The hope of new life, new possibilities, new hope, new being made possible through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is the central message of Christianity.
Paul describes the transformation that Christian faith brings in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”
The connection between creation care and Paul’s declaration might not be obvious at first.
This verse speaks of God’s present yet ongoing renewal and redemption of a Christian.
He uses the term “new creation” to describe what takes place when a person chooses to be “in Christ” and reconciled to God.
The Greek word translated “creation” conveys the idea of a founding or establishing (as of a city or building). Paul uses the same term to describe the created world in Romans 8.
The word translated “new” in 2 Corinthians 5 suggests a new kind of existence. The same word is the adjective used in Revelation 21 to describe the “new heaven” and “new earth.”
So the terminology Paul employs in 2 Corinthians 5 is used to refer to the transformation of both people and the created world – a process that is a present, ongoing reality that happens in the world that now exists.
Christian are new, renewed people – or at least are in the process of becoming so. The old ways of living and being are passing away.
Yet these same people continue to remain physically in the world, as they did before their conversion.
In other words, becoming a “new creation” does not involve our physical bodies being destroyed and replaced.
Even though we experience significant change and transformation, we remain the same physical person; there exists continuity and discontinuity as a “new creation.”
Christian orthodoxy has long emphasized this unity of the individual – eschewing notions about disembodied souls living on once the body has died as well as assertions that a good, spiritual soul is longing for release from an evil, physical body.
The same logic is not applied always to the created world, as some Christians believe that the “new heaven” and “new earth” is completely disconnected from the present world.
Far too often Christians have assumed that the physical world will end, with Christians departing into an abstract or spiritualized heaven, a new realm completely disconnected from creation to which, according to our hymnody, we will all “fly away” “in the sweet by and by.”
Yet, Paul reveals in Romans 8 that creation undergoes a process similar to that of the Christian – it is “groaning” for redemption, waiting “to be liberated from its bondage to decay.”
It is noteworthy that in Romans 7, Paul describes a death and rebirth process in which the Christian dies “to what once bound us … so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit” (Romans 7:5).
His audience could not have failed to note the similar imagery subsequently used of creation in bondage and longing for release.
Pope Francis has declared Sept. 1 to be an annual day of prayer for creation care, joining with the Orthodox Church that has done so since 1989 and expressing hope for “the widest possible cooperation” in this observance.
The biblical witness makes clear that the “new creation” God is working to bring about involves both humanity and creation.
It is not a replacement but a renewal movement in which all things are becoming fully aligned with God’s design (becoming righteous, rightly ordered), as I’ve noted previously.
There is death to what has bound humanity and creation and rebirth into new life – a present and ongoing transformation.
This begs the question: Will humans, will Christians be of help to creation as it groans toward healing, redemption, liberation by caring for creation? Or will we contribute to its suffering by continuing with life as usual?
Joining global Christians in a day of prayer offers an excellent opportunity to fulfill the divine imperative to exercise dominion over creation properly – not as an exploitative endeavor but as a careful, cultivation of our home.
This day allows us, to quote Pope Francis, “to renew our personal participation in this vocation as custodians of creation, raising to God our thanks for the marvelous works that he has entrusted to our care, invoking his help for the protection of creation and his mercy for the sins committed against the world in which we live.”
Editor’s note: EthicsDaily.com’s numerous creation care resources are available on its mini-site TheGreenBible.org.