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Everyday earthkeeping 2/4 | Imagine a thriving planet

The views expressed in these blogs belong to the authors, not necessarily LICC. In this series, we’re hosting a conversation in blog form.

‘The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it on the seas, and established it on the waters.’
Psalm 24:1–2

Ever wonder, then, how our Creator feels about the state his planet is in? How would Jesus – the Lord of all creation – have us keep and cultivate his planet in an age caught between mindless overconsumption and eco-anxiety?

That’s the question this blog series explores. Over four articles, our contributors – Bethany Kunert, Jo Herbert-James, Paul Kunert, and Laura Young – will have a conversation, responding to each other’s reflections as they ‘triple listen’ to wisdom from the word of God, the world, and one another. The goal? To help us practise hope-full earthkeeping in our everyday lives as whole-life disciples, wherever we are, whoever we are, and whatever we do.

The series also accompanies our Wisdom Lab: Everyday Earthkeeping event, at which each of the authors will deliver a TED-style talk and bring together evidence-based insights and theological wisdom, making space for honest dialogue to squarely face the duty and delight of ecological responsibility on our beautiful but broken planet. 

So far, Bethany Kunert – a young geographer passionate about protecting biodiversity – helped us listen to the groans of the planet and her generation, calling the church to step up as earthkeepers. In this piece, Jo Herbert-James – an A Rocha eco-theologian and activist – steps back to imagine what should be going on, seeing Bethany’s critique within the context of the biblical story from creation to new creation via the cross, as our Creator invites every person to love the planet like Jesus did.

In the rest of the series, we’ll learn how to create a healing response, and think about how to communicate the good news of an orthodox and yet authentically green gospel as a whole-life witness.

Through this series, we’ll be inspired to live more sustainably right where we are, from a place of hope, honouring the Lord of all creation. Join us as we seek a wise way forward together.

Earthkeeping and Scripture

As Bethany shared in the first article, if you grew up in or around the church, you’ve probably heard the biblical account of creation many times over. And yet there’s still a generation wondering whether the church cares about ecological issues. In this blog, I want to step back and help us see the significance of biblical texts in understanding our relationship to creation, before exploring how Bethany’s story can naturally find a home within its narrative.

The Garden of Eden might seem like some sort of ecotopia, an ideal existence far removed from our experience of creation today – that is, of course, unless we’ve encountered some of the remote and beautiful places around the world that have been able to preserve this ideal and untainted quality.

I was privileged to experience something of this myself whilst visiting the Amazon rainforest in Peru, spending two days with an indigenous people group.

The community loved the forest. They lived within and from it, cultivating small areas for crops to eat and sell, and growing cocoa beans for chocolate. This wasn’t on an industrial scale, but in a small area sufficient to provide income to support the community.



Whilst there, I had a conversation with the chief about the dense flora surrounding us. He was describing some of the plants, their medicinal value, and where best to companion plant, before proceeding to tell me that he knew the name and the purpose of every plant, tree, and bush I could see. This was simply extraordinary, given that everywhere I looked there was a different kind of leaf, plant, or shade of green. Naïvely, I thought he must be exaggerating and decided to test him, but each time, he dutifully offered a comprehensive answer. After a few of these exchanges, he looked at me, somewhat confused by my amazement and asked:

‘What do you think it means to be a chief here? My role is to take care of the community and the forest. How can I take care of it if I do not know it? The Amazon is the lungs of the Earth, and God placed us here to take care of it, as our home, and for the sake of the whole Earth.’

This wise and yet unassuming chief both demonstrated and articulated to me one of the best lessons in a theology of everyday earthkeeping I’d ever heard. The chief, and the community of which he was a part, knew their place within creation and their relationship to creation. And fundamentally, they knew and loved God’s creation, because you can’t love what you don’t know.

(We need) more than stewardship

Like many people, for much of my early Christian discipleship I heard precious little, if any, teaching on God’s creation. What I did hear was generally along the lines of us being ‘stewards’ of God’s earth.

The concept of stewardship is typically taken from Genesis 1 and 2, with God’s declaration that humankind might have ‘dominion’ over the earth. The Hebrew word here is radah, meaning ‘to rule’. Later in the account, humans are commanded to ‘till’ (abad) and ‘to tend or keep’ (shamar) the land. Whilst there are discussions about the specifics of what these words were intended to communicate, what’s clear is that God intended mankind’s relationship with the land to be reciprocal. Adam could live from the land and was called to care for it – as, indeed, God cares for and protects us (Numbers 6:24).

