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The gospel in 3D

Tearfund's Ruth Valerio challenges us to look after all that God has made

It’s not all about us – Jesus’ blood was shed for the restoration of the natural world too, explains Tearfund’s Ruth Valerio in her interview with Naomi Osinnowo.

I grew up knowing that Jesus is my friend, so I didn’t have a moment when I became a Christian, as such,” says Dr Ruth Valerio, Tearfund’s global advocacy and influencing director. But while Ruth was studying theology at Cambridge University, she read a book about environmental care and realised that a whole chunk of my Christian faith was missing”, which, for her, was like a conversion.

I was an ardent Christian, very committed to living out my faith biblically, but this little book changed me,” she explains. For the first time I was told about my biblical responsibility to care for the wider world, which filled out my faith in a way that I didn’t have before. It opened my eyes to the third dimension of the gospel.”

This revelation has helped to shape Ruth’s comprehension and expression of God’s ethics, which she says are a fundamental part of my faith and what it means to follow Jesus”. In simple terms, she describes these as living in ways that look after what God has made, ourselves and the wider natural world alike”. But taking it further, she expounds on the Holy Trinity.

Jesus died to restore our relationship with God, other people and the wider natural world,” says Ruth. We are used to thinking about Christ’s death in relation to people, but if we stop at that, we’re left with a truncated view of the gospel. God is a God of relationship – the Trinity – and relationships characterise what He creates. It’s no surprise that our world is based on ecosystems, which are really just a whole load of relationships bound up together, reflecting God’s character.”

Jesus died to restore our relationship with God, other people and the wider natural world.

This eye-opener also fanned the flames of Ruth’s desire to be part of God’s mission to restore all things to Himself. She says, Up until that point, my relationships were centred around God and others, particularly in matters of justice and poverty, but the full picture of ethical living began to take shape, and now my Christian faith is central to all areas of my life and everything I do and try to do. This includes relationships, family life, diet, where I shop, energy use, how I spend my time, what I commit myself to, my approach to work, and more.”

Getting stuck in

Elaborating on work specifically, Ruth shares that she has never taken a career approach to work, as she has always wanted to follow God’s calling in her life and trust that He has put her in the right place to do that, whether the role is paid or unpaid. With an interest in environmental issues and hope to see the culture of the church change so that caring for God’s earth would become part of the fabric of church life, Ruth served as churches and theology director at A Rocha UK, a member of the Evangelical Alliance that works for the protection and restoration of the natural world. There she spearheaded Eco Church, an initiative that encourages churches to celebrate what they’re already doing to care for the environment and take steps to do even more.

More recently, Ruth has been working with the team at Tearfund, another member of the Evangelical Alliance, to inspire and enable Christians to adopt a whole-life response to poverty and help to build a movement that brings about lasting change on the issues that affect the poorest and most vulnerable people around the world, including climate change and disasters. She says, When we look in the Bible, Genesis 1:31 tells us that God looked at all that He had made and said it’s very good. This should be absolutely foundational to the way we see the wider natural world.

We shouldn’t fall into a dualism that sees the world as completely evil and so become Christians who want to escape it and enter a perfect spiritual place’. The world was created by God and carries His characteristics, and He loves it. Yes, it’s fallen, but God created it and He loves it, and so should we. If we go to the New Testament, we’ll see in Colossians 1:19 – 20 that the blood of Jesus reconciled all things on heaven and on earth to God. We may tend implicitly to substitute all things’ with people, but it refers to the wider natural world too.”

An opportunity to explore

The Justice Conference, a global movement that was founded in the US in 2010, was held for the very first time in the UK (London) on 2 – 3 November, to support Christians in Britain as they think and talk about issues of justice, peace and reconciliation. Attendees had the opportunity to explore a theology around social justice and environmental care and wrestle with these issues from a Christian perspective.

To mark its 50-year jubilee this year, Tearfund was among the charities that hosted the event, which had been organised by its theological and networks manager, Jo Herbert. Tearfund has been involved in some of the other justice conferences in the past, and we’ve seen them be such positive experiences for those who’ve gone,” says Ruth, who’s one of the high-profile speakers at the conference.

We want to see change in the UK, so we’ve been encouraging people to come along to the Justice Conference and get involved in other environmental initiatives, such as Eco Church,” she adds. These types of movement give churches a lot of help to live out holistic care and make it part of their whole church life.”

It’s the little things too

But Ruth stresses that, in everyday life, there are many things that we can do individually to take care of our planet better, such as switching to a green energy supplier, eating less meat, reducing air travel, to name just a few. As followers of Jesus, we ought to live in a way that demonstrates God’s ethics,” she says. Then, not only will we be taking up our responsibility to look after what God created, but we’ll be a witness to the world.

The UK church is a country-wide movement; the church around the world is a global movement. So, if together we Christians really wake up on these issues, we can make such a massive difference to issues of justice, poverty and the environmental factors that can underline all of that.”

About the author

Naomi joined the Evangelical Alliance in 2018 as editorial content manager. Positions with publishers and within the marketing and communications faculty of a higher education institution, plus stints as a reporter, have enabled the media and cultural studies graduate, who has an NCTJ diploma in newspaper journalism, to hone the necessary skills and qualities to serve members well.

See more from Naomi Osinnowo

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