Perhaps the most profound and counterintuitive statement Jesus spoke was this: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21). Without too much reflection, we may think he declared the opposite: where our heart is, there will our treasure be also. In this version of Jesus’s words, we adjust our inner attitude, and then we do the right actions.
But the order is different, and it’s critical: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Our hearts follow our treasures. Buy a better car or suit or dress and see how much more time you spend taking care of it. Invest your time in a church or nonprofit and see how you begin to feel more emotionally connected to it.
Taking the First Steps
Ultimately, our treasures should be God’s treasures. With this in mind, I’d like to describe two steps —first why we as Christians should invest into caring for creation and then how we can do that care effectively.
God certainly treasures this earth and its creatures. God created this world and poured beauty and love into it. As Christians, we know that God calls us in Genesis 1:26-28 to value the earth because we “have dominion” over it and over the creatures. “Dominion” is closely related to stewardship, that is, to act as God’s viceroy on earth, to bear “the image of God,” as Genesis 1:27 says.
This image-bearing language describes how ancient near eastern kings set up their image to demonstrate the boundaries of their territory and how it was governed. It’s the same as the signs as you enter my home state that read “Welcome to California. Governor Gavin Newsome.” The critical example for dominion in the history of Israel was the king, who, according to the tradition of the mercy code in the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible), was judged by his concern for the least, always exemplified in “the poor” and “the needy.” Psalm 72:1-4, “Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice. May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness. May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.”
In sum then, stewardship is care, not domination. Stewardship in this case means that we care for creation.
With the value of stewardship in mind, I turn to a brilliant summary of Christian creation care from Christianity Today that quotes leading theologian Richard Bauckham’s distinction between “ultimate hope and proximate hope.” The article then arrives at this conclusion: “In Revelation 21 and Isaiah 35, the Bible speaks of the ultimate restoration of the heavens and the earth. The language emphasizes being made new, as a person is made new when he or she becomes a Christian. We can look forward, in faith, to broken things being made whole again.”
And we can’t forget “the proximate hope that God gives us in the here and now,” which is equally important. “As conservationists around the world have shown, Christians can carry on despite the seemingly overwhelming odds, knowing that we are not alone in our efforts. When we pray ‘your kingdom come,’ we can be part of that process, with the Holy Spirit’s help.”
- Katharine Hayhoe’s TEDx talk, “The Most Important Thing You Can Do to Fight Climate Change”
- Rick Lindroth on creation care, his Christian faith, and his work as a scientist (audio or video).
- Elaine Howard Ecklund and Christopher Scheitle on evangelicals and climate change.
- A Christianity Today article on creation care as Christians.
- A paper I wrote on stewardship as the key to Genesis 1 and an article in Theology and Science on how scientists and theologians can collaborate (behind paywall).
- NBC News on houses of worship making “green” choices.
Joining Hands Across Our Globe
As I wrote last week, since Christians know we are called to stewardship of creation and because this is literally a global concern, we need to collaborate. Climate scientist and Christian Katharine Hayhoe reminds us how: that one of the best steps is to talk with those around us. When we do that, we begin to join hands with others, particularly with scientists—whether Christian or not—and with people from other religions.
Scientists describe the scientific consensus about global climate change. I’m a member the largest science association in the world, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (or the AAAS). Seeing global climate change, AAAS has moved beyond its usual roles of education and research into more public advocacy and communication. As a result, in 2019 it launched How We Respond, “a new communication initiative to highlight how communities are actively and effectively responding to climate change at the local, state and regional levels, and demonstrate the critical role of science and scientists in informing these activities.” Our congregations could learn from AAAS and connect our members to scientists and others in our communities to determine how we can work together to address climate change.
We can also connect with other religious traditions, and there’s an amazing array that have made positive statements about responding to climate change. The three monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam prioritize God’s call to stewardship. Eastern religions make their own significant contributions. For example, Buddhists, Hindus Jains teach ahimsa (or “non-violence) and thus respect for all life.
“Where our treasure is, there will our heart be also.” Let’s treasure this beautiful creation we all share by taking faith-filled care of it.