Today millions of people in over 175 nations are commemorating the 41st Earth Day. This is a time to celebrate. Great good has come out of Earth Day since Senator Gaylord Nelson first started it in 1970, and we are a better people because of it.
This is also a time to mourn. The planet continues to struggle under the debilitating weight of unsustainable human consumption. This reality hits my generation—the Millennials—especially hard as we gear up to inherit the earth. Inheritances are supposed to be a blessing; this one is becoming a curse.
Creation is worse off now, by almost every measure, than it was back on the first Earth Day. It is easy to look at the interconnected environmental and social crises of today–the water crisis, food crisis, energy crisis, climate crisis, global pollution and toxicfication, disease, natural disasters, wars and violence—and fall into despair.
But these crises, while very real, are better understood as symptoms of a deeper problem. Ken Wilson, shares the following quote from eminent environmentalist Dr. James “Gus” Speth in his book, Jesus Branded Spirituality (Thomas Nelson 2009):
I used to think that if we threw enough good science at the environmental problems, we could solve them. I was wrong. The main threats to the environment are not biodiversity loss, pollution, and climate change as I once thought. They are selfishness and greed and pride. And for that we need a spiritual and cultural transformation, something we scientists don’t know much about.
Dr. Speth is right. To put it in slightly different language, the root of our environmental and social problems is sin. Therefore, what we ultimately need is a solution to sin.
The Bible speaks directly to this. In the first three chapters of Genesis, we understand that God created the world in a state of peace and wholeness, where right relationships flourished between us and God, within ourselves, between us and the rest of creation, within creation as a whole, and between the whole of creation and God. By eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Even disobeyed God (i.e. sinned against God) and thus fractured our relationship with Him, and all the other relationships down the line were broken as a result. Romans 8 described almost two thousand years ago what our science today is quantifying: that all of creation is groaning from the affects of our sin. This is the bad news.
The good news is that God has not given up on his creation. The rest of the Bible is the story of God saving the world from sin, first by working through the law and a chosen people known as the Israelites, and then ultimately by working through his only son, Jesus Christ: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (Jesus), and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:19-20).
By dying on the cross, in our place, Jesus paid the price of our sin and thus opened the door for ALL THINGS to be reconciled back into a right relationship with God, and therefore also into right relationship with each other. Everything that was broken as a result of our sin is to be healed.
Simply put, there is a solution to sin: Jesus Christ
And since sin is the root cause of our environmental and social crises, there is ultimately no answer to these problems apart from Christ and what he did on the cross.
So it is especially fitting that Earth Day happens to coincide with Good Friday this year. As we contemplate both the crucifixion of Jesus and the current state of the creation he died to save, an appropriate call to action comes out of the Cape Town Commitments, the official statement published by the most recent Lausanne Congress, held in Cape Town, South Africa:
…love for God’s creation demands that we repent for our part in the destruction, waste, and pollution of the earth’s resources and our collusion in the toxic idolatry of consumerism. Instead, we commit ourselves to urgent and prophetic ecological responsibility. We support Christians whose particular missional calling it is to environmental advocacy and action, and those committed to godly fulfillment of the mandate to provide for human needs from the abundance of God’s creation. We remind ourselves that the Bible declares God’s redemptive purpose for creation itself. Integral mission means discerning, proclaiming, and living out the biblical truth that the gospel is God’s good news, through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, for individual persons, and for society, and for creation. All three are broken and suffering because of sin; all three are included in the redeeming love and mission of God; all three must be part of the comprehensive mission of God’s people.