It was 9am in the morning and I, a 19-year-old-student at the time, stumbled sleepily into the lecture theatre for my weekly instalment of Module 1: Introduction to Geography. The room fell silent as the lecturer took to the stage and without saying a word projected two questions onto the screen: What is nature? And does it even exist?

My immediate thought: what a stupid question, closely followed by: how do I get my tuition fee back? I wasn’t spending three years of my life, burying myself textbooks, racking up debt, trying to answer pretentious yet seemingly obvious questions like this. Trees, grass, flowers, rivers… of course nature exists. 

The lecturer was introducing the idea that historically, society (or culture) has separated itself from nature. After European enlightenment, the western worldview and story ordered itself in sets of divisions or dualisms – nature/​culture, civilized/​wild, for example. The problem with this, and what my entire degree in geography exposed, is that they are not separate but intrinsically linked. And arguably, what it means to be human is fundamental to our relationship with the earth. 

So, now that COP26 is well underway, with more than 100 world leaders seeking to work together on urgent climate action, how can we think differently about our role in creation care? 

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Participating in creation, participating in power

Biblical scholars agree that Genesis was written during a time of competing creation stories reflecting the cultures of the time. Other influential narratives spoke of violence between gods resulting in the formation of the planet. While the purpose of humanity was to work the land as slaves for the gods. The Hebrew story was distinct: creation was designed, ordered and beautiful. The vocation given to humanity wasn’t oppressive, but priestly. Initially the people of Israel had no king as their role of participators, protectors and gardeners of the earth was a royal one. Despite this, the tragic and distressing destruction of the earth is one of the leading examples of humanity’s rebellion towards our creator-king.

Thousands of years after the writing of Genesis, what competing stories are we faced with? One that I think dominates is the story of power. European colonial expansion accelerated a form of power where one individual or group had the right to dominate. And through the plundering of land and enslavement of people, this power had both socio-political and environmental consequences. Today, in western countries, the story of power has shifted to the individual. In our recent interview with Carl Trueman, the theologian and historian described the waters we swim in: self-autonomy, individualism, consumerism – me, myself and I. 

What is hard to stomach is that these historical and modern-day stories that have played their part in contributing to the climate crisis do not just exist out there; they’re present in our churches, homes and hearts. Sin is both personal and collective. Our conviction is this: despite being invited to be participators in God’s wonderful creation, we are simultaneously participators in the abuse of power that has distorted it. 

Our conviction is this: despite being invited to be participators in God’s wonderful creation, we are simultaneously participators in the abuse of power that has distorted it.

Participating in true power, participating in hope

Reading, learning and understanding the climate crisis can be overwhelming, anxiety-inducing and depressing (trust me, I completed a degree in it). However, our story as Christians is one of hope. Here at the Evangelical Alliance one of our 10 top tips for creation care is acknowledgment. When we are first convicted of our personal and collective role in environmental destruction, it leads to a fresh revelation of God’s grace. 

Jesus, the true image bearer, entered the world displaying a form of true power: sacrificial love. The Greek term for this is kenosis. Theologian Roger Haydon Mitchell defines kenotic power as the emptying out of power on behalf of others in contrast with exercising power over others”. Jesus humbled Himself to suffer death on the cross. The Bible understands power as a gift given to image bearers to cultivate, create and flourish to steward God’s good creation, ruling it in the way that God rules over the cosmos. 

How can you start displaying forms of true and kenotic power today, emptying out your power on behalf of others and the planet? This call to empty ourselves isn’t easy, but Jesus not only gave an example of true power, but now empowers us by the Holy Spirit to participate in his justice for creation. It can start sustainably, with manageable goals; for example, cut down your meat consumption, switch to a sustainable energy company, and engage with the events of COP26.

Yes, we are in crisis mode, but the biblical story points to an enjoyment of creation, where the sacrificial resting of land and resources is known as jubilee. So today, let us first acknowledge, lament and repent of the role we have played in abusing our power over the Earth. Then from this posture of humility, let us make daily grace-filled decisions to participate in the restoration and renewal of God’s good and beautiful creation. 

How can you start displaying forms of true and kenotic power today, emptying out your power on behalf of others and the planet?

Interested in hearing more perspectives on the connection between power, justice and the climate? Catch up on our recent interview with Rev Dr Israel Olofinjana.