Travelers who came to see Francis and Edith Schaeffer in their mountain home would have feasted on the beauty of God’s creation. Some think the couple overly relied upon the opening stanza of Psalm 19 to point to God’s reality witnessed through nature. But it’s easy to forgive them. After all, here’s how Edith Schaeffer described the surroundings at L’Abri:
The peaks of the Dents du Midi cannot long hold one’s eye as the sparkling diamond white of the glacier demands attention. Peak after peak together form a panorama that is breathtaking, yet the green of the woods and the changing colours of the rocks draw one’s glance to details and away from the total sweep of the view.
The bus ride the Schaeffers’ visitors took up the mountain to the town of Huémoz put the splendor of the Swiss Alps on full display. Guests would have had creation’s beauty on their minds.
Although evangelism was at the forefront of Francis Schaeffer’s ministry, he refused to allow the wonder of creation to be reduced to a mere apologetic tool. His book Pollution and the Death of Man helps Christians and seekers recognize that proper stewardship of creation is part of living rightly as Christians in this world. For Schaeffer, creation was valuable on its own merits, and it should be stewarded for God’s glory. He’s right. Christian theology provides the best framework for knowing the creation’s value and humanity’s uniqueness. It also gives us the best hope for creation’s renewal.
Christian theology provides the best framework for knowing the creation’s value and humanity’s uniqueness. It also gives us the best hope for creation’s renewal.
In Genesis 1, when God spoke the universe into existence, we see the refrain “and it was good” six times. This declaration does not make creation good. It’s the Bible’s recognition that God’s character is reflected in his creation.
Though creation has been distorted because of human sin (Gen. 3:17–18), it’s still sufficient to reveal God’s invisible attributes (Rom. 1:18–23). And even its sin-twistedness testifies that we need a Savior.
As Jesus reminded the crowds, natural evil should lead us to repentance (Luke 13:1–5). In fact, creation’s disorder may be a gift from God designed to point our hope toward our coming redemption (Rom. 8:18–24). Humanity and creation, both marred by sin, groan together in anticipation of Christ’s return.
The Bible maintains a distinction between humanity and the rest of creation. On the one hand, humans are clearly part of creation. Adam was formed from the dust of the earth (Gen 2:7), and thus we share an unbreakable connection with the rest of creation. And yet, God created men and women in his own image (Gen. 1:26–27), a privilege the rest of creation doesn’t share.
After humanity was created, God looked over his creation and declared it was not only “good” but “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Some see humanity as the capstone of God’s creation. Without humanity, creation was lacking; the garden needed tending (Gen. 2:3–6). God placed Adam into Eden “to work it and keep it” (v. 15) and gave Adam the privilege of naming all the animals (vv. 19–20), a sign of his unique place within the creation order.
Because of our special place, humans are called to steward creation. Adam and Eve were commanded to be fruitful and multiply, to subdue and exercise dominion over creation (Gen. 1:28). Though sin had distorted every human relationship, these commands were reissued to Noah’s family (Gen. 9:1–2).
In Jesus, we find the one who exercises final dominion over creation, using his power to restore what has been broken by the fall (John 4:46–51; Mark 1:30–31; Luke 7:11–18). In Jesus, we get a picture of what dominion should look like and what it will one day be when creation is renewed.
Jesus’s resurrection is the hope of creation. It’s a matter of first importance (1 Cor. 15:3–4) and the security of his people (1 Cor. 15:23). Creation looks to the renewal of human flesh for its own hope of renewal (Rom. 8:19–22). The effects of the fall on the earth will be purged by fire (2 Pet. 3:10–13) and reversed so that even predator and prey are reconciled (Isa. 11:6–9). Indeed, Christ’s work on the cross reconciled all creation to himself (Col. 1:20). It announced God’s righteous judgment on sin and his renewal of all that is good.
The promise of Christ’s return should push us toward holy living (2 Cor. 5:1–21; 2 Pet. 3:11–14). This means preaching the gospel to everyone (Matt. 28:18–20) and imitating Christ by working toward the reconciliation of creation (Col. 1:20).
Francis Schaeffer described the goal of creation care as “substantial healing,” which means we treat creation now as it will be in the new heavens and new earth. We can expect real environmental improvement from our actions in this life, with full knowledge that final restoration comes through the supernatural, restorative work of God.
Francis Schaeffer described the goal of creation care as ‘substantial healing,’ which means we treat creation now as it will be in the new heavens and new earth.
What does this look like practically? We’re pursuing substantial healing when we choose to live close to work, keeping sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and other pollutants out of the air. Substantial healing comes as we replace a portion of our lawn with pollinator gardens to provide habitat for bees and other insects. Substantial healing occurs as we participate in our city’s cleanup day, which also provides an opportunity to rub shoulders with our neighbors and share the good news—the message of hope for the renewal of all things.
When every tear is gone, death is a memory, and pain has been obliterated, peace will be made vertically (between God and humanity), horizontally (between people), and cosmically (between humanity and the creation order, Rev. 21:1–8). To be holy as God is holy is to live those realities in advance as much as we’re able today.