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The task of (earth) keepers

I recently came across some research that both encouraged me but also left me feeling sad and a tad confused.

The Evangelical Alliance published some research about what churches in the United Kingdom are saying and doing in response to climate change. The thing that encouraged me was seeing that a whopping 98% of both church members and leaders believed that the Bible teaches us to care for God's creation.

Great stuff.

But what saddened me was that an incredibly small percentage of people believed that the church is actually doing enough to address climate change (14% of members and 16% of leaders).

That's a big discrepancy between what we believe the Bible calls us to, and what we're actually doing.

I think there are all sorts of reasons and explanations for this: our socialisation to cultural indifference, our gravity towards individualism, selfishness and greed, the church's slowness to pivot and change, the enticing grip of exploitative capitalism and the consumeristic lifestyle it offers...

But there's another reason I've been thinking about recently.

'Creation care'.

I hear this language in all sorts of spaces. This is often the moniker given to this whole field of thinking. It's often the popular language for talking about ecotheology. You can see it even in the Evangelical Alliance's report above: 'The Bible teaches me to care about creation'. It's sort of used as the 'bucket' of all that the Bible calls us to, all that is included in Christian 'mission', that isn't about our relationship with God or others.

While I'm not completely against the language, my concern is that it's too passive. There are lots of things I 'care' about but don't do anything about. There can be the implication from this language that the Biblical task here is a passive one. This language doesn't necessarily imply action. It can be more of a feeling or an attitude.

As is so often the case, it's helpful to return to the language of the Bible, and, in particular to explore the Hebrew in the opening pages. The language of 'Creation Care' arguably somewhat originates from Genesis 2:15 which says in the NIV:

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

You can see the language of 'care' here - but it doesn't just say 'care about'. It says 'take care'.

The Hebrew word behind this is 'shamar'. This word doesn't mean 'have a passive care for something'. It means to keep, preserve, guard or protect.

The ESV translates this using 'keep it' rather than 'take care of':

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

I've been thinking about this word recently: keeping. It's a bit of a sneaky word. At first I thought it was a rather rare word in our modern English. But if you start looking out for it you can see it sneaking into all sorts of contexts that give us perhaps interesting images of what 'keeping' might be.

Think of a housekeeper.

Or a zookeeper.

Or a bookkeeper.

Or beekeeping.

Or peacekeeping, or rule keeping, or scorekeeping.

Or, to use an image live on our screens during this current football world cup: Goalkeeping!

These are active images.

To be a keeper is to actively take responsibility for the nurturing, health, protection and wellbeing of something.

There are people who watch the football from the stands who 'care' about the football. They care if goals are scored. They care. But they don't act. It's not their responsibility.

But the goalkeeper is of course an active and vital player on the field. The goalkeeper keeps watch in every moment - taking every action allowed to protect those goals.

The Bible invites us not just to care, but to keep the land.

God calls us not only to care about the environment and climate change and soil degradation and whale hunting and over-forestation and carbon emissions and dying coral reefs...

Perhaps we should start using the Biblical language of earthkeeping to remind ourselves of this very active task we've been given - and all the active work that lies ahead for us at this crucial time.


Photo by Rhett Lewis on Unsplash

For more on this topic, see my post on 'Unearthing responsibility'.


Brian Mallalieu
Brian Mallalieu

Whilst Rhett you are right about our responsibility clearly stated in Gen. 2:15 in the full meaning of the two words: Abad & Shamar, the Ekklesia (church is the wrong word, you should know that from the Greek & the one Jesus Himself used!) has been commanded to primarily actively fulfil God's 3 vital commands (including TGC). And the latest faith figures, announced yesterday in the media, demonstrate very clearly that we are not doing it! Furthermore, as Hudson Taylor said many years ago: "God's Work, done God's Way, will never lack resources!". We need to stop doing it our way (like Frank Sinatra) and in repentance do it God's Way.

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