Our modern picture of a steward is someone with a role separate to others – think air stewards or someone with a bright jacket at an event showing you where to go. And that poses a challenge when we read this word in the biblical creation account, because although the idea of ‘caring for’ is present, we automatically assume an element of being distinct or separate from the rest.

But when we read Genesis 1, we’re invited into a remarkable story – one that walks through the ever-evolving and marvellous stages of God’s creation of this earth and all that inhabits it. And it’s not until the sixth day that humans enter the story. This serves as a powerful reminder that we’re made as one part of the community of creation. We’re not demigods above creation, but rather a part of it.

I can’t help thinking that, somehow, science has done a better job at teaching the younger generation about our place within creation than the church has. And so Bethany, and many others, are calling out for the church’s perspective on this. Science can tell us the facts, but theology can teach us the why.

The community of creation

The concept of humans being a part of the community of creation leads toward a more holistic relationship with God, our neighbour, nature, and ourselves. What we see in the Garden of Eden is nothing less than paradise. At least that’s how early Greek translators of the Hebrew Bible described it, with Eden probably meaning ‘bliss’ or ‘delight’. This was an aesthetically pleasing, well-watered, productive garden, a place for humans and animals to enjoy, and a place that humans were made ‘to work’ (Genesis 2:15).

What’s more, it’s a biblical picture of shalom. Our English translation – peace – doesn’t fully capture its meaning. Shalom is not just the absence of violence. Rather, it describes things as they ought to be, with God walking in close relationship with both humans and animals, who were at peace with one another all within a flourishing land.

A world gone wrong

Of course, we know it didn’t stay that way. Adam and Eve were expelled from this paradise garden because of their disobedience. In the chapters that follow, we read of the downward spiral of humankind’s behaviour, predominantly marked by violence. Such violence is seen and experienced in all of creation. This culminates in Genesis 6, where God sees the wickedness of humankind and sends the flood, preserving Noah and his family, and asking him to preserve on the ark a pair of each living animal. It’s easy to skip over Noah’s role as a conservationist here, however imaginative Darren Aronofsky’s movie portrayal may be.

After the flood, in Genesis 9, we see God make a new covenant with humankind, and crucially, with ‘every living creature on the earth’ (Genesis 9:10). Again, this is a detail  I was never taught as a child – and it’s been equally absent in my adult life, for that matter. There is no hierarchy or domination here. The covenant is with humankind and God’s other creatures alike, woven into the story of God’s covenant family throughout the Old Testament. [2]

Jesus and creation

Possibly the most well-known verse in the Bible is John 3:16: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.’

Growing up, I was always told to take out the word ‘world’ and insert my own name. So, it would then read: ‘For God so loved Jo that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ This verse undoubtedly has an emphasis on God’s intimate and personal relationship with humanity. But the original word for ‘world’ here is kosmos, describing all that God has created, not just humans. [3] It turns out that Jesus died to save the planet – as well as us! I have come to realise that my childhood reframing of the verse was a reductionistic, human-centred reading of Scripture, rather than a more God-centred reading.

The cosmic Christ and the regeneration of all things

The Colossians 1:15–20 hymn helps us understand this even more specifically. It both looks back to tell us that all things were made in, through, and for Jesus. And it goes on to tell us that all things will be reconciled to God through him, significantly ‘by making shalom through his blood, shed on the cross’ (v20). [4]

As we read above, Jesus’ death and resurrection is achieving, and will achieve, that shalom described in the Garden of Eden. We see this picture painted for us again at the end of the Bible in Revelation 21, where there are the new heavens and the new earth. Of course, this is hard to imagine in literal terms. But the imagery is clear: the promise of the reconciliation between God, humans, and the whole of creation will be completed; there will be transformation and renewal, not replacement.

A story for the church

This is the story the Bible tells us about God, ourselves, and creation. It tells us that God hasn’t finished with creation. And it’s the story that the church, and therefore we, are to locate ourselves in. This story is God’s story. It’s not dependent on us, but rather it’s the one he invites us to participate in. It’s also the story that answers the call of Bethany and her peers – a story relevant to what they see going wrong in our world and a story that offers hope of a different way.

