For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. (1 Peter 2:19-20)
In 1 Peter we find an echo of the teachings of Jesus. If you do what other people expect of you when it comes to loving your neighbor, repaying what is owed, responding to opposition, handling violent circumstances, doing good to others when good is done to you, what benefit is that to you?
These are really interesting themes to consider in light of creation-care. If Christians do what people expect of them when it comes to stewarding God’s creation, what credit is that to us? If we don’t offer additional depth, if we don’t model a different way to be an environmentalist, if we don’t model faithfulness to Jesus first, what good is all our striving?
Now I write this realizing not all are called to the field of creation-care, I write this knowing that within the body of Christ exists many calls and many talents, and many gifts, but I also write this with the full understanding that we have underestimated the challenge of climate change and living within our environmental means. Resources like clean air, clean water, and vibrant soils are not endless and can be managed very poorly to the determinant of those who depend on them for life.
So what does faithfulness look like?
The passage above takes us to some uncomfortable places. In an era of modern church life where there is still such a separation between how we act on Sundays and how we act during the rest of the week, especially in the context of our daily jobs, it is a hard saying to think that Christian beliefs might actually govern and intrude in my daily work, let alone saying that I might have to lose my livelihood or my reputation because of my faith. The idea that my Christianity might extend beyond working hard and doing the best I can to actually putting a career or a livelihood on the line is just too outlandish for too many to consider. Yet we can’t escape the essential meaning of the passage, especially in light of its actual focus on work and livelihood.
For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly
Suffering for righteousness sake should not be a foreign concept within the life and realm of the Christian. While this post has a bent towards vocations, this suffering can just as easily be relational.
When for the sake of faith you stand up to corruption, you stand up to wrong doing, you stand up for the sake of others and you suffer because of it, this is a commendable thing. Now one needs to endure this suffering with endurance, with the attitude of a Christian, with the maturity of a believer, but this too is an ancient Christian concept.
Anglicans recently celebrated St. George’s Day. St. George is the patron saint of England and is revered as the saint of soldiers. St. George was a skilled and gifted soldier from a noble family known for their service to the Roman Empire. By the time he had reached his late 20s he had risen in the ranks and was known as a very skillful and competent commander. As the story goes, in the year 302 AD the Emperor Diocletian issued an edict requiring Christians to be arrested and every other soldier to offer a sacrifice to the Roman gods.
St. George refused to sacrifice to idols. We are told that Diocletian was saddened by this because St. George had great favor with the Emperor and the Emperor did not want to make an example of a loyal and skilled soldier. So Diocletian attempted to bribe St. George, along came property, money, titles, and slaves, if he would just sacrifice to the gods and yet St. George refused. For these refusals St. George was executed.
While many of us present day saints will seldom be asked to sacrifice our lives in the modern west (a luxury not afforded to many Christians around the world), we can learn something from the example of St. George. We may be called to do some things for the sake of the faith which will put our livelihoods and at the very least our comfort zones or reputations at risk. Yet this is a significant part of the church’s tradition. Suffering graciously and enduring hardship for the sake of Jesus is a good, gracious, and commendable way of life.
Having said this it must be said that we must not create our own self-righteous view of what true faith looks like in this regard. The way of the cross is humility. Every Christian is called to love the Lord fully and completely and this ought to extend to all the realms of life. Our desire to be faithful should not become an overly individualistic crusade without the counsel and wisdom of loving friends and the guidance of the church itself. Still it must be said that some may be called to do more than might seem safe in the world today for the sake of the gospel.
What this Might Mean for Creation-Care
When it comes to environmental challenges we live in unprecedented times. In addition to public policy we need Christians being salt and light within every meaningful and related vocation. With the stakes so high for human life and well being, and the corresponding interests from all sectors competing for dominance, we need Christians who are willing to call out corruption and negligence in the private and public realm. So whether in business or in the government, Christians are called to vocational integrity and in light of creation-care have an obligation to call out those issues that might easily lead to the next spill, next accident, next short cut.
We also need Christians who have a faithful and hopeful vision of the future and are willing to do the long hard work to address some of our most lasting environmental challenges. This is especially true when it comes to climate change. We need entrepreneurs and vocationally minded scientists who are willing to be explicit about how their Christian faith is motivating and inspiring them to come up with climate solutions. People like Katharine Hayhoe who are doing the hard science and cultural work to not only give us the best information on climate change but to take that information and bridge the cultural gap on climate. She is creating an important space where conservative can come to the table to offer solutions to address climate change. In this way she is going beyond what might be expected of her in terms of creation-care and instead is pioneering new ways of doing her work faithfully.
I pray that we might all have the integrity and depth of character to act as people of conviction in all the varied realms of life.
Alexei Laushkin is the Vice-President of the Evangelical Environmental Network.