Scripture and Caring for Creation

By The Rev. Canon Pam Hyde

“Is creation care really something that we need to pay attention to in church?”

As I talk to people in our churches in the diocese, I’ve heard this question a couple of times.  But more often I’ve heard people indirectly question the importance of caring for God’s creation in our lives as Christians.  Not surprisingly, since we’re Episcopalians, I often hear a comment along the lines of, “I’ve been an Episcopalian all my life, and I’ve never heard the church talk about caring for the earth before.”

Although as Episcopalians we put great stock in tradition, the other two cornerstones of our faith, scripture and reason, also guide us.  So it’s important to know what scripture tells us about caring for creation.  Here are a few things that we can learn about that.

God deemed all of his creation “very good.”  We hear this in the first creation story in Genesis (Genesis 1:31).  This is not applicable exclusively to his creation of humankind, but applies equally to every last thing he created.

In the second creation story, God put the man in the Garden of Eden “to till it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15)  The Hebrew word for “keep” is shamar, which also translates as “guard, preserve, protect.”  In this particular context, shamar has the connotation of ensuring that the garden (the land or earth) is protected as a source of abundance for all creatures.  And we are the protectors.

God made a covenant with all of his creation, not just us.  We find that at the end of the flood narrative in Genesis 9:9-11. “I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you and with every living creature that is with you…, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

“The earth is the Lord’s,” Psalm 24 tells us, “and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it, for he has founded it on the seas and established it on the rivers.” (v.1-2)  The earth does not belong to us. We are part of creation, and we belong to God.

Cactus Wren
Photo by Dulcey Lima on Unsplash

In the Book of Job, God reminds Job of his strength and omnipotence by pointing out the immensity of his creative efforts.  “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” he begins the powerful lesson. (Job 38:4)  God alone is the creator.

God asked his people to ensure the continued flourishing of his creation.  In Exodus, he decreed the observance of a sabbath year for the land: “Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow so that the poor of your people may eat, and what they leave the wild animals may eat.” (Exodus. 23:10-11)  In Deuteronomy he decreed that only the young could be taken from a bird’s nest, but not the mother also (Deuteronomy 22:6-7), and that during a wartime siege a town’s trees could not be cut down, saying “Are trees in the field human beings that they should come under siege from you?” (Deuteronomy 20:19)  God’s law included sustainable practices.

In the gospels, Jesus and his ministries are often equated with nature, such as Jesus declaring, “I am the vine and you are the branches.” (John 15:5)  Jesus’s parables are full of references to nature, fishing, farming, vineyards, trees, animals, birds, water, and the land.  One well-known example is the parable of the mustard seed. (Matthew 13:31-32)  Scripture shows us that respect for the natural world was ingrained throughout the lives of people living in Jesus’s time.

The Bible is full of care for God’s creation.  It tells us of the goodness of creation. It reflects the fact that people in biblical times were deeply connected to the natural world around them.  Caring for the earth came naturally to them and was part of their law and tradition.  Scripture reminds us that God alone is the creator, and his works should inspire awe in us and praise.  And it clarifies for us our place and our role in creation, reminding us that we have not been given God’s power over creation, but rather have been given the critical role of being caretakers of the earth, loving it and caring for it as God does.  As Christians, we can be sure that our call to care for God’s creation is grounded in the authority of scripture, and caring for creation is the work of the church.

The Rev. Canon Pam Hyde is the Canon for Creation Care for the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona.