Most Christians are quick to dismiss the term environmentalism from their vocabulary because of both its association with an unbiblical worldview and politically charged, activist movements. This guarded approach towards environmentalism is healthy, yet it often leads to the dismissal of any conversation regarding the Christian’s responsibility in caring for the environment. It is as if the environmentalist movement has forced Christians into complete silence on this topic because we rightly desire to avoid insinuating our concurrence with the dominating worldview held by many of those in the movement. So instead of engaging these opposing worldviews we simple avoid the conversation all together, which often leads to Christians being labeled as indifferent about environmental care. Our lack of conversation conveys a perception that Christians simply believe this is a disposable planet which is not deserving of our attention.
Nevertheless, as Christians we must understand clearly what the Bible teaches about this issue because it is one which has and will continue to confront us on a daily basis. What then should be the response of Christians to the claims of the environmental movement? What does the Bible teach about our role in caring for the environment? While the modern day claims of global warming, rising CO2 emissions and pollution are not specifically mentioned in the Bible, there are specific principles which we derive from Scripture which are able to guide us through the process of developing a Christian worldview on the environment. More specifically, there are three timeless principles through which any Christian living in any time and any place can develop practical methods of environmental care.
Man’s Role in the Environment
First, we must realize that mankind is not merely a passive creature on earth, but that we do have an active role in caring for the environment. In Genesis 1 we are provided with the full creation account, part of which is the forming of man and woman in the image of God and placing them in the Garden of Eden. Almost immediately afterwards God gives them several commands indicating what, not only they, but all of mankind are now to do as part of God’s created order. They are namely, to “be fruitful and multiple and fill the earth,” “subdue it” and “have dominion…over every living thing” (Gen 1:28). In other words, have children, spread out and rule over the earth as those who have been created in God’s image. In the ancient world, the face or image of a ruler would be sent to the farthest ends of the kingdom in order to demonstrate to the people that his authority had reached that place. Thus, as those made in the image of God, we are a living testimony to the fact that God’s reign has reached the uttermost parts of the earth.
Scripture also teaches us something which in some cases in our culture will get you in trouble; that men and women are superior to the rest of His creation. Practically speaking, what is there in all of the creation to which mankind can be compared? There is clearly something about the human race which is unique and different from the rest of creation whereby we would never think to ask a dog about the moral implications of murder. There are certain attributes and characteristics of human beings which simply would not allow us to draw even the slightest similarities to animals, except our common connection as a creation of God.
Yet, while we are superior to the rest of creation, we must realize this status does not provide carte blanche authority to rule outside of the divine ordinance of God. It begins with recognizing that there is a creation owner and it is not us. “The earth is the Lord’s and all it contains, the world and all who dwell in it” (Psalm 24:1). Ownership belongs to the One who merely had to use His words to create all living things and what belongs to us is simply the role of a steward. All of mankind serves as a manager, overseer and caretaker, all of whom, like any steward, will one day be required to give an accounting for their management.
Stewardship does not view the earth as needing to be preserved within its original condition, but it speaks to utilizing all that it is capable of producing within the boundary of avoiding neglect. The man who was given one talent in the Parable of the Talents (Matt 25:15-30) was rightly punished for not using the talent, but simply preserving it in the original condition; doing nothing with it. The master did not give resources to the three servants simply for them to observe, but for them to use and produce a return. The ingenious ways mankind has learned to use the earth’s resources should be applauded because of the vast technological advances and improved medical technology now available to most of the world. The immense benefits realized by these advances have led to a once unknown list of opportunities for advancing the gospel. Using the earth’s resources is part of the command to steward, but within that same vain it must be remembered that misusing these resources is to be labeled an unfaithful servant.
This one word of stewardship should encompass all that we think about our role in caring for the environment. It speaks to both the how and the why of environmental care. It forces us to hold creation with the same regard as the owner because one day He will provide the final evaluation as to whether it was managed in a way acceptable to Him. What better motivation is there for people to have an interest in caring for the earth’s resources? If there is no higher authority to which we must give an account, beyond equal members of the human race, then what is our motivation? Would it not be easier to fully expend the earth’s resources without regard for the consequences of our actions? If there is no Creator, if there is no owner and if there is no accountability then why expand the time or energy to even discuss this topic?
Yet, we must talk about this topic because as the first command given by God to those made in His image, it is clearly important to the Him whom we are to give glory in all that we do. Therefore, we must think together carefully as Christians about how practically we should be exercising this role as a steward. This is our motivation as Christians and it is one which serves as the best motivation for any person because it involves accountability to someone greater than the rest of society.
The environmentalist motivation which is based on saving biodiversity may be convincing to the scientist and biologist who care about species, but to the average person in the world that argument will hardly raise an eye. The claims of the earth becoming unsustainable for human life will only gain enough interest if the scientific evidence is inconclusive. Christianity offers the strongest motivation; accountability to an eternal Creator. It means we care about the environment when it is popular and unpopular. It is not based on a movement or an emotional appeal, but on timeless biblical truth. So when we are told that Christians do not care about the environment, our response should be that we not only care, but we really care because of the One to whom we must one day give an account.
In our next segment we will consider the root of the environmental crisis.