The environment – who cares ?
One consequence of believing in the biblical account of creation is that we accept God’s mandate to ‘be fruitful and multiply and fill the Earth and subdue it and have dominion …’ (Genesis 1:28).
This involves a recognition of God’s authority over the creation and our responsibility to him for its care. We also see that the creation is not something to be worshipped (Exodus 20:4).
This is in fundamental contrast to the popular description (frequently used in news broadcasts and nature programmes) of our planet as ‘Mother Earth’. It conflicts with the popular false gods of the New Age movement and the ‘Gaia Hypothesis’ of James Lovelock. So where does this leave us?
Evangelicals have often been labelled ‘non-green’. Even the Prince of Wales spoke against us and in favour of the Muslim attitude to the environment! Prof. Lynn White blamed the environmental crisis on Christianity, saying that the biblical principle of domination gives a wrong view of the world.
There are many aspects to the environmental crisis. They include such problems as erosion, flooding and the spread of deserts; damage to the ozone layer; and an increase in environmentally aggravated asthma due to pollutants. We have concerns about nuclear radiation, the destruction of tropical rainforests, and many other things.
The environment is precious. It is essential to life – God created the entire environment before he created man. He created it as a home for us and only then did he make Adam and place him in it.
Furthermore, he created it perfect. Should we expect anything less? Apparently we should, if we are to believe those Christian brethren who subscribe to ‘creation through evolution’. But the Bible says that God saw that it was ‘very good’. What is God’s definition of ‘very good’ if it does not imply perfection?
However, the Bible also teaches something we can all see – creation has been damaged by sin. When we testify to God’s creative work, we are often reminded by sceptics that things are not as beautiful as we imply. They are right, but the Bible established that fact on page three! So, who cares about it?
Who cares? God cares!
From the biblical record we see that the creation reflects the divine nature (Romans 1:20). Even the damaged environment reminds us of the holiness, timelessness and power of God. Indeed, it also reminds us of his love, because his curse on the environment alerts us to the seriousness of our sin and the need to repent.
We can imagine Adam in the garden in Genesis 1-2. As he studied the flowers and animals, he would have sung with us, ‘How great thou art’. But then his sin brought God’s curse not only on himself but also on his environment (Genesis 3:17). Now when he picked flowers the thorns and thistles would remind him how great was his sin!
We also learn from Scripture that God created all things for his pleasure, a fact that evokes the praise of heaven (Revelation 4:11). Our attitude to the environment should reflect that same music in our hearts and minds.
In an interview in the Daily Telegraph a few years ago, Richard Dawkins inadvertently admitted that the environment stirs worship in our hearts. Speaking of his special interest in rainforests, he said, ‘I’ve contemplated a tropical rainforest and felt a tremendous sense of awe and worship … [pause] … Not, of course, that there is anything to worship’.
Calvin de Witt, Director of the Au Sable Institute of Environmental Studies, wrote, ‘If people at an art gallery saw Rembrandt’s paintings being destroyed, they would try and prevent the destruction. Similarly, the earth is the canvas of our Lord and Creator and his masterpieces are being destroyed’. Do we care?
Who cares? We care!
We were appointed stewards of the creation. We don’t own the environment; it is not ‘our’ world. God has never relinquished his right of ownership (Psalm 24:1). Our planet home is leasehold, not freehold. We are in partnership with God because we cannot manage it without his help (Psalm 65:9). We are entrusted with its care and are accountable to him.
What, then, is the purpose of the environment that God has given us? Paul refers to ‘foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer’ (1 Timothy 4:3-5).
The environment is given for our sustenance – for food, clothing and shelter. Furthermore, it is a source of healing; Scripture describes plants as a source of medication.
But, to return to Paul’s words to Timothy, the environment is also given for man’s enjoyment and pleasure. Can anyone visit the Lake District or Snowdonia and not be moved by their beauty and wonder?
But let us consider some of the practical issues arising from this. The wording of the ‘creation mandate’ has often been misapplied, revealing a lack of serious study of Scripture. It is suggested that ‘subdue … have dominion’ signify a blank cheque for exploitation.
But look at the context – this was said before the Fall (though confirmed at the Fall, Genesis 3:16-19, and reissued after the Flood, Genesis 9:7). It has a positive connotation and implies bringing out the full potential of the earth, as in food production.
Genesis 2:15 clarifies the mandate: we are to ’till it and keep it’ and ‘work it and care for it’. The former word is ‘to serve’ and the second, ‘to watch’. The thrust is preservation. Far from signifying ruin, the mandate carries the same sense and implication as God’s own dominion. We are to behave responsibly.
Consider the value of a tree, for example. We appreciate it but we do not worship it. We value it by treating it as a part of God’s creation. God has given it to us for our use and benefit. However, there must be no unnecessary destruction (Deuteronomy 20:19; 22:6). We have no right to mutilate it for ‘fun’.
Our sense of integrity means that we cannot treat a fish as if it were a human baby, but nor can we treat it as a stone.
Our treatment of the environment also has a spiritual dimension. Our attitude to God’s creation should issue in practical righteousness: ‘A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal’ (Proverbs 12:10).
Fall and redemption
Since God has cursed the world, some might ask why we should seek to counter the effects of the curse. The Bible’s answer is clear. Should we fight disease? Of course; Christ did! We too can and should seek to ameliorate the effects of the Fall.
So, yes, it’s OK to fight the weeds! Sinclair Ferguson comments, ‘Grace does not destroy nature – God’s gifts in creation – it heals, restores and perfects it. The final goal of the work of Christ is the resurrection and transformation of the natural order that he brought into being at creation’ (Faithful God, Bryntirion Press, 2005; p.88).
Francis Bacon said, ‘Man, by the Fall, fell at the same time from his state of innocence and from his dominion over nature. Both of these losses, however, even in this life, can in some part be repaired; the former by religion and faith, the latter by the arts and sciences’.
There is a need for us to care. God cares for the sparrows, the flowers, and so on (Matthew 6:26-30). As those made in his image, we must do so too (Matthew 5:44-45). We should manage the environment to care for the needy (Deuteronomy 24:19). We should view the problems and ask ourselves – and our Creator and Sustainer – what we can do in response to these issues.
But we must not end without reminding ourselves that the Lord has, as part of his ultimate plan, the redemption of the environment. The environment was not only cursed by God but has been abused by man. Many of our environmental problems are the result of human greed and selfishness.
But the good news is that the created order will be redeemed (Romans 8:20-24; 2 Peter 3:13). The Lord has promised new heavens and a new earth. The Creator is the Sustainer and will be the Redeemer.
God has been good to us. He has given us a great privilege. Let us accept with gratitude his generosity and faithfully care for his world.
J. H. John Peet