us today has been widely discussed.

The Hebrew word translated "till'' can also mean dress, work, or serve.

The word translated "tend'' can be translated as keep, take care of, guard, or look after.

The root word that lies behind "tend'' indicates a loving, caring, sustaining kind of keeping.

I have an undergraduate degree in biology, and I have always loved God's creation.

The beauty of creation calls me to worship and praise the One who made it.

To me it seems obvious that if God has made something beautiful and given it to us, we should care for it.

I was thrilled that Christians were getting involved in creation stewardship, and I imagined continued and growing commitment in that area in the years to come.

When I was in Seattle last year, a friend from my old church suggested that I write a book on creation care.

She said, "You were on the forefront of the movement with all those activities and seminars you and Phil organised.''

I responded, "I'm finding it so hard to be motivated these days.''

Fifteen years ago, it was all so clear to me.

We must care for this fragile Earth, the home that sustains our physical life. In the intervening years, some Christians have become sceptics about humans causing climate change.

Because Christians - like everybody else - can't seem to agree on climate change, we seldom spend time and energy considering other issues of Earth stewardship such as water quality, waste, pesticides, and the proliferation of chemicals in every area of life.

I told my friend why I had become discouraged.

She replied, "That's the book you should write: how Christians can stay motivated in caring for creation.''

She mentioned leaders of Christian environmental groups, who persevere year after year.

How do they do it?

She suggested I interview them and find out what keeps them motivated in the face of so much apathy and such complex issues.

Soon after that conversation, I had a meal with a potential interviewee for the book, a woman who is very passionate about caring for creation.

For several years, she consulted church leaders who wanted to save energy and reduce their church's carbon footprint.

She is engaged in advocacy, calling Christians to care for creation out of love for neighbours, especially the poor, who are disproportionately affected by environmental degradation.

I asked her how she keeps from getting discouraged.

She described the difference between serving and saving.

Serving God by caring for creation in whatever way we can, she said, is quite different from believing we are responsible to save creation.

She knows many Christians are reluctant to spend much time and energy on creation care because they're afraid it will be depressing.

"I've had to let go of results,'' she said.

"I'm not God.''

Her service, she said, is deeply grounded in Christian hope.

She told me about a man - a cancer patient no less - who collects rubbish on his daily walks.

He counts the number of fizzy drink cans he finds and measures the success of his day that way.

"Today was a three-can day!''

He is serving his community, serving God, and finding joy in it.

She believes Christians can and must find our own do-able ways of serving God by caring for the beautiful Earth God created.

- Lynne Baab is senior lecturer in pastoral theology at the University of Otago. She blogs at lynnebaab.com.

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