To stand in the thick of an environmental debate, it would be easy to conclude that there are only two sides:
- Either the environment exists only for human purposes – to provide us with the supplies we need to eat, build, trade, and live OR…
- The environment is more important than human beings and needs to be saved above all else.
Christianity has an entirely different view on this issue. Instead of either extreme or a vague compromise, we understand ourselves to be part of creation, deeply embedded in an interdependent world that God graciously sustains with vibrant life.
This perspective allows us to look honestly at the paradox of a broken and beautiful world in a way that elicits a desire to care for creation, a joy in appreciating the environment for what it is, and a hope for the restoration of brokenness.
“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.” –Wendell Berry
What does the Bible say about the environment?
Christianity emphasizes the physical as much as the spiritual dimensions of reality. The Bible begins with God creating the world in Genesis 1-2. In these accounts, it is clear that God is pretty happy with what he’d created; God called the world GOOD before human beings were even on the planet. God intended the first humans, Adam and Eve, to live in a world full of life and peace in the Garden of Eden. As creatures, they were supposed to fill a special role within God’s creation and be its primary caretakers—or stewards (Genesis 2:15).
Unfortunately, when Adam and Eve ignored God’s provision and thought they could get by without God’s help, brokenness, pain, and suffering entered this world. It’s obvious that there’s a major disconnect between the environment and ourselves as human beings. Most animals fear us and many unique species have gone extinct.
The climate confounds us. Natural disasters overwhelm us.
Sin impacted the environment and nature directly, which explains some of the apparently random or destructive things that happen in nature. Romans 8:19-22 explains that nature is longing for God’s restoration of heaven and earth.
In addition, the sinful humans that came after Adam and Eve have neglected their role as stewards of the environment and abused their position. We have failed in this God-given monumental task—sometimes knowingly, and sometimes without realizing the damage we are doing to ourselves, to others, and to the creation that surrounds us. The Bible is clear – when we fail to live as caretakers of creation, all of creation suffers along with us.
Can we reverse the damage done to the environment?
Again, we can easily slip into a bi-partisan approach:
- If creation is broken, why not just get what we can from it? OR…
- Since creation is broken, it is up to us alone to fix it and do all we can for it.
If we take the first point of view, we essentially disregard the creator—who said it was good (Genesis 1:31); if we lose our love for creation, then we have lost our love for the creator.
If we take the second point of view, we might accomplish a lot of good, but we’ll likely burn ourselves out taking on a project that’s way beyond our capacity.
When Jesus died and rose again, Christians believe the peace of the Garden of Eden began to be restored. Our failures as caretakers of this earth are forgiven in Jesus, and the damage that these failures have caused will ultimately be healed (Isaiah 11:6-9, Ezekiel 34:23-31; Revelation 22:1-2).
Humanity and the environment now share a common hope and future.
This true hope drives Christians not away from the current world, but deeper into it. Instead of reacting to ecological problems out of fear or anxiety about the end of the world, Christians continue caring for all of creation, enjoying it because it is good in God’s eyes, and trusting that because of Jesus, God will ultimately renew the earth out of this broken but beautiful one (Isaiah 65:17, 66:22; 2 Peter 3:10-13; Revelation 21:1). We are re-energized to be part of God’s own work in caring, preserving and restoring the environment. For Christians, taking care of the environment is a God-given activity.
And no matter what you might believe—or not believe—about God, these sacred texts can be helpful for all of us who are trying to understand what it means to be a good caretaker today. “To work” the earth – as in plant seeds, grow food, harvest crops, rest the soil, raise livestock, honor the seasons, harness the wind, the sun, and yes, even fossil fuels. “To care for” the earth with a watchful eye to the past, present, and future—because there are always consequences. And to care for its people, at all times giving special consideration to those “that seem to be weaker” (1 Corinthians 12:22).
Our world is still an incredible place.
Christians can see the world, even in its present state, as a wondrous creation whose song of praise to our gracious God is unending.
But neither do we think we can fix everything on our own. For Christians, our planet’s ultimate hope is not in the fledging efforts of man, but in Jesus’ promise that he will restore and renew the entire universe from ultimate destruction.
Protect it. We must care for the world and our natural environment, and not be wasteful with natural resources. Our inherited sinful nature does not give us permission to abdicate our God-given responsibility to take care of this earth.
Work as a team. Individual choices such as recycling, reducing consumption, and protecting animals are very important. But this is not a Christian versus non-Christian issue. We need to join together to take care of the environment and help society as a whole.
People are the priority. The Bible is clear that human beings are unique and special among creation. Jesus’ ministry focused primarily on people, so we have to be careful that our care for the environment does not come at the expense of the basic needs of people.
Get out and enjoy it. Our society spends more and more time using digital technology and less time enjoying nature. God doesn’t specifically tell us how to spend our time, but the mere presence of amazingly beautiful creation is an invitation to enjoy it. A refreshing perspective, health, and spending time around things that God alone has made are all good things.
Plant a garden. Seems like gardens have a special place in the story of creation—the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:8), the garden in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36) and when the earth is renewed an image of a garden taking over a city is used (Revelation 22:1-3). Go plant something and tend to it. Bring nature into as many corners of our world as we can.
God’s got this. As stewards we are responsible for the choices we make that impact the environment. Ultimately, God keeps his promise to care for us in spite of our mistakes and poor choices. He will do the same with his creation.
In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land. Psalm 95:4-5