With President Trump’s announcement to pull out of the Paris Agreement, the environment has been in the news a lot lately. I was reading in Romans 8 this morning. Here are some observations:
For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children 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 freedom and glory 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 (emphasis added)
“The creation” here probably means more than just “the planet.” Paul sometimes situates personal salvation within God’s greater plan for the redemption of the entire created order (the cosmos) and that is what he is doing here. Also, it would be anachronistic to draw a direct line between “frustration,” “decay,” and “groaning,” to present day concepts of pollution and environmental degradation. Still, there are some important points to be made here for our modern situation.
First, the decay of creation matters to God. Because God created our planet, he cares for it. His concern is not limited to the fate of individual humans. He clothes the flowers. He feeds the sparrows.
Second, “environmental degradation” is man-caused. At its most fundamental level, the frustration and bondage to decay experienced by creation is the result of Adam and Eve’s sin. It should not surprise us that human activity – marred by sin as it is – results in further damage and decay.
Third, God will bring about the eventual redemption of creation. The earth and the rest of the cosmos will undergo a radical change at the end of time – we will have a New Heaven and a New Earth – but that radical change is described here as a release from bondage, as redemption. That is, it will in some sense be a moving back to its original created goodness while simultaneously be a moving forward to a new kind of creation.
Fourth, there are several implications for man’s (especially “children of God”) relationship with creation. (1) As God cares for creation, we should to. It’s a special gift to us which we should work to protect and nurture. We should do what is within our power to be good stewards of that gift. (2) Mankind nevertheless plays the central role in God’s plans. In Romans 8, personal freedom and redemption are the central theme of Paul’s thought. It’s right and good to think about the impact of regulations on the lives of individuals. (3) We nevertheless inhabit creation. We are not disconnected from our planet. Our fates – both in the sufferings and decay of sin and in the freedom and glory of ultimate salvation – are intertwined. It’s wise to keep this in mind.