This is the story I saw being lived out more clearly than ever as I visited the community in the Amazon rainforest, and perhaps why I found it so inspiring, and yet at the same time challenging. Here was a community, a chief, a leader, leading the people that God had given him charge over in a way that sought harmony and shalom with all of creation, in their work, rest, and play. The invitation of earthkeeping – indeed calling, I believe – is there for us too, and is what it means to join in with God’s mission.

Earthkeeping in the UK today

What, then, can this biblical story say to Bethany’s experience? And how does it invite a generation who largely walked away from the church, and each of us who remain, to live as we face the reality of modern-day ecological breakdown?

Bethany describes what seems to be a deep appreciation for nature that was birthed in her from a young age. She’s comfortable in creation and was taught to pay attention to it. With this love of nature, she has gone on to focus her education and career towards earthkeeping. She is also making lifestyle choices, as best she can, towards living more sustainably. Like Bethany, many of us try hard to live towards a cared-for planet. And yet we feel guilt for not doing enough, frustration with policymakers, confusion over consumerism, eco-anxiety about the future, and even disillusionment with the church.

It’s easy to feel our efforts are futile compared with such a huge issue. So, is all of creation doomed? Is it too late? And is there anything we can do?

Whose story?

First, we need to remind ourselves of who we are, who God is, and whose story we are living in. As we read above, it’s through Jesus that all things are reconciled to God, not through us and our efforts. This almost seems too obvious to state, but like the renewal of all things, it doesn’t rely on our imagining it, nor does it rely on us achieving it. That isn’t to say that what we do, or do not do, does not matter – quite the opposite.

Faithfulness not perfection

God calls his people to faithfully bear witness to him within this broken world. He invites us to join in with what he is doing and live in the way he originally designed us for within his creation. We trust, and now increasingly understand through science and research, that when we live at peace with creation, our lives and the lives of our global neighbours are improved. Food remains in good supply, floods and droughts don’t claim lives and destroy homes, ecosystems self-regulate, and humans and animals can drink safe water, swim in clean rivers and seas, and breathe non-polluted air.

But we can all find ourselves feeling a bit like Noah, asking what hope there is for humanity on a path toward self-destruction. Against this backdrop, it’s hard to find the ‘right’ answer or the ‘best’ option for how to live. Consumerism and globalisation are complicated, and there may not be a ‘right’ answer. If we aim for perfection, we take the responsibility for creation onto our shoulders and risk focusing on ourselves, neglecting to trust God. What we can do, in every given moment, is live and make choices in a way that reflects our commitment to him and his creation as hopeful activists.

Acting in community

In the UK and most Western societies, individualism is a powerful driver. We’re bombarded with subtle and not-so-subtle messages that tell us we should look after ourselves and pursue what makes us happy, with little regard for others and the planet.

Individualism is a clever myth. It permits us to justify mindless consumption, leading to a false sense of security. Yet the belief that my actions don’t really matter is what also leaves us feeling powerless and anxious. But this isn’t a biblical concept. Creation itself tells us of God’s design of interrelatedness. Plant life, animal life, and humans are all sustained by healthy ecosystems and relationships with each other. God made us to exist and flourish within the whole community of creation, both human and non-human.

And it’s in the coming together of our voices and our actions that change will be possible. If only I reduce my meat and dairy consumption, it makes no difference. But if everyone in the UK reduced their intake by 13% by 2030, the UK would meet its national targets on climate change. That suddenly seems more possible. Everyday changes in our patterns of work and play can, collectively, make a significant difference that tangibly expresses our mission as whole-life disciples.

Creation, eco-anxiety, and wellbeing

There are mounting numbers of studies showing that being outdoors is good for our wellbeing, whether you enjoy the rhythmic sounds of the ocean lapping against the shore, the sound of birdsong in the morning, wide and expansive views from a mountain top, the simple joy of digging your garden, or sitting on a city park bench during your lunch hour. Creation naturally brings peace, and the longer we spend in it, and get to know it, the less we fear it and the more we love it.

When we cultivate a love for creation, similar to how God feels about it, our everyday earthkeeping becomes a joy, not a task that we feel endless guilt about for not doing more. This was the love and care that came from the chief and his community. And I believe it’s a love that welcomes each of us home, Bethany and her peers included, in this ecological valley of decision.

