The Parable of the Janitor, Ecology, & Creation Care
Last week I discussed the implications that Jesus’ resurrection has for the animal kingdom. I concluded that the animals that lived on this earth will be in the new earth and will experience a resurrection just like all of mankind. If you are curious as to how I came to these conclusions you can read that post here. As an extension of last week’s post I’d like to continue a discussion regarding the implications of Easter. This week I’d like to briefly relate Easter to the Green movement and ecology.
If there is a primary metanarrative that signifies the present Zeitgeist it is ecology. Green initiatives are taking place at every level of society. Some people see it as a major inconvenience. Others despise these initiatives and think it is part of some larger conspiracy. Interestingly, I’ve yet to hear a non-Christian complain about the world’s current ecological endeavors. Why is this the case? I think there is something deeply problematic about this.
God originally created everything good and had specific purposes for his creation. With the Fall everything was subjected to futility, yet God’s purposes would not be thwarted. The creation groans with eager longing as Romans 8 tells us, not to be put down like a stray dog, but to experience freedom and liberation. Thus, when God creates new heavens and a new earth this is not creation ex nihilo. This refers to the renewal or restoration of the existing creation. God makes all things new, not all new things. So there is an ontological continuity between this earth and the earth to come.
In this regard ecological efforts are not in vain. However, this does not mean that through ecology we are beautifying the earth for the new earth. Restoration is a unique act of God that will take place in his timing and will be centrally associated with the coming of Jesus; the one who rose from the death of the old creation into the new life of the future creation. In this manner the Resurrection of Jesus provides the clearest analogy for the continuity of this earth and the new earth. Just as there was an empty tomb outside Jerusalem on the first Easter morning – because the body that went into it was the same body that came out – so also this earth will be changed into the new earth. It is like a seed that has been plated in the ground. And just like seeds, both the earth and our bodies will be changed and glorified. One could say, Well if God is going to uniquely act and change this earth, I still don’t see the point of ecological pursuits now. Yet the problem with this line of thinking is that it is utterly foreign to the biblical authors. They did not separate function and ontology. It is precisely because God is doing this great thing that we ought to act a certain way! It never mattered to them that their actions were not the direct cause of renewal. Note Paul’s words at the end of 1 Cor 15. After arguing consistently for the legitimacy of the resurrection he concludes:
Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain (1 Cor 15.58 ESV).
Because God is going to act Paul knows that his labor is not in vain. There is a similar analogy here to ecology in light of the earth’s future restoration. Allow me to explain with something of a personal parable.
All of these issues clicked for me once in a restroom in Southern California. I can remember entering the restroom once with some trash in my hand. As I noticed how crummy the conditions of the restroom were I thought to myself that if I decided to drop the garbage on the floor it would not matter since the room was already a mess and the janitor would come eventually anyway. Now, I was never really going to drop my trash on the ground in the restroom, but I was just thinking about whether or not my act of throwing out the trash mattered in light of the current mess. If the janitor is going to come anyways, why bother? As I thought about this I realized how analogous the situation is to a Christian’s involvement in ecological endeavors. Since the janitor will come anyways does that allow someone to throw their garbage anywhere they’d like? The answer is ‘no’ in the restroom and ‘no’ everywhere else in the universe.
What a Christian thinks about janitors might tell you a lot about their theology.