As we are the priests of creation, holding the middle ground between earth and Heaven, the extent to which we fulfill our vocation has a rippling effect on the rest of nature. God has designed an ecology in which we are all creatures inextricably connected and interdependent, both biologically and spiritually. And according to our unique vocation as humans, we are the ones who administer and manage this interconnectedness, for good or evil. It is we who force creation to groan in its corruption, or give it voice in heavenly praise of God. When we sin, creation suffers. When we are reconciled to God, we take creation with us.
This can be seen from the very beginning, as the consequence for our first disobedience extends beyond ourselves: “cursed is the ground, because of you.” (Genesis 3:17). Creation continues to be subjected to our moral consequences as time goes on. Because of human evil alone, the ground does not yield to our work (Genesis 4:12), the plants wither (Jeremiah 12:11), the sky refuses to provide rain for us (1 Kings 17), and the animals disappear (Jeremiah 12:4). “How long will the land lie parched and the grass in every field be withered? Because those who live in it are wicked, the animals and birds have perished.” (Jeremiah 12:4) The very nature of nature is changed, because of us.
Paul refers to the original curse from Genesis: “the whole of creation has been groaning together” (Romans 8) since Adam’s sin. Yet, there is hope because it is also waiting with “eager longing” for redemption and Christ’s return. We are the reason the whole of creation is subjected to suffering and curse, but because we are the priests of creation we are also the medium through which it can be redeemed.
Noah demonstrates our liability for both creation’s suffering and its redemption in Genesis 9. Because of man’s wickedness and corruption, God sends a flood that is indiscriminately destructive. More than just those wicked men will be drowned; many other living creatures will be swept away with them. God chooses to save Noah and his family because they are righteous, but expects that they, in turn, fulfill their vocation by taking, and saving, all the animals alongside themselves. God wishes to save all creatures from the consequences of humankind’s wickedness. His method to do this is by way of righteous, priestly humans.
After the flood, God makes a covenant, but not just with Noah. God’s promise is to “every beast, with all the earth”. His covenant is equally for the ants and the sheep, giraffes and slugs, as it is for humans. That demonstrates a great esteem for the creatures, that we should imitate. What’s more, we are shown that our spiritual redemption and our biological survival is connected with the survival of the whole Earth, by God’s design.
While we have been promised no all-destructive flood in the future, it is very easy to see how human wickedness causes other forms of environmental degradation that threaten us. The extinction of species, the destruction of forests, and the dumping of cancer-causing chemicals into our water and food, are the result of our selfish waste, overconsumption and greedy pursuit for ever-increasing levels of convenience and comfort. We are creating both physical and spiritual pollution through our self-indulgence. By far the greatest threat we’ve brought upon ourselves is the global climate change that is causing severe drought and desertification. God will not flood us, but our sins are parching the world.
And yet, while our immorality unleashes systemic corruption throughout all creation, so our return to God, our repentance and renewed hearts, heals the whole ecosphere. God tells Solomon the remedy for drought and pestilence in the earth: “If my people humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then I will hear from heaven, and forgive their sin, and heal their land.” (2 chronicles 7:12) The land, and God’s creatures in it, is an extension of our own hearts. The current state of our world, of pollution and ecological collapse, says much about our hearts.
The fulfillment of our vocation as priest of creation (shamar) is essential to healing all God’s creation. Many Christians are praying for creation (prayers will be posted soon), or engaging in environmental restoration. When we purify polluted rivers, restore forests and watersheds, grow healthy food, and reduce our consumption through ascesis and fasting, we are restoring the earth, replenishing it, even bringing it salvation. We are protecting our neighbors from the harm that comes from climate-related disasters, and other species from extinction. In short, we are building an ark. But not just for ourselves– on behalf of all and for all.