“The heavens belong to the Lord,
but he has given the earth to all humanity” – Psalm 115:16
The earth belongs to God because God made it. God has given the earth into our resident possession, but we do not hold the title-deed of ultimate ownership. God’s ownership of the earth has significant ethical and missional implications.
That creation is good is one of the most emphatic points of the first two chapters of Genesis. The Hebrew account of creation contrasts with other ancient Near Eastern accounts, in which powers and gods of the natural world are portrayed in various degrees of malevolence, and in which aspects of the natural order are explained as the outcome of this malevolence. Biblical testimony to the goodness of creation reflects the good character of the God who made it.
In creation narratives, the affirmation of it being good, was not made by Adam and Eve, but by God Himself. All of these created orders were present in all their divinely affirmed goodness before humanity arrived on the scene.
So the earth has intrinsic value – it is valued by God, who is the source of all value. We need to be careful to locate an ecological dimension of mission not primarily in the need-supplying value of the earth to us, but in the glory-giving value of the earth to God.
The Bible makes a clear distinction between God the Creator and all things created. The Hebrew Bible, while it certainly teaches respect and care for the nonhuman creation, resists and reverses the human tendency to divine or personalize the natural order, or to imbue it with any power independent of its personal Creator. The OT constantly presents creation in relation to God.
“What is the chief end of man?” Glorifying and enjoying God is the chief end of all creation.
We human beings glorify our Creator in uniquely human ways, as befits our unique status as the one creature made in God’s image. So, as humans we praise God with hearts and hands and voices, with rationality as well as emotion, with language, art, music and craft — with all that reflects the God in whose image we were made.
The rest of creation already praises God and is summoned, repeatedly, to do so. There is a response of gratitude that befits not just human beneficiaries of God’s generosity but it is attributed to the nonhuman creatures as well. We may not be able to explain how it is that creation praises its Maker — since we know only the reality of our person-hood, and what it means for us to praise God. It is affirmed throughout the Bible with overwhelming conviction.
Eventually, the whole creation will join in the joy and thanksgiving that will accompany the Lord when He comes as king to put all things right.