Creation Theology and the Climate Crisis


[1] The imminent climate crisis makes questions regarding our relationship with the creator and the created reality to which we belong extremely important. It presses us to consider what it means to believe in God, the creator, and what it means to be created in the image of our creator. These questions are pressing, urgently demanding; our answers will influence how we respond to the information that have been made accessible to us about the changing climate already affecting our planet, our common home. The creation stories in the first two chapters of the book of Genesis tell us about the community of creation to which we belong and what we have in common with our fellow creatures. The whole creation is pronounced good, not only we humans but also the fish in the sea and the bird in the sky. In the first creation story, animals as well as humans have the same task, to “be fruitful and multiply.” According to the second creation story, the humans and the animals are even made of the same material, namely the dust of the ground. But there is the extra responsibility that is entrusted to the human part of the creation, namely, to till the garden and keep it, and to “have dominion over” our fellow creatures.

[2] While technical solutions are critical in our fight against dire consequences of a warming climate, they are not all we need to consider.  The climate crisis presents severe challenges of moral, political, sociological, and religious natures. For example, there are serious human rights issues, such as the right to life and the bare necessities needed for life, including access to food, shelter, and health services.  Pope Francis makes an important argument in his encyclical, Laudato Si’ (2015), when he states that religious people need to become active in resisting climate change and that scientists and politicians should not be left alone to do the job.[2] Furthermore, the pope calls for an “ecological conversion,” which he claims includes a recognition of the earth as God’s gift, and the fact that we, who live on this earth, are all dependent on each other.[3] The call to Christians, as well as other religious communities, to step up and call for a change, was made clear by the representatives of various religious communities at the meeting in Paris in December 2015. There is a strong demand for leaders of religious communities to pay special attention to those who are most vulnerable when it comes to changes in the climate in order to make it possible for them to become agents in their own lives and not just victims of unjust situations. What is called for is a planetary solidarity, to stand with those who suffer the most from a changing climate, while we recognize our common task to fight for climate justice. After all, it is a matter of justice, and needs to be treated as such.[4]

[3] We are faced with unprecedented challenges as people living on a planet in a grave danger, and it is crucial for theologians to figure out how to continue to speak about God vis a vis those challenges. In her book, Lutheran Theology. A Grammar of Faith, Kirsi Stjerna comments on the task we are in for. She writes

It is imperative to readjust the theological language about God and creation to enhance the sense of holiness of all life, the godliness of the care of creation, and therewith alter human beings’ attitudes towards creation: so that instead of using and abusing it, human beings would be committed to caring for the creation.[5]

[4] In recent years it has become quite clear, that we cannot continue to use the same words, concepts, ideas, symbols or metaphors, without reevaluating, and reinterpreting them in light of the current crisis. Theologians have already made a significant contribution to this work, but there is more to be done. My aim in this article is to lift up a number of concepts, which I consider critical for a theological discourse on life on earth facing a climate catastrophe.

Creator of All

[5] The image of God is key to any theological loci, and certainly to our understanding of who we are as created beings, and parts of God’s good creation. I will start with Luther’s frequently quoted interpretation of the first commandment, in his Large Catechism (1525), where he writes:

God is that in which we are to look for all good and in which we are to find refuge in all need. Therefore, to have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe in that one with your whole heart. As I have often said, it is the trust and faith of the heart alone that make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust are right, then your God is the true one. Conversely, where your trust is false and wrong, there you do not have the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God. Anything on which your heart relies and depends, I say, that is really your God.[6]

In other words, our god is that in which we put our trust; and this trust can be either right or wrong, depending on whether our trust is true or false.

