Now, it’s a sad, sad commentary on the contemporary church that our views on the environment — on God’s handiwork
— are often set more by the political platforms of the Republican and Democratic Parties than the Bible.
Therefore, as we enter this study, you have to set aside all thoughts of Rush Limbaugh, Al Gore, and such. This simply isn’t about which party is right. Indeed, American Christians are all too ready to sell their churches into slavery, to become a special interest group within one party or the other, all in hopes that the next presidential election will bring redemption and salvation.
But it won’t. I’ve met our politicians, and some are very fine people. Not a single one is Jesus. And salvation is found in Jesus, not the American political system.
Young people tend to think of themselves as the first generation that cares about the earth, but that’s wrong. I’m a Baby Boomer. Born in 1954. And I remember what America was like before the environment was cleaned up.
In the 1960s, my parents took us on a vacation to St. Louis. We stayed on the 5th floor of hotel. And the pollution was so bad in the mornings that we literally could not see the ground from our hotel windows in the early morning.
I grew up in a town of 7,000 people. We had an aluminum reduction plant, and woke up each morning to a fine powder of aluminum salts on everything. And the local chicken-processing plant … well, just pray the wind was blowing the other way.
And all this was cleaned up many years ago. You see, the Environmental Protection Agency was proposed and established by President Richard Nixon. Yes, the disgraced, Republican president founded the EPA. (This is not to defend Republican environmental policies. I find both parties to be far more about catering to their bases than offering any real leadership in this area.)
Back then, environmentalism wasn’t really a partisan issue. Everyone wanted the mess cleaned up, and both parties supported clean air and clean water.
You see, it was the generation before me — people the age of my parents — who began the monumental task of cleaning up the environment. Of course, it was generations even older than that who, beginning with President Theodore Roosevelt, founded national parks to preserve parts of the nation.
In short, environmentalism is not new and shouldn’t be either partisan or divide the generations. We may disagree about particulars — just how much to preserve and how to balance the need for jobs and industry against the pollution these things bring — but all sides should and largely do favor preservation and clean air and water.
The Scriptures speak plainly on the subject.
(Gen 1:26 NAS) 26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
Mankind, as priest-kings in the image of God himself, are charged to rule over the Creation on behalf of God. We are caretakers of God’s own Temple. And that plainly implies a duty to protect and preserve the beauty that God has given us — beauty that celebrates God.
(Gen 1:29-30 NAS) 29 Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; 30 and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food”; and it was so.
However, we are told, the Creation doesn’t just celebrate God. It also sustains man. Indeed, God gave the Creation to man for his sustenance.
The same theme appears in chapter 2 —
(Gen 2:15 NAS) 15 Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.
God plainly charges Adam with the duty to both keep or preserve (shamar) the Creation and to cultivate (abad) it.
Shamar and abad are used in Numbers 3, for example, to refer to the work of the priests in the tabernacle.
(Num 3:8 NAS) 8 “They shall also keep all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, along with the duties of the sons of Israel, to do the service of the tabernacle.”
These are priestly duties. To cultivate the land — to make it productive for human use — is God’s intent and purpose. But so is guarding and preserving the Creation.
There’s an attitude toward the land common among farmers that we are placed on this earth are caretakers of the land for God. We are not allowed to destroy the land so that future generations may not also enjoy it and live from it. But neither are we required to keep all the land untouched, and so unavailable to provide food. Rather, we make the land productive without wasting it. We even improve the land by removing rocks, and building terraces, fields, and ponds. It’s been given to us by God to use but to use responsibly.
These observations hardly answer all the environmental issues we face today. I mean, should we preserve and protect ANWR oil field in Alaska? Or work the ground and make it fruitful? The Scriptures don’t speak at that level of detail. But the text does insist that the debate be framed in biblical terms.
This much is clear:
* All Christians should be environmentalists. That hardly means agreeing with every position of the environmental lobby, but it does mean caring deeply about the planet we’ve received from God as a gift and which speaks to us of our Creator.
* The immediate needs of the capitalists are not always going to be the paramount needs. It’s both preserve the Garden and work the Garden. Not one or the other. If we preserve too severely, we’ll starve fellow human beings, and the Garden was made for the support of the man. But if we work the Garden too severely, we’ll fail in our mission of preservation and might still starve fellow human beings. We need this planet to last a long, long time.
* Moreover, the Psalms especially repeatedly speak of the Creation showing forth the glory of God. Destroying the beauty of the Earth destroys its testimony about God. Again, the rule isn’t absolute, as every farm replaces one kind of beauty with another. And we were plainly meant to farm the land.
* Science is a subset of theology. There can be no contradiction. Modern physics, biology, and whatever true science there is will speak to us about God and cannot contradict God’s truth. Indeed, in this view, if a scientist studies the Creation as a Christian, the Spirit will give him understanding of God from studying his gift to us.
* Therefore, our Christian colleges and universities should be on the leading edge of scientific instruction and research, although they are often sadly out of touch with God’s Creation. It’s as though we’re afraid of what we might learn about our God! That’s not much of a faith.
(Psa 104:24-32) How many are your works, O LORD! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
25 There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number – living things both large and small. 26 There the ships go to and fro, and the leviathan, which you formed to frolic there.
27 These all look to you to give them their food at the proper time. 28 When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things.
29 When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust.
30 When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.
31 May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works – 32 he who looks at the earth, and it trembles, who touches the mountains, and they smoke.
Verses 27 and 28 remind us that the earth is given to provide us food. Verses 30 and 31 say that God’s work of creating is not over, but rather he continually renews the face of the earth.
Indeed, the entire Psalm extols God’s continuing work in maintaining the earth. Thus, as we do the same, we are truly doing God’s work. He walk with him as we help to heal the planet and bring it closer to Eden.
And this causes God to rejoice (v 31) as the earth becomes new once again.