All good stories have a beginning, middle and an end. The Earth’s story is no different. The bible begins with God’s creation of the heavens and the Earth, in Genesis, and ends with the new creation, in Revelation – a new heavens and a new Earth. This is part of God’s story – which is what the bible is all about – who God is and what he is doing. Our story is intimately involved in both God’s story and the Earth’s story – we are living in the middle of the Earth’s story. We are part of God’s creation (Genesis 1) but because of the fall (Genesis 3) we know that the Earth is not all God intended it to be. To a large extent that is because we have not looked after our planet very well.
Fortunately God has a plan, his mission. This is to redeem all of creation (Romans 8:19-21). This is plan not just for the redemption of individuals – though that is vital – but for the whole of his creation – people and planet! At the centre of God’s story and God’s plan stands Jesus. His death and resurrection bring redemption for both people, as individuals and as community, and for creation (Romans 8). This is not a case of either / or (a false dichotomy) but of both / and. Colossians 1:15-20 celebrates Jesus’ centrality in all this: he is the image of God – restoring what was lost by Adam and Eve; all things were created by and for him; all things hold together in him – he sustains creation; all God’ s fullness dwells in him – he is how we encounter God; all things, on Earth and in heaven, are reconciled to him by his blood shed on the cross! This is an amazing biblical paean.
We need to recognise both the continuity and discontinuity between the existing creation and the new creation to come. What we do now, how we choose to live, will have an impact on the new creation in ways we do not fully understand. Consider Jesus’ resurrection body – the first fruits of the new creation (1 Corinthians 15:23). It was recognisable but different (Luke 24:31, John 20:10-18); Jesus’ scars were visible and he ate fish (John 21:27; Luke 24:40-43); he appeared in a locked room (John 20:19). Somewhat speculatively we might ask whether some of the “scars” that we are inflicting on the Earth will be there in the new creation?
God gave Adam and Eve the task of looking after the Earth (Genesis 1:28-31, 2:7, 15) and that is a task we are meant to continue to carry out as we live in the middle of the Earth’s story. So the challenge is: how should we live now so that the Earth becomes all God intends it to be? Whatever our response to this challenge, our environmental ethics (how we live) should be grounded in our understanding of the biblical metanarrative – God’s story and the Earth’s story.
Tom Wright 2007 Surprised by hope, London: SPCK.
C.J.H. Wright 2006 The mission of God: unlocking the Bible’s grand narrative. Nottingham: IVP.
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