[6] Jan-Olav Henriksen writes about the need for new symbols in order to address adequately the current climate crisis in his book Climate Change and the Symbol Deficit in the Christian Tradition. He makes the following comment about Luther´s definition:

Luther‘s definition‘ of what a god is in the Large Catechism can … serve as a critical tool in the present situation because it engages the human being in a critical self-assessment: In whom and what do you trust? This approach does not intend to bring about a fundamental lack of trust in oneself but aims at directing one‘s trust towards a God who offers life to all of creation and fights against destruction.[7]

[7] Regarding the very first sentence of both the Nicene Creed, to believe in God, who is the “maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen,” is the foundation of our Christian faith. To believe that God is the source of our being–of what has been, what is, and what will become–constitutes the basis of our world view, including our perceptions of right and wrong. This is why there is nothing in our lives, which is excluded, or irrelevant, to our faith in God our creator. As a part of the creation, we have received everything we have from a creator, and eventually it is to our creator we are accountable. Hence the question if we put our trust in the true God, who (in Luther’s words) is the source “of all good and in which we are to find refuge in all need.”

[8] Luther annotates the First Article of the Apostolic Creed in the following way:

What is meant by these words or what do you mean when you say, “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator,” etc.?

Answer: I hold and believe that I am God’s creature, that is, that God has given me and constantly sustains my body, soul, and life, my members great and small, all my senses, my reason and understanding, and the like; my food and drink, clothing, nourishment, spouse and children, servants, house and frame, etc….[8]

It is particularly noteworthy how Luther focuses on the here and now and the ongoing creation of God. While God created heaven and earth and has given me my body and soul and life.  God is still creating, because God “sustains my body”, and “daily guards and defends us against every evil and misfortune, warding off all sorts of danger and disaster.” God does this out of “pure love and goodness, without our merit, as a kind father who cares for us so that no evil may befall us.”[9]

[9] What I take from Luther’s understanding of God, the creator, is an image of God who is not distant and indifferent to her creation, but present. God is with us, deeply immersed in our created reality. This is in a clear contradiction to an overemphasis on God as being transcendent, sovereign, distant and separated from the world, which too often has been proclaimed in the Christian tradition. This can overshadow God’s love and God’s presence within the creation. Here the focus is on an active and creative interaction between the creator and the creation, which corresponds with panentheistic conceptions[10] of God, where it is assumed that everything (i.e. the whole creation) is in God, like a baby in its mother’s womb where it enjoys shelter and nourishment.[11] This panentheistic concept protects the important distinction between the creator and creation, while the emphasis is on its close relationship.[12] To hold on to the close relationship between the creator and the creation and also the close relationship between different parts of creation is essential for a theological discourse which seeks to respond to the challenges global warming entail.


Our Place within Creation

[10] The idea of a creation implies, first of all, that everything that exists belongs to the creator, and secondly, that all parts of creation are closely connected to each other. What we learn from the creation stories in the beginning of Genesis, is that God is intimately related to all creatures; God addresses them and blesses them. It is also important to note that in the first creation story, God declares that creation is “good,” long before human creatures exists. This is reiterated again and again throughout the story. Faced with a threat of a climate catastrophe, it is critical to emphasize the inter-connectedness and inter-dependence within the “the community of creation.” One way to interpret this closely knitted community, is for humans to consider the rest of the creation as their neighbors, and not as their property to be used for human advantage. This indicates a critical shift from anthropocentrism to ecocentrism.[13] This is what Cynthia Moe-Lobeda describes as “a shift in how we fundamentally see the human in relationship to the rest of creation.”[14] To be created in the image of God, as stated in Genesis 1, gives human beings a particular role within the community of creation, while it does not allow them to treat their fellow creatures according to their will. But the truth is that when we look at the consequences of global warming, we see a wounded creation, because instead of loving our neighbor, we are causing death and distortion.[15]

[11] The idea of stewardship has probably been more controversial than any other concept in the theological discourse about the climate crisis.[16] While it is not a biblical term, it is meant to reflect the objectives presented in the creation stories, where it reads:

God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion [italics are mine] over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (Genesis 2:28)


The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it [italics are mine]. (Genesis 2:15)


[12] The terminology in chapter 1, “subdue” and “dominion”, is obviously different from “to till” and “keep” in chapter 2, but in the context of serious negligence and overexploitation, the problem remains.[17] In her most recent book, Creation and the Cross: The Mercy of God for a Planet in Peril, Elizabeth Johnson maintains that the text in Genesis 1 does in no way give human beings permission to exploit the rest of the creation, as “domination in the name of the creating God makes them responsible to see that it thrives.“[18] She nevertheless admits that even if the “major biblical paradigm is not dominion but the community of creation,” “dominion as domination has largely erased the communion of creation from consciousness, opening the door to unbridled exploitation of nature without ecclesial protest.”[19]

