The tradition of celebrating Earth Day on April 22 is one of the fruits of “environmental awakening” in the end of the 1960s.
Started in 1970 in the United States, it has grown into an international movement with partners in 196 countries.
This year’s Earth Day is focusing on environmental and climate literacy. The campaign aims to ensure that by Earth Day 2020 “every student around the world graduates high school as an environmental and climate literate citizen, ready to take action and be a voice for change.”
Learning how to “read and understand our planet” is no doubt one of the instruments we need for building more sustainable and just societies.
Yet for Christians our planet is not the only item to read and understand. We also read the Bible. We read the Bible first, and the way we understand the Scriptures shapes the way we read and interpret the planet.
So the question for us is this: How do we read and understand the Scriptures? Does our planet have an intrinsic value as God’s creation or is it mere scenery on the stage for the human drama?
A few days ago, we celebrated Easter. Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection stand in the center of Christian faith, and therefore, I believe, the Easter message preached in our churches carries a heavy weight.
What is the focus of our annual Easter messages? Is it about what we human beings get out of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection?
Humanity does need redemption, no doubt about that, but is that all Christ died for 2,000 years ago?
JÃ¼rgen Moltmann argues in “Jesus Christ for Today’s World” that according to the New Testament, Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection is not only a historical event. It is not just the new covenant God once signed to guarantee forgiveness of sins and eternal life to those who accept Christ as their Savior.
Moltmann says, “There can be no redemption for human beings without the redemption of the whole of perishable nature. … We also have to understand it [Christ’s resurrection] as the first act in the new creation of the world. Christ’s resurrection is not just a historical event. It is a cosmic event too.”
In other words, the bodily resurrection of Christ is the beginning of the transformation of all creation.
And since Christ’s resurrection, the whole of God’s creation is on the move toward the ultimate Kingdom of God.
It is a process, an ongoing story of Christ taking place in history in which God himself and his people are participating.
What might this mean for our churches today?
I think it first means that we need to learn how to read the Scriptures from the perspective that goes beyond the anthropocentrism and individual needs.
The Bible is full of imaginative pictures of the natural world.
Bernhard W. Anderson argues in “From Creation to New Creation” that creation language in Israel’s language of worship (see, for example, Psalms 8, 19, 24, 95, 104) is theologically related to God’s redeeming work.
It gives grounds for praising him and evokes peoples’ understanding who they really are and what is their role as a part of the created world.
In the New Testament, Jesus’ teaching often contains images from the natural world; the Apostle Paul tells how the whole creation is groaning and waiting to be set free to share the “freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).
Yet, the question is how much is creation language used in today’s urbanized churches? Does it make sense to people with smartphones and flat panel HDTVs? And what is the value of the natural world when almost anything can be produced artificially?
I believe one of the challenges for today’s church is to learn how to read the Scriptures so that it holds together the natural world and the world of human beings.
This, it seems to me, is the first step toward environmental and climate literacy among Christians.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series for Earth Day 2017.
The previous articles in the series are:
Helle Liht is the assistant general secretary at the European Baptist Federation.