Tag Archives: 2 Corinthians

I’ll Fly Away: Why Caring for the Earth Matters for Eternity

tree_of_life.jpeg
Tree of Life by Gustav Klimt

My economist friend recently commented that while he certainly believed that we were called as Christians to care for the earth, this was somewhat akin to polishing the Titanic (apologies for any liberties my paraphrase took with the actual comment). At some time in the future God is going to do away with the earth and create something new in its place that will be perfect and not subject to the death, decay and problems that we face, in a word “heaven”. This way of thinking about the earth, creation care and heaven is often prevalent among Christians. So it prompted me to try and sum up why I believe that creation care matters for eternity and why this attitude toward the planet is dangerous spiritually and environmentally.

I owe a lot of my thinking on this subject to two gentlemen named Wright (though not brothers and not involved in aviation), Christopher Wright, who wrote an excellent book called The Mission of God, and N.T. Wright, who (even though he seems to write books as often as Roger Olson) wrote a small article for The Green Bible called “Jesus is Coming–Plant a Tree!” (I did find a couple articles online that touch on some of N.T. Wright’s points in the aforementioned article from which I quote.) Certainly other scholars have written a lot on this subject, perhaps some better than either Wright I mentioned. These happen to be the two that influenced me.

There are three questions that frame how we understand this issue: 1) What does the Bible say about the earth? 2) What does the Bible say about heaven? and 3)What does the Bible say about the relationship between heaven and earth?

What On Earth?
The first and most obvious thing is that the creation is “good.” Although brokenness enters the picture when Adam and Eve trust the serpent instead of God, there is no declaration that now creation is “bad”. In Genesis 3:17-19 God tells Adam that the ground is cursed because of him and that “through painful toil you will eat of it” revealing that creation and humanity’s relationship to it are affected by this brokenness. The fact that creation is affected by (or maybe participates in) the brokenness of sin is important to remember when we read Paul’s words to the Corinthians that “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ” (2 Cor 5:19). Lest we think that by this Paul meant that God reconciled all of the atomistic individuals in the world (which he certainly did), he goes cosmic in what N.T. Wright considers the apex of Romans.

The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Romans 8:19-22)

This passage clearly refers to nature (in contrast to human beings) being involved in the work of redemption through the cross and resurrection of Jesus. It might help to think about what the work of redemption means for human beings as we are transformed into “a new creation” (2 Cor 5:17). While there is a transformation that takes place in which we can contrast the “old person” from this “new creation”, the newness is not completely discontinuous with the old. We maintain our unique identities even though our relationships are also transformed (Lk 20:2740). If the creation is also involved in Christ’s work of redemption, why wouldn’t it also be transformed in a similar manner? The “new heavens and new earth” envisioned by Isaiah and later picked up by John’s Apocalypse (Isaiah 65; Revelation 21) are not necessarily discontinuous with the earth that we know today. Nothing in the text demands that this be the case. On the contrary, as we will see, there is evidence that the vision of the future kingdom is one that is intimately connected to this earth.

Since I won’t have access to the internet soon, I will stretch this into a four part series.

Next… Heaven Help Us


Is This Missions?

“What exactly will you be doing in Bolivia?” We’ve gotten that question often in the last couple months and still get it here in Bolivia. First, I’ll explain then wrestle with whether or not this is missions.

0.gifThe Job
We will be working with Low German Mennonites (LGM) in Bolivia on development issues and improving their agriculture. Low German is the language they speak and it actually predates German. It sounds nothing like German. They are Mennonites similar to the Amish, what we call Old Order Mennonites. They live in colonies throughout Bolivia, but mostly around the city of Santa Cruz. There are somewhere around 60 colonies and 45-50,000 LGM people.

I’m not an expert in their history and each colony has its own story. Generally though, they migrated from Europe, many from Russia during the Bolshevik uprising. Some migrated to Canada first and then made their way to Mexico, Belize, Paraguay and Bolivia. Others migrated directly to South America. So, they’ve been around a while.

When they first came to Bolivia, many of them were on the cutting edge of agriculture and were able to make land productive that Bolivians were not farming. Because they are very closed communities, over time they became stuck and now face many problems and are generally very poor. Their children are educated through 6th grade for girls and 7-8th grade for boys. Literacy is taught entirely in High German (what they speak in Germany) which they do not use except in worship using Luther’s translation of the Bible and their hymnbook. This means practically speaking they have a major literacy problem.

They have not kept up with soil conservation and erosion practices and often practice slash and burn agriculture. Because of droughts and some reluctance to use technologies like irrigation, they need alternatives that are not water intensive crops. There are theological reasons for why they shun technologies and do many of the things they do. The Amish Way is an excellent introduction to some of the Old Order practices and doctrines. I still have not met any of these people so much of my knowledge comes from others who know more than me or books.

So, my job will be something like getting to know these communities and helping them with their problems, improving agriculture, literacy, better marketing of their products, better relationships with Bolivians and the government. The question still lingers though, “Is this missions?” As always, I guess, it depends on your definition.

The Mission
For me, the mission of God, missio Dei, revealed in Scripture is a broad and inclusive thing that includes all nations, foreigners, eunuchs, marginalized and outsiders. It also includes more than just people (Ro 8:19-22; 2 Cor 5:19). God’s work in Christ was to redeem the whole world, including all of creation. Our job as Christians is to participate in the mission of God in the world. We have reduced that beautiful mission to winning converts to our team. The work of the Spirit transforming lives as they encounter the Risen Christ is part of this mission, but it is not the whole.

As Darell Guder has pointed out part of our mission is The Continuing Conversion of the Church. Let’s call this discipleship. Many of our problems (and the problems faced by the colonies) is a problem of discipleship. When we learn what it means to be followers of Jesus together in the Body and practice that in our lives, many of these other problems will go away.

I also believe that part of our participation in the mission of God is to practice the incarnational life that Jesus modeled for us. This means we should find ourselves crossing over to the Other, the one we don’t understand and don’t know, and try to understand them the way Jesus did by becoming human. This may be one of the most crucial elements lacking in our theology of mission. Once you acknowledge that we are called to be incarnational many of our clear cut doctrinal issues quickly become muddy. Incarnational living is a messy process.

So, to answer my question… YES, this is missions. Not because we traveled to another country. Not because we’re working with pagans and heathens. Not because we’re racking up converts for our team. This is missions, because we are helping our brothers and sisters care for the earth, learn to follow Jesus better and practice incarnational living with our Bolivian and LGM brothers and sisters. It is also missions because through the process of cross cultural living and communication we ourselves will be transformed by the Spirit more and more into the likeness of Christ.

Photo: Kennert Giesbrecht/Die Mennonitische Post via www.Mennoweekly.org (found at Continental News)