Jo Herbert-Jone
A Rocha UK, Head of Engagement


Discussion questions 

  1. How do you respond to the opening story of the chief and the community in Peru? What helpful insights does this story offer for your own life, community context, or workplace?
  2. Do you find the concept of ‘stewardship’ a helpful one? How does this fit within a bigger understanding of our relationship to creation?
  3. Have you heard any talks on creation care in your church? If you haven’t, how might you summarise this article in your own words to make the case for everyday earthkeeping as part of our participation in God’s mission? If you have, can you think of areas that haven’t been covered or actions that could be taken, and then suggest them to your church leaders?
  4. In your context – especially where you live, work, and play – how might you cultivate a deeper connection to, and love for, creation?


[1]Editor’s comment: A Rocha’s International Director of Theology, Dave Bookless, unpacked this point powerfully in the Wisdom Lab on Just Listening and in his supporting article, ‘On Caring for Creation,’ June 24, 2021. For more, see Clare Palmer, ‘Stewardship: A Case Study in Environmental Ethics,’ in Environmental Stewardship: Critical Perspectives, Past and Present, ed. R. J. Berry (T & T Clark, 2006), 63–75; also Ruth Valerio, ‘Why We Are Not Stewards of the Environment,’ Ruth Valerio Blog, January 18, 2021.

[2]Editor’s comment: Were space to allow, a fuller telling of the biblical story would camp out with Israel and explore how this covenant people were called to live in harmony with creation as part of their mission to be a light to the nations. For more, see the theological works of Christopher J. H. Wright, especially: The Great Story and the Great Commission (Baker Academic, 2023), chaps. 7 & 8; Old Testament Ethics for the People of God (IVP Academic, 2004), chaps. 3 & 4; also The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible Grand Narrative (IVP Academic, 2006), chap. 12. Among most all theologians today, including evangelical scholars, creation care (i.e., earthkeeping) is seen as our first and ongoing mission and a gospel priority for every disciple today. See, for instance: Douglas J. Moo and Jonathan A. Moo, Creation Care: A Biblical Theology of the Natural World (Zondervan, 2018); also R. J. Berry and Laura Yoder, John Stott on Creation Care (IVP, 2021).

[3] Richard Bauckham, Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of Creation (Baylor University Press, 2010), 142.

[4] Editor’s comment: As in endnote 2 above, this compressed retelling of the biblical narrative stresses creation, corruption, Christ, and consummation. Were the ethical injunctions for Israel in their covenant and the church’s mission to be included, we would have an even more compelling picture of the call for every whole-life disciple to participate in God’s integral mission through acts of everyday earthkeeping. Indeed, the church in the here and now is called to be a sign, servant, and sacrament (making visible the invisible God’s good plans for all creation) of the kingdom of God, a foretaste in the present of what one day will be by God’s grace, through the power of the indwelling Spirit. In other words, the way we practise earthkeeping today is a model of and pointer towards God’s desires for every human, which will be fully realised in the regenerated (new) creation to come. So, creation care is part of discipleship and a strong witness to our non-Christian neighbours wondering what difference faith makes on this groaning planet today.

 Helpful resources

  1. L is for Lifestyle by Ruth Valerio (InterVarsity Press, 2019). An excellent book that uses each letter of the alphabet to explore an issue or product in an ethical way.
  2. A Rocha UK’s Wild Christian programme. A Rocha UK’s programme for individuals becoming a community of people who encourage one another and share what they’re learning about sustainable living.
  3. Bible and Ecology by Richard Bauckham (Darton Longman & Todd, 2010). A great theological resource that unpacks how the Bible describes how humans are to relate to the rest of creation.
  4. The Mission of God’s People by Christopher J. H. Wright (Zondervan, 2010). A biblical theology of the church’s mission, which includes caring for creation.
  5. Shalom and the Community of Creation by Randy Woodley (Eerdmans, 2012). Written by a well respected Indigenous theologian in the US, this book invites us to learn from Indigenous people’s wisdom and relationship to creation.
  6. Becoming Rooted: One Hundred Days of Reconnecting with Sacred Earth by Randy Woodley (1517 Media, 2022). A 100-day practical devotional book.
  7. Ethical Consumer website. A treasure trove of research on the ethics and sustainability of thousands of products and companies, giving shopping guides and ethical ratings.
  8. Creation Care. An award scheme for households to work towards greater sustainability.

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