“Because God created nature, it demands our reverence”C.S. Lewis
If I care about the planet and its animals and maintain a plant-based diet, am I associating with liberal agendas? Is liberal rhetoric the only way to address concerns about environmental degradation and resource management? In considering these questions, I am reminded of the three angels in Revelation chapter 14 that swoop onto the scene with vital messages as the earth reaches a tipping point.
I find it interesting that the Book of Revelation warns about the destruction of those “who destroy the earth” (11:18). It describes grass and trees burning, sea creatures dying, water springs polluted, and the air being contaminated. Such degradation and desolation occur wherever unrestrained power and systems of profit and exploitation are promoted. Economic injustice, environmental destruction, and industrial catastrophe prevail in a world held hostage by evil. A culture marked by violence, greed, and unbridled consumerism contradicts the redemption and re-creation that God is leading us to. These are sins against society, the consequences of selfish human actions and demonic injustice.
Gus Speth, chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality under President Jimmy Carter, stated, “I used to think that the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that” (quoted in Sandra L. Richter, Stewards of Eden, 2020, p. 106).
Richter further remarks that “the real issue behind environmental degradation is not science or politics—it is morality” (p. 110). In their brief pass, how do the angels in Revelation 14 respond to the prevailing worldview?
Angel #1: God’s News (14:6–7)
The first angel proclaims heaven’s news: “Fear God and give Him glory, for the hour of His judgment has come—and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of waters.” The message is loud enough that everyone on earth can hear and evaluate God’s judgment for themselves. The angel also brings a second message framed around the first—a call to worship God.
Long before the earth started to groan, long before weather patterns changed and disaster struck, God asked us to worship Him by caring for His garden (Genesis 1:26-27; 2:15). Environmental catastrophe is a serious issue, but God’s original mandate for caring stewardship can help to resolve it: “The environmentalist tragedy is that we know what to do to clean things up, to restore them, and to prevent further despoiling. What is presently missing—at all levels, from individuals up to the highest authorities in the land—is the will to do what we know we ought to do. To worship the Creator is to bring to conscious awareness the fact that it is God’s sky, His streams and lakes, His rivers and oceans, His forests, His soil and wetlands, His earth” (Jack W. Provoncha, A Remnant in Crisis, 1993, p. 99).
To respect creation is to acknowledge the Creator “who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.” This language comes from the Sabbath commandment, which adds to the message about living without selfishly harming God’s creation (Exodus 20: 8–11). It’s a message that connects Sabbath-keeping with God’s plan to restore rest to all creation. It conveys our need to reconnect with our Creator for the well-being and flourishing of creation and how our lack of rest is affecting our world. Creation-Sabbath is a gift we have failed to keep.
Interestingly, the angelic call is framed around this message. Nature’s lessons point us to God’s selfless character, as creation gives itself in endless service to other organisms. Every plant, shrub, and tree provides oxygen to support animal and human life, unfolding beauty and blessing to the world, yet they need sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water to do so. They must receive to give. Even after sin has marred creation, nature still testifies to God’s unselfish character, as nothing exists for itself. In this context, self-giving—not our own self-centered survival—becomes the law of life. The message of creation is about becoming the right kind of person in God’s garden—a person of unselfish love. Being unselfish, caring, and generous is important. It’s the posture that reflects the character of God, the giver and sustainer of life. We must worship the Creator characterized by self-giving love, not those who spoil and destroy the earth.
Angel #2: God’s Indictment (14:8)
The second angel follows, declaring that human systems steeped in the ways of “Babylon” are morally bankrupt and unable to address society’s moral issues. The underlying conception of Babylon is self-exaltation and dominance (Isaiah 14:12-15; Daniel 4:30), based in impulses of self-preservation and safety after the catastrophe of the flood. “If what lies behind the human world is only chaos and instability, man must make his own order. Human ordering is the theme of the story of Babel” (Leon R. Kass, The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis,2003, p. 222). The second angel tells us that “Babylon the great” carries a policy of forced and false worship (14:8; Daniel 3:6) and that imposing its solutions to a deteriorating society is ultimately doomed to fail.
Angel #3: God’s Warning (14:9–12)
The third angel warns of dire consequences for those who decide to follow the opposition that is destroying the earth. Competing motives and values become intrenched, and everyone gets marked. Which mark will you carry? Will you determine morality by cultural acceptance or by God’s eternal truth? Oppressive systems and those who give allegiance to them will face ultimate judgment, as evil remains unrepentant in response to God’s warning. However stark, the descriptions of fire and torment have been tragically misunderstood as representing sinners in the hands of an angry God. However, it is not about what God inflicts on others but what He takes upon Himself. Jesus has entered the very hell He warns us against.
Is God responsible for what is described? “If God destroys ‘those who destroy’ (11:18), by what means does God do it? The opposing side in the conflict has already made a good beginning of destroying itself and the earth” (Sigve K. Tonstad, Revelation, 2019, p. 169). A world in sync with exploitive practices will have “no rest.” God must rescue His creation from those bent on destroying it. God will finally and fully deal with evil. Human suffering and earth’s catastrophes will end. Ultimately, as Ian Boxall comments, “evil and injustice bear within themselves the seeds of their own destruction, and ultimately the whole edifice will come tumbling down” (The Revelation of St John, 2006, p. 249).
The third angel signals a final conclusion: the only true solution to morality is the faithfulness of Jesus. This is why scientists can’t adequately explain it and why politics and authoritative religion can’t solve our pressing issues. Cultural revolutions may exclude Jesus or attempt to imitate Him, but the important question is how we participate with Jesus’s faithfulness.
Where is a Christian witness in all this? Amid the world’s chaos and confusion, they hold on to the commandments of God as reflected by the faith of Jesus (Revelation 14:12). It is our duty to live as Jesus has, leading transformed lives in harmony with His testimony. The only true solution to our world’s dilemma is the revelation of Jesus—not a culturally defined Jesus but the Jesus who transcends every human agenda through His cruciform love. My solution is living a life that reflects the character of God’s unselfish love as I do my best to obey the creation mandate. This does not mean that I accept all claims from climate change activists, but it does mean that I stand in the gap for a broken and bruised world by clinging to the Creator.
The truth is that God cares for the world. His message of compassion, kindness, and love extends an offer of rest to the whole earth. Delivering this message of hope and mercy includes loving others through our consumption habits and our stewardship of nature. This is the message that must be presented in response to current climate change rhetoric. If we do a good job as stewards of God’s creation, the issue of climate change will become moot.
Those who claim to worship the Maker and keep His commandments are called to reflect this message. In his 2002 book Dominion, Matthew Scully describes it this way:
So in every act of kindness we hold in our own hands the mercy of our Maker, whose purposes are in life and not death, whose love does not stop at us but surrounds us, bestowing dignity and beauty and hope on every creature that lives and suffers and perishes . . . if there is any hope at all then it is the same hope, and the same love, and the same God who “shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.p. 398
I acknowledge that we cannot fix a fallen world, but it is our duty to care for it as God does. I believe it is my responsibility to live in this world with the compassion of Jesus until I arrive safely in a redeemed world where everything is made new.
Craig Ashton Jr.