148 is a praise to God for everything that He made. That,
if anything, is enough reason for people of faith to care
for the environment. But it goes a lot deeper than that, and
that is what I want to look at in this article.
The last half of 2006 saw unprecedented coverage of the issue
of climate change, as report after report was released warning
us of the dangers of inaction. 2007 promises to be no different
as we begin to learn to live with this reality. It will no
doubt be an election issue as we most likely go to the polls
later in the year. One of the reports released in 2006 was
the Common Belief report which contained a number
of statements from different faith groups emphasizing the
moral imperative to tackle climate change. So, as Christians,
collectively and individually, why should we care for the
environment? Why should we be concerned about being green?
CHRISTIANS CARE? Nils von Kalm argues that caring
for the earth is intrinsically tied in with loving
God and each other. PICTURE: Thomas Bush (www.iStockphoto.com)
the Bible there is a common thread of God’s
concern for the planet, and from this comes our responsibility
and privilege to love what God loves."
there are still people who disagree over the extent of climate
change and whether or not it is happening as a result of human
activity, more and more people are accepting that it is a
current fact and that human actions since the beginning of
the industrial revolution are playing a major part.
However, we still have a lot of work to do. While in early
2006 we did have the encouraging news that many evangelicals
in the US signed a declaration urging that Christians have
a moral obligation to care for the earth that God made, there
remain Christians in the US today who are advising President
Bush that policies that look after the environment are a waste
of time. Their reason for that advice is that we’re
in the last days, Jesus is coming back soon to make it all
better anyway, so let’s make use of what we’ve
got now? There are people actually advising the President
of this at the moment. And so for a few years we’ve
had the real possibility of drilling for oil in Alaska being
contemplated by the Bush Administration.
to show you how much this God we believe in cares for the
planet He made. Throughout the Bible there is a common thread
of God’s concern for the planet, and from this comes
our responsibility and privilege to love what God loves.
Mark Brett from Whitley College in Melbourne has said that,
"to reduce the complexity of the many references in the
Bible that call us to care for the planet, people have often
narrowed creation theology down to the key point which serves
human interests: God said ‘subdue the earth’,
so let’s get on with it". Brett goes on to say
that "both humans and animals are made from the earth,
and in this sense we all belong to the same lineage system
or ‘earth community’". From the dust we were
made. Genesis tells us that.
It’s interesting to note that Genesis also tells us
that God told all species to be fruitful and multiply, so
one of our responsibilities is to allow the other species
to do just that.
So let’s have a brief look at what Genesis actually
says. Ched Myers, a highly respected American author, has
said that: “The first creation account (Genesis 1:1-2:4a)
is structured around the Creator's repeated pronouncements
that each layer of the world is "fantastic". After
day 1, he made the universe, and he said it was very good.
Day 2 he made the sky and it was very good. Day 3...and it
was very good and so it goes on with everything that God makes.
The Hebrew word “tov” signifies intense delight.
God says this way before humans arrive on the scene, showing
that God thought this planet was pretty amazing when we weren’t
even here yet. The environment is part of God’s creation
which He said was very good."
Then God goes on to make us, with the world as our habitat.
As Ched Myers goes on to say, “humans have received
the world as a gift from the Creator and must never mistake
it for a possession (Leviticus 25:23)".
After God makes us,
He tells us what our vocation is. The human vocation is summarized
in Genesis 2:15: The human being is to "till and keep"
('abad and shamar). The Hebrew word for tend (Hebrew: 'abad)
means "to work
or serve," and so, referring to the ground or a garden,
it can be defined as "to till or cultivate". It
implies adornment, embellishment, and improvement.
The Hebrew word for keep (Hebrew: shamar) means "to exercise
great care over." In the context of Genesis 2:15, it
expresses God's wish that humankind, "take care of,"
"guard," or "watch over" the earth. What
we’re noticing is that “nothing in Genesis 1 to
2, the very first words of God that we have, are a sharp contrast
from the once-prevalent and still persistent interpretation
of "dominion" that many people, many Christians
use to sanction environmental destruction in the name of progress.
The exercise of dominion means that we are to exercise dominion
with mercy, justice, and compassion - as servants of creation,
and as Jesus was the ultimate servant leader, we are to follow
His example in living like this.
