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. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:19-23)
In accordance with God’s plan, when Adam fell into sin he dragged down the creation with him. As God said to the man, “Cursed is the ground because of you” (Genesis 3:17). The result was not that man must learn to take care of the earth and cooperate with it in order to bring forth sustenance from it. Rather, God said that the earth would now resist the man, so that the man must subdue the earth to take from it what he needs (v. 18). Then, after a while the man would die and his body would return to the earth (v. 19). When two parties struggle under God’s curse, neither comes out as the winner. Since that time the whole creation had been groaning for liberation right up to the time of Paul, and it has continued its groaning until now because what it longs for still has not arrived.
Thus long before creation became polluted with plastic bottles, it was polluted with sinners, with non-Christians. It groans not because it longs to be rid of factories and skyscrapers, but to be liberated from the bondage and decay that came upon it because of sin. That day is marked by the revelation of the sons of God, that is, when God shall definitively vindicate his people and complete their adoption by the redemption of their bodies, or the resurrection of the saints. Its liberation is bound up with the salvation that Christians enjoy, or with “the glorious freedom of the children of God.” The corollary to this is that creation yearns to be rid of the non-Christians, so that the meek shall inherit the earth.
Therefore, non-Christian environmentalists make a mockery of creation, because they are the ones who perpetuate its sufferings, not by their foam cups but by their very existence! And Christians who match the non-Christian fanatics in their environmentalist zeal are just as aggravating, because to stay clean and alive is not what the creation wants at all. A prisoner may appreciate some books and magazines from his defense lawyer to help him pass the time, but when the attorney settles down to discuss the literature with him, the prisoner would likely complain that the time might be better spent in working on the case to secure his freedom. A lawyer who allows what is good but secondary to distract him from what is best and necessary is a bad lawyer. A Christian who allows even legitimate environmental concerns to distract him from advancing the message of Christ is a bad Christian. A true friend of creation will always put the gospel first.
Some Christians are not very good at preaching, or writing, or praying, or counseling, or even directing traffic in the church parking lot. They are pretty much useless when it comes to anything important. If these people wish to focus on recycling, I have no problem with it. They can even claim to fulfill the “cultural mandate” and make that part of the gospel ministry by force in order to make themselves feel better while the rest of us work at the actual commission that Christ gave us. If this sounds too harsh against those who labor so hard to improve the environment, the main point is that our priority must be to promote the Christian message about sin and righteousness, damnation and salvation, and the incarnation, crucifixion, atonement, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Any other item, no matter how practical and desirable, cannot be combined or equated with this, and must assume a distant second place.
Nowadays people would rather stab their neighbor to death than to allow their cats and turtles to go hungry, but creation itself longs to be set free from the likes of these imbeciles. Only Christians are in tune with creation, because they long for the same thing – not for alternative energy, as wonderful as that might be, but for the completion of the application of redemption. They long not for preservation but culmination, not for perpetuation but consummation. Of course, non-Christians do not share this concern, because that is also the day when they will be cast into the fires of hell. For this reason, non-Christians will always be the enemies of creation. As Christians, we groan together with all of creation not for the salvation of polar bears, but for an end to sin and for the redemption of our bodies.
Jesus Christ is the only hope for humanity and for creation. If creation could talk, it would reprimand some of us for posing as its savior. What arrogance! What dereliction of truth and duty! Be kind to animals, and be good to creation – I am extremely fond of animals, and even more fond of clean air and water – but remember the true work of the gospel and put that above all other considerations. Do not entertain the ridiculous notion that it is as important to save the environment as it is to save human souls. Indeed, these are not mutually exclusive, but they are two different things, and one is clearly more important than the other. If a choice must be made, the ministry of the gospel must always come first.
Go save the whales if you wish – especially if you tend to get in my way when you attempt ministry work – but do not glorify it as some heroic quest. The whales also groan for you annoying zealots to leave them alone and preach the gospel to your fellow men and women. And if you must bother the whales because you are bad preachers (the whales do not need to know this), at least pray for those who share the creation’s actual concern while you are cleaning out the blowholes. Then both the preachers and the whales will thank you.