[13] Given an eco-centric perspective, with an emphasis on kinship rather than domination, there is indeed a wide agreement amongst theologians that stewardship and responsibility need to go together. It is first of all a responsibility to our creator, but also a responsibility to the rest of the creation. It is a shared responsibility, a collective responsibility, for the future of the earth, our common home, although different groups of people have different responsibilities when it comes to a changing climate.[20]

Something Is Wrong

[14] The climate crisis is a clear indication that things are not as they should be. Instead of loving and respecting creation, we are guilty of disrespecting and destroying what has been entrusted to our care. This is why the future of creation, which originally was “good,” is in danger, and in no way in sync with the original plan. Sin is a concept that usually refers to human individuals, but within the context of a changing climate the concept of sin signifies the broken relation between creator and creation, but also within the creation. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda uses the concept climate sin, when she talks about the systematic injustice happening due to the big CO2 footprint caused by the richest populations with more serious consequences for the poor especially in the Global South. In order to turn things around a drastic change of the way we live and behave has to happen.[21]

[15] The concept of sin helps us address the reality we are facing, caused by our irresponsible and self-centered behavior. If global warming is not to make our planet eventually uninhabitable, then it is crucial that we admit what we have done, or rather left undone,[22] namely to take care and love our planet and everything that belongs to it. Metanoia, or repentance, happens when we admit what we have done and when we experience the change of mind so that we turn around. In the context of climate crisis and climate justice, it refers to a new mindset, a change of direction.[23]

[16] In his Small Catechism, Luther talks about the role of confession for the believer. He maintains that confession consists of two parts, confession of sins and absolution. In order to know which sins to confess, Luther recommends that we stop and critically examine our lives. He writes:

Which sins are these?

Here reflect on your place in life in light of the Ten Commandments: whether you are father, mother, son, daughter, master, mistress, servant; whether you have been disobedient, unfaithful, lazy, whether you have harmed anyone by word or deed; whether you have stolen, neglected, wasted, or injured anything.[24]

Such reflections seem to be particularly urgent in times of imminent danger. Luther encourages us to ponder upon our behavior, and to confess what has gone wrong. Implied is the plea to repent, and change one’s behavior. This correlates to Pope Francis’ call for “ecological conversion.” Closely related to the concepts of sin and repentance is the concept of salvation, which means to make whole, when something that is broken becomes whole again.[25]

[17] When it comes to addressing the current climate crisis from a theological perspective, much depends on our understanding of God and our place within God’s creation. To claim that God is the creator of all there is, still creating, sustaining, and guarding her creation, signifies a very present God and a creation that is embraced by its creator. How we think about our place within the creation is also critical. Do we stress the differences amongst us or the kinship? And finally we must consider how we think of our role within the community of creation. How do we understand the task given to us? Do we choose to emphasize domination and dominion or our responsibility towards our creator as well as the rest of creation?

[18] It is obvious that something is wrong, and it is up to us to decide what we will do about it. Our responses will be affected by how we understand what it means to believe in a creator of “heaven and earth.”



[1] This article springs from a research presentation and conversations held at the 14th International Congress for Luther Research in 2022. My thanks to all the participants of the “Luther and Religion” seminar.

[2] The Encyclical Letter: Laudato Si‘ – On Care for Our Common Home, (New York: Paulist Press, 2015) 116-118.

[3] Ibid., 126-129.

[4] Planetary Solidarity: Global Women‘s Voices on Christian Doctrine and Climate Justice, is a title of a collection of articles, written by global women theologians on the issue of doctrine, women and climate justice (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017).

[5] Kirsi Stjerna, Lutheran Theology. A Grammar of Faith, (London: T&T Clark, 2021) 102.

[6] Martin Luther, The Large Catechism (1529), in The Annotated Luther, vol. 2, ed. Kirsi Stjerna, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015) 300.

