The scriptures don’t emphasize environmental concerns as much as you might expect, but then humans had much less ability to injure the environment in biblical times than they have now. It’s now very much within our power to completely destroy the planet, should we be so foolish. That wasn’t true 2,000 years ago.
But the doctrine of Creation Care is plainly revealed nonetheless.
(Gen. 1:26-28 ESV) 26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Christopher Wright comments,
The first mention of human beings in the Bible states two fundamental things about us, two things that are put so closely together that they are clearly connected: (1) God made us in his image (both male and female), and (2) God intended us to exercise dominion within creation. It is not that having dominion is what constitutes the image of God, but rather that exercising dominion is what being made in God’s image enables and entitles us to do. We humans have a mission on earth because God had a purpose in putting us on it.
So God instructs the human species not only to fill the earth (an instruction given to the other creatures in their habitats), but also to subdue the earth and to rule over the rest of the creatures. The words kabaš (“subdue”) and radah (“rule”) are strong words, with a sense of imposing of will upon another. However, they are not terms that necessarily imply violence or abuse (though some critics of Christianity lay the blame for ecological disaster at the door of these two words and the freedom they allegedly give to us to rape the environment—a charge that has been well refuted).
Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission, Biblical Theology for Life, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 50.
(Gen. 2:15 ESV) 15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.
The verb ʿabad means “to serve”, with the connotation of doing hard work in the process of serving. So although most translations render it in this verse with meanings like “to work it”, “to till it”, or “to cultivate it”, the essential core of the word still has the sense of serving. Humans are servants of creation, and that is the way they are to exercise their kingship over it.
The verb šamar means “to keep something safe”, with protection, care, and watchfulness. It means to treat something (or someone) seriously as worthy of devoted attention (thus, for example, in a moral sense it can mean to keep the way of the Lord, or to keep God’s law—i.e., by studying, understanding and obeying it).
Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission, Biblical Theology for Life, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 51.
A little philosophy
There are those who see the Creation as God — Gaia worshipers and Pantheists. They see all creation as equally valuable, and many would just as soon that humans be removed from the planet so they would no longer use its resources.
Others see humanity and God as so far removed from Creation that the Creation is only a temporary holding area pending the real creation that comes when Jesus returns and takes us all away from here. Therefore, “it’s all going to burn,” and we have no reason to concern ourselves with this third rock from the sun.
The truth is that God created the heavens and the earth and declared his Creation good. It’s not corrupt and evil, as the Gnostics taught. It’s not disposable as so many Christians teach. Rather, when we’re saved we become “new creations” (2 Cor 5:17; Gal 6:15). Our redemption is a renewal of what God did in the beginning.
“New” translates kainos rather than neos, and the sense of being restored or refreshed or renewed — not made all over again from nothing. Our own salvation points back to the original Creation, restoring us to what we were always meant to be — in charge of the Creation for the sake of God, not as destroyers and pillagers but as caretakers and protectors — who also are given the Creation for our own flourishing.
(Ps. 148:1-14 ESV) Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights!
2 Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his hosts!
3 Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars!
4 Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
5 Let them praise the name of the LORD! For he commanded and they were created.
6 And he established them forever and ever; he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away.
7 Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all deeps,
8 fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word!
9 Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
10 Beasts and all livestock, creeping things and flying birds!
11 Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
12 Young men and maidens together, old men and children!
13 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his majesty is above earth and heaven.
14 He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his saints, for the people of Israel who are near to him.
Praise the LORD!
The psalmist sees the Creation — even the inanimate portions such as the moon, sun, starts, and mountains — as singing together a chorus of praise to God! Why? Because God is going to throw it all away in some heavenly trash heap? Or because God made it good and has promised to redeem it — just as he’ll redeem us humans?
Indeed, at present the world is in mourning for our sins —
(Hos. 4:1-3 ESV) Hear the word of the LORD, O children of Israel,
for the LORD has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land.
There is no faithfulness or steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land;
2 there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery;
they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed.
3 Therefore the land mourns, and all who dwell in it languish, and also the beasts of the field and the birds of the heavens, and even the fish of the sea are taken away.
But the Creation anticipates the redemption from God —
(Ps. 96:10-97:1 ESV) 10 Say among the nations, “The LORD reigns!
Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved;
he will judge the peoples with equity.”
11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
12 let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy 13 before the LORD,
for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness,
and the peoples in his faithfulness.
The Creation rejoices in anticipation of the reign of God — the kingdom of heaven!