Let’s be honest. It’s a bit irksome to be outdone in world competition. So when Norway went home with the most medals in February—sixteen more than the United States—it prompted a flood of Google searches and articles that went something like, “Why Norway is so good at the Winter Olympics.”
Such a search will unearth several reasons why Norwegians are great winter athletes, most notably due to the fact that their entire country is a ready-made training ground. You can hardly go anywhere without mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, or walking trails. I’ve lived in Norway for five years, and as I trudge my way through the snow on my skis, I see two- and three-year-olds flying by as if it’s nothing.
Such an outdoors-driven lifestyle comes naturally to Norwegians. And it’s not by happenstance. The reasons why not only explain their natural esteem for outdoor sport, but also offer opportunity for gospel mission framed by an astute understanding of creation care.
Norwegian Creation Care
Norway is a country of stunning beauty, and Norwegians want to protect it all. They make a concerted effort to instill a love and respect for creation in their children. They foster this by encouraging their kids to explore, play, hike, and ski. Children are taught to take care of the outdoors—to leave things as they found them.
Norwegians, along with most of their Scandinavian counterparts, also set a high political bar for doing all they believe is right for leaving the world in better shape for the next generation—whether you agree with their methodology or not. Norway gives tax incentives for many plug-in vehicles, and it’s estimated that over half of all new cars registered in 2017 were electric or hybrid. The country receives about 98 percent of its energy from renewable resources, primarily hydropower.
Most of Scandinavia also follows a plastic recycling incentive program, a bit similar to bottle deposit programs in a few American states. The program’s results are so attractive that other countries are looking into copying the concept. And there is a steadily growing number of secondhand stores and shops that either repair old items or find new ways to use things that might otherwise be obsolete.
A strong motivator for such dedicated creation care is the value Norwegians place on the next generation. Their deep love for children compels them to take care of the world so it will be here for the generations to come.
Norway, as a postmodern society, places importance on the here and now, what is seen and felt. So if what is here, now, is an earth that sustains our lives, and what is seen is the wellbeing of our progeny, then what is felt is a desire to revere what’s perceived to give and nourish that life—nature.
As far as Norwegians are concerned, the fate of the earth, and therefore humanity, has fallen into our hands. Their motivation may be flawed, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be convicting. And it offers ample opportunity for gospel conversation around our own desire to steward God’s creation, including very different motivations to do so.
Time for a Change
When God created Adam, he gave him charge over the land and the animals (Gen. 1:28–30). God is good, and he reigns over all things in goodness. As those created in his image, we also reflect his goodness by stewarding creation well.
It was, however, the sin of Adam that brought a curse upon the same land for which he was charged with care (Gen. 3). The Scriptures repeatedly give witness to the cost paid by the earth for the sin of man—the flood (Gen. 6–9), the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19), and even blessing and cursing in the Law (Deut. 28)—that is directly tied to the land and its production. Romans 8 also paints the image of all creation crying out for redemption from the bondage caused by the sins of men.
The cultural mandate, as it is commonly known, found in Genesis 1:26–28 and 2:15, demands that humans exercise dominion over the earth, subdue it, and develop it. We are meant to literally fill the earth with God’s glory. That begins with caring for the creation around us.
“The cultural mandate demands that we do our best to steward the earth as God’s image bearers for God’s image bearers.”
I’ve cared for issues related to the environment since my early days of high school. I was always generally aware of the option to be more environmentally conscious, but my desire to follow through tended to ebb and flow with what was convenient at the time. Then I moved to Norway.
When I see Norwegians’ passion for creation, without knowledge or acknowledgment of its Creator, I’m convicted. They see creation as a fortuitous gift to steward well, something they can either abuse with negligence or cherish with care. When they enthusiastically claim responsibility for this stewardship, they demonstrate a love for this gift and for others for whom it is meant.
The cultural mandate demands that we do our best to steward the earth as God’s image bearers for God’s image bearers. So when we say we love God and do not care for what he has given us, our environmentally minded neighbors have every right to question us. It is shortsighted at best to proclaim our wonder for the created order around us and the One who made it, yet neglect our responsibility for its care.
Creation to Christ
Expanding efforts to care for the environment have afforded me many opportunities to share the gospel with my environmentally conscious neighbors. I enjoy spending time in nature with Norwegians so that I can talk about how natural beauty points us back to the Creator of all things. We agree on the importance of valuing our natural resources and taking care of the world, and then talk about God as Creator and man’s responsibility to take care of what he created.
Then I get to share my belief that the natural world is innately valuable because it points us back to the One who created it and loves us deeply. And that’s a much easier conversation to have when I’m practicing healthy creation care.
Julianna Hagen has served with her family in Norway for the past five years.