[7] Jan-Olav Henriksen, Climate Change and the Symbol Deficit in the Christian Tradition. Expanding Gendered Sources, (London: T&T Clark, 2022) 135.

[8] Luther, The Large Catechism, 354.

[9] Ibid., 354.

[10] Panentheism is different from pantheism, which assumes that everything is God, and monarchial theism, which puts the emphasis on God who is far removed from the creation, but controls it like a dictator. See: Elisabeth A. Johnson, Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love, (London: Bloomsbury, 2015) 147.

[11] Johnson, Ask the Beasts, 156.

[12] See: Sallie McFague, “Reimagining the Triune God for a Time of Global Climate Change,” in Planetary Solidarity: Global Women‘s Voices on Christian Doctrine and Climate Justice, eds. Grace Ji-Sun and Hilda P. Koster, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017), 101-118.

[13] Vitor Westhelle writes in an article on “eco-conscious Lutheranism”: “…To see nature as neighbour who we are called to love, protect and defend through political means available, through legislation, and persecution of abusers and explorers, is implied in Luther‘s reading of Chalcedon regarding the presence of Christ in all of nature ‘through and through’…“ (Vitor Westhelle, “Working with Lutheran forms of Christianity,” in T&T Clark Handbook of Christian Theology and Climate Change, eds. Ernst M. Conradie and Hilda P. Koster, (London: T&T Clark, 2020) 285).

[14] Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, “Finding Common Ground on a Moral Vision for the Good Society,” in T&T Clark Handbook of Christian Theology and Climate Change, eds. Ernst M. Conradie and Hilda P. Koster, (London: T&T Clark, 2020) 166-167.

[15] Cynthia Moe-Loebeda, “The Spirit as Moral-Spiritual Power for Earth-Honoring, Justice-Seeking Ways of Shaping Our Life in Common,“ in Planetary Solidarity: Global Women‘s Voices on Christian Doctrine and Climate Justice, eds. Grace Ji-Sun and Hilda P. Koster, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017) 250.

[16] Arnfríður Guðmundsdóttir, “The Fire Alarm Is Off: A Feminist Theological Reflection on Sin, Climate Change, Energy, and the Protection of Wilderness in Iceland,” in Planetary Solidarity. Global Women’s Voices on Christian Doctrine and Climate Justice, eds. Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Hilda P. Koster, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017) 136.

[17] About the concept of stewardship see for example Richard Bauckham, “Being Human in the Community of Creation. A Biblical Perspective,” in Ecotheology. A Christian Conversation, eds. Kiara A. Jorgenson and Alan G. Padgett, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2020), 19-20.

[18] Elizabeth A. Johnson, Creation and the Cross. The Mercy of God for a Planet in Peril, (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2018) 204.

[19] Johnson, Creation and the Cross, 206.

[20] Jan-Olav Henriksen, Climate Change and the Symbol Deficit in the Christian Tradition, 142-146.

[21] Cynthia Moe-Lobeda,“Finding common ground on a moral vision for the good society,” 162.

[22] In his explication of the Fifth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, Luther writes: “… so that we sin daily in word and deed, in acts of commission and omission…” [italics are mine] (The Large Catechism, 382).

[23] Laudato Si‘, 126–129.

[24] Luther, The Small Catechism, in By Heart. Conversations with Martin Luther‘s Small Catechism, eds. R. Guy Erwin, Mary Jane Haemig, Ken Sundet Jones, Martin J. Lohrmann, Derek Nelson, Kirsi I. Stjerna, Timothy J. Wengert and Hans Wiersma, (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2017) 217.

[25] Arnfríður Guðmundsdóttir, “The Fire Alarm Is Off: A Feminist Theological Reflection on Sin, Climate Change, Energy, and the Protection of Wilderness in Iceland” in Planetary Solidarity. Global Women’s Voices on Christian Doctrine and Climate Justice, eds. Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Hilda P. Koster, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017) 138-141.

Arnfríður Guðmundsdóttir

Arnfríður Guðmundsdóttir is professor of Systematic Theology, Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies, University of Iceland. She is the editor of Studia Theologica. Nordic Journal of Theology.