Jesus also said that our lives do not consist in the abundance
of our possessions. As a result, life works best when we resist
the allure of wastefulness and overconsumption by making personal
lifestyle choices, which includes organisational choices,
that express humility, patience, self restraint and frugality.
Put simply, care for the earth fulfills the Great Commandments
to love God and love what God loves. Jesus said the greatest
commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind
and strength and to love our neighbour as ourselves. Do unto
others. As a group called Creation Care says, "it's hardly
showing love to a child with asthma when you're filling her
lungs with pollution".
Another reason that God calls us to care for the planet is
because environmental degradation hurts the poor the most.
Care for the earth is an expression of our love for God and,
as an extension of that, our love for the poor.
Despite our call for relationship with the environment as
a Biblical mandate, there is also the danger of doing what
many environmentalists do and going to the other extreme of
idolising the creation instead of the creator. We don’t
want to go to that extreme.
It’s important for us to keep our focus on our reason
for doing what we do. The apostle Paul in his letter to the
Romans, said that God’s handiwork is seen in all of
creation. Paul saw in creation the evidence of God at work,
in the beauty and order of it all, and how it all fits together.
calls us to care for the planet is because environmental
degradation hurts the poor the most."
recent decades scientists have been discovering that the laws
of physics seem to be fine tuned for the existence of complex
life. All the evidence suggests that our planet is not just
a meaningless “lonely speck in the great enveloping
cosmic dark” as the famous astronomer Carl Sagan once
The fact that the Earth is situated in just the right location
in our galaxy; that we’re in a planetary system with
giant planets that can shield the other planets from too many
comet impacts; that we’re orbiting the right kind of
star that’s not too cool or not too hot; that the earth
has an atmosphere that has enough oxygen to allow for complex
organisms to survive; that has enough water and enough continents
that allow for the diversity of life and an active biodiversity
that you need to support complex creatures such as ourselves.
All of these factors give the direct impression that something
amazing has taken place, that this did not just happen by
a series of chance events.
Scientists are also discovering that the universe itself seems
to be fine-tuned for life. Currently there are about 20 known
different physical laws and forces that hold the universe
together and allow it to sustain life; and if just one of
them was altered by a tiny fraction, the universe would not
even exist. The universe, and this planet, are precious.
Scientists are also telling us about the interdependence of
life on the planet. David Suzuki, the Canadian environmentalist,
describes how, if all of humanity disappeared off the face
of the earth, then the rest of life would benefit enormously.
The forests would gradually grow back, and relative stability
would return to the ecosystems that control global temperature
and the atmosphere. The fish in the oceans would recover and
most endangered species would slowly come back. On the other
hand, for example, if all species of ants disappeared, the
results would be close to catastrophic. There would be major
extinctions of other species and probably partial collapse
of some ecosystems. The functions of the creatures living
in the air we breathe, and beneath our feet, all work together
to keep us alive. Think about that next time you step on an
ant! We need them.
Can you begin to see that, in the work we do with the poor
- whether it be development work projects or in marketing
- if we do not consider the effects of environmental degradation,
we are not working with the poor; we are actually working
against the poor. Let me say that again: if we are not considering
the effects of environmental degradation, we are working against
the poor. Ross Langmead from Whitley College in Melbourne,
has said that "the transforming power of the gospel is
not just spiritual, and not just social and economic, but
also cosmic and environmental. The gospel is bigger than many
of us thought!"
As we have seen from the examples of David Suzuki, ecology
is increasingly teaching us that everything is related. A
theme running through the Old Testament is that a distortion
of right relationships affects us, affects our societies and
affects our environment. As Romans 8 tells us, the creation
is groaning and awaiting the setting right of all relationships
in the universe.
There are so many references to caring for the earth in the
Bible. If you do want to find out more, I would encourage
you to read more of Mark Brett. From a secular point of view,
have a look at Tim Flannery’s book, The Weather
Makers. And, if you haven’t already done so, go
and see Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.
There is simply no question that relationship with the environment
is our responsibility as Christians, just as much as caring
for the poor, no more and no less. And as affluent Christians
here in Australia, we have the resources to make a real difference.
Finally, listen to the words of Jesus when he says that from
everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required
(Luke 12 v 48). We have been given much. So let’s continue
to do all we can to work with the poor by showing our love
for what God loves.
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