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Should Christians love creation as we love ourselves? No, we should love God.

I spend some of my time volunteering with the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue doing advocacy in creation care, and with this call comes some strange experiences. A few months back I had a discussion with a friend (who has no relationship to the church), and I mentioned my “hobby”. Though she was impressed with our efforts, she was also perplexed by my motivation. She explained that in her experience, Christian faith is fundamentally about human salvation, and that it is hard to see how this motivates change. Many environmental activists instead believe that the root cause of the environmental crisis is the broken relationship between humans and nature. Some deep ecologists, for example, believe that the Christian focus on individual salvation (and not all living things) caused western civilization to neglect the environment.

When I think about that conversation today, I realize that her criticism has a lot of merit. After all, Christians are called to:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these (Mark 12:30-31).

Love of creation thus seems secondary to either loving God or loving our neighbor. Why then, should Christians spend so much effort doing advocacy about creation care?

Individual salvation plays a critical part in the Christian story.

It can be tempting to justify our advocacy by interpreting our call to “love your neighbor” as a call to equally love all of creation. However, that reasoning may lead us down a path far from the core of Jesus’ message, and is different from what was clearly intended by the commandment. Though this interpretation would be consistent with the popular environmentalist narrative, I believe that it is mistaken, and that individual salvation plays a critical part in the Christian story.

Nonetheless, I believe that the greatest commandment calls us to care deeply for creation, through the first part of the phrase. Jesus’ pronouncement to “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut. 6:5), is an affirmation of God’s story in the Old Testament and his commandments to the people of Israel. Jesus’ greatest commandment, in addition to a call to love our neighbors, is also a call to affirm the justice of the Old Testament and to commit to a proper relationship with God.

As I previously wrote, scripture explains how creation before the Fall was very good, but afterwards fell into conflict about who had the right to claim the status of ‘Creator’ and ‘God’ (Scriptures and Land, p. 5). The commandment to love God given to the people of Israel was thus, in part, a call to work towards the restoration of God’s natural order. This effort is now being (and will ultimately be) realized in Christ’s coming kingdom. We are called to be part of this kingdom and to play a part in its coming. BioLogos, an online evangelical magazine, articulated this point very well: “loving God means caring for his creation.”

I wonder whether Christians should interpret the climate crisis as a call to reorient our relationship with God.

How do we put these motivations into advocacy? Regrettably, our motivations may often get lost in the prominent environmental narrative, which emphasizes re-thinking our relationship with nature. Instead, I wonder whether Christians should interpret the climate crisis as a call to reorient our relationship with God. In other words, though I do not think we should love nature as we love ourselves, I believe that Christians are called to deeply care for creation because we are called to have a good relationship with God.

Over the coming months, there are many unprecedented challenges facing us. To overcome these challenges we must care for one another, but above all love God. Transitioning our economy into one that cares for younger and future generations is part of this call. I will continue to pray and advocate for an economic recovery that is fair for them.

Photo by Trent Haaland on Unsplash

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