[Last month I looked at the question “Is God a Feminist?” I thought we should continue this theme of looking at God’s character in line with 21st century issues.]
Questions, ideas and opinions about the environment are everywhere. Threats of global warming and climate change have created a ubiquitous concern for our planet. Businesses and politicians (with sincere and likely less sincere motives) proudly support “green” initiatives. The question remains: Is God an environmentalist? Everyone seems to have an opinion regarding caring for the planet, so shouldn’t God and his followers?
A 2013 study polled American evangelical Christians alongside non-Christians to compare their views about climate change. “Compared to non-evangelicals, American evangelicals were less likely to believe that climate change was happening, less likely to believe that human activity was the cause, and less likely to express worry and concern.” Out of 9000 delegates at the 2016 World Conservation Congress, only 1 was a Christian organization (A Rocha). The majority of my friends who follow Jesus do not seem to live any more “green” lives than those who do not. It’s not that they are against environmentalism, it’s just that there are more important things to care about. Admittedly, for the majority of my life I have had the same attitude.
I find it incredibly interesting that many people who passionately (and often quite dogmatically) believe that God created the planet as literally written in Genesis 1-2 care about the earth as much (if not less) than people who explain our existence to a big explosion and a lot of evolving.
Many Christ-followers express an attitude (whether consciously or subconsciously) that the spiritual realm is good and everything material and physical is bad or insignificant. Church services, priests/pastors, praying, Bible reading and anything “heavenly” is sacred and good. Our bodies, the environment, “secular” jobs, sex, food and anything “earthly” is bad and insignificant. At best, nature is proof of God, but not that valuable in and of itself. Who needs to care about the planet since Jesus is coming back and everything is going to be judged anyway? English leading New Testament scholar N.T Wright discusses a time in the 1980’s when he addressed a group of Christians in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada:
“…some people in the church had been saying that there was no point in worrying about the trees and acid rain, the rivers and lakes and water pollution, or climate change in relation to crops and harvests, because Jesus was coming back soon and Armageddon would destroy the present world. Not only was there no point in being concerned about the state of the ecosystem; it was actually unspiritual to do so, a form of worldliness that distracted from the real task of the gospel, which was the saving and nurturing of souls for a spiritual eternity.”
Unfortunately many Christians are so concerned with heaven, hell and going “somewhere else” for all eternity that they overlook caring for the planet God has created. When this happens we miss out on the original mission God gave humanity before evil and brokenness entered our world! This mission was to reflect his image to the Earth (as well as reflect the praises of the Earth back to God) and to multiply and spread out over all the Earth. To replenish and subdue the Earth. To cultivate, keep, tend, watch over, work, govern, selflessly take charge, steward, care for and be responsible for our God-given, breathtakingly beautiful home (see Genesis 1:26-28 and 2:15). It seems that God really cares for the Earth that he created. He was after all the first to proclaim it “very good”.
You don’t have to be a scientist to see that humanity really botched up the mission. Instead of lovingly governing the earth and stewarding it in holy reverence to its creator, we have effectively raped her of her resources, hoping to gain personal wealth, power and luxury. We have abused, and continue to abuse our God-given responsibility in favour of higher company profits, stronger national economies and plain old convenience.
In 2010, 4000 influential Christian leaders from 198 countries met in Cape Town, South Africa for an ecumenical conference which discussed the issues facing our world and how Christ-followers should respond. The group created an influential document which wrote the following about the environment: “The earth is created, sustained and redeemed by Christ. We cannot claim to love God while abusing what belongs to Christ by right of creation, redemption and inheritance.”
I for one feel convicted over my own apathy. What am I doing and what can I do to steward our planet where I am? Recycling isn’t as popular or convenient in South Africa as it is in Canada. However, my wife and I have started recycling some of our waste. We try to never buy plastic water bottles in favour of reusable ones. We’ve bought cloth shopping bags to use instead of plastic. We try to go digital over paper whenever we can. We use a small, hand-powered, non-electric washing machine. It may be small, but it’s a start.
An Environmentalist is: “a person who is concerned with or advocates the protection of the environment.”
Numerous times in the Old Testament portion of the Bible God told his people Israel to care for the Earth. In numerous laws God tells the people to care for their animals (Deuteronomy 22:1 25:4, Exodus 23:4) and farm their land sustainably (Leviticus 25). Although speaking of violence it cannot be ignored that God tells the Israelites “you shall not pollute the land” (Numbers 35:33). When speaking of his concern for the people of Nineveh in the book of Jonah, God expresses concern for not only people but also the cows of the city! There is a proverb in the Bible about having respect for the lives of animals (Proverbs 12:10). In Isaiah 5 God judges those who misuse their land. Psalm 24 tells us that the planet is “the LORD’s and everything in it”. Perhaps most importantly, Romans 8 tells us that Jesus did not only redeem humanity, but that “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”
If God cares for the smallest sparrow (Matthew 6:26) shouldn’t we also?
As Christians, we have the greatest reason to care for the Earth. Not only did our loving, triune God create the planet we live on, but he also commanded us to steward it! It is his and he trusts us to care for it with him. I care about the ocean, the forests, the fields, the mountain ranges, and oilfields not only because I want humans to “gain” from these resources in the future, but because oceans, trees, fields, mountains and oil reserves have intrinsic value as creations of God! I care about whales, leopards, pandas, rhinos, and polar bears not only because I want my children’s children to experience these majestic animals but because whales, leopards, pandas, rhinos and polar pears are valuable in the eyes of God! The profound theologian and philosopher Francis Schaeffer puts it this way:
“If we treat nature as having no intrinsic value, our own value is diminished….If God treats the tree like a tree, the machine like a machine, the man like a man, shouldn’t I, as a fellow-creature, do the same?…And for the highest reason: because I love God – I love the One who has made it! Loving the Lover who has made it, I have respect for the thing He has made.”
So is God an environmentalist? Yes, I think so. Are you?
Check Out These Christian Environmental Groups
The A Rocha Conservation Organization (If all Christians were like those in A Rocha, ours would be a radically different world.” – Margaret Atwood)
5 (Stupid) Reasons Christians Reject Environmentalism (2013 Sojurners Article)
Why Conservation is a Gospel Issue (2016 Christianity Today Article)