Category: Pondering Peace

Good News for the Whole Creation

 “And Jesus said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.”
(Mark 15:16, NRSV)

Recently as I was reading the story of Jesus’ resurrection and the closing paragraphs of the Gospel of Mark, something stood out to me that I hadn’t previously noticed. In this commissioning of the disciples, Jesus tells them to proclaim the good news to “the whole creation.”  This is an interesting choice of words.  What might this mean?

New Testament scholar N.T. Wright also was intrigued by this word choice.  He asks, “how, in particular, would we apply today the very interesting instruction, in verse 15, to preach the gospel not just to every creature but to the entire creation?”*  This made me wonder, in what sense is the gospel of Jesus Christ good news for the whole creation?  How should spreading the message of Jesus affect creation in a positive way?  In other words, how are faith in Christ and the whole creation related to each other and how might our salvation and that of creation be intertwined?

It is clear from the beginning of Scripture that the bad news of humanity’s fall into sin affected the whole creation.  In the Genesis 3 narrative, the first sin is portrayed as not accepting the limitations placed on using an aspect of nature and in the process disobeying God’s command.  This human sin of grasping for more resulted in the land being “cursed,” no longer flourishing and living up to its full potential but instead being filled with thorns and thistles.

This idea that human action and sin have devastating effects on degrading the earth’s land is expressed also by the prophets.  In Isaiah 24:4-6 we read that “The earth dries up and withers,.. The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants; for they have… broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore, a curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt…”  Hosea 4:3 speaks of how as a result of human sin “the land mourns and all who live in it (wild animals, birds, fish) languish.”  These words have poignant relevance for us as we consider the effects of human action on the earth in our day.

The Apostle Paul picks up Hosea’s image of a mourning land when he wrote in Romans 8 about the whole creation groaning as if in childbirth and waiting for the children of God to be revealed.  He writes,

“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility… in hope that the creation itself will be set free from bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now…”
(Romans 8:19-22, NRSV)

Considering that humanity is largely responsible for this situation of a deteriorating creation, it is interesting that Paul pictures creation as eagerly looking to a redeemed humanity to be instrumental in its regeneration.  N.T. Wright notes how up to this passage, the letter to the Romans seems to have been primarily focused on the salvation of human beings and their being conformed to the image of Christ. Suddenly with these verses, God’s concern for all of creation to be put right comes into view along with the global and cosmic dimensions of salvation.  Creation is eagerly longing and waiting for those who have been redeemed as children of God and are growing in the image of God’s Son to finally be revealed and take their place as God’s image-bearers and wise stewards of the earth as they were originally intended to be.

According to Genesis 1-2, having been created in the image of God, humans were to function as God’s reflections and representatives in the world.  Under God’s benevolent reign, they were to exercise ‘dominion’ – not dominating, using, and abusing the earth in any way they desired, but as those God had given unique capacity to oversee and care for the earth.   Because of humanity’s sin, creation has been subjected to bondage and frustration, a reference to the Genesis 3 “curse.”  But as the children of God increasingly reflect God’s glory, or revealed presence, to the world by being God’s agents in bringing wise and healing restoration, creation will experience the freedom of being liberated to become what God created it to be.

N.T. Wright states, “the purpose is never simply that God’s people in Christ should resemble him,.. it is that, as true image-bearers, they might reflect that same image into the world, bringing to creation the healing, freedom, and life for which it longs.”**   Caring for creation should therefore be considered an integral part of faithful Christian discipleship, not just a side interest for a few.  During this time of human-caused climate change that is devastating the earth, creation care should be a high priority for every church’s ministry. As congregations and as people of faith, not only should we be doing our part in reducing as much as possible our use of fossil fuels with their greenhouse gas emissions.  We also should be actively involved in the climate action and advocacy needed to transition to a clean energy economy and way of life and to restore nature’s health and vitality.

Paul writes how “the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.”  Early labor pains are initially barely perceptible.  But when the time for birth comes, contractions are strong and frequent.  During this time of labor called “transition” the pain is intense, and contractions grip the mother who groans.  As she struggles to keep focused on working with the birth process, a birth coach can be helpful to guide her.  Finally, the time comes when a mother can bear down and push until new life appears.

Perhaps we are in such a time of transition, with creation groaning from humanity’s pollution with its effect of climate change, extreme weather events, and biodiversity loss.  Previously the pain was perhaps less obvious and easier to overlook, but today the groans are increasing.  But while the groaning expresses suffering, this passage reminds us it is the groaning of labor pains, the pain of transitioning in a birth of something new – a new creation and way of life emerging out of the old. As we devote ourselves to supporting and guiding nature’s renewal and work toward birthing a cleaner, more just, more peaceful, and more sustainable world, we are showing ourselves to be children of God. We are demonstrating that our salvation is interrelated with that of creation.  We are living out the proclamation of good news for the whole creation.

* Mark for Everyone, 226.

** New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol. X, 602.

Rev. Ruth Rosell, Ph.D.
Director of the Buttry Center for Peace and Nonviolence
Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology Emerita
Central Seminary, Shawnee, KS

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author.