In recent times there has been an increasing call from the scientific community for earth’s population to live more responsibly, with more sensitivity towards our environment. We hear such news all the time—always there is some new piece of information confirming global warming, some species teetering on the brink of extermination, or some government enacting new legislation to try to turn the tide. It may be disputed whether these alarms are based on factual evidence, but this is not the matter to be addressed here. These may not be legitimate concerns, but even if they are, how must we as Christians respond to this growing movement? We cannot merely stand by and let this issue rise or fall; the world demands a response. What will it be?
As in all things, we must first look to our faith for our answer. Unlike many of those who are prodding this “green” movement along, we believe in an Almighty God Who has created both the universe and its contents, and who is concerned about His people on earth. This will inevitably shape our answer because of its stark opposition to those who argue against a supernatural Being—those who, whether they admit it or not, set man up as the highest law. Psalm 97:1 declares “The Lord reigneth!” and in the 24th Psalm is found the familiar verse that says “The earth is the LORD’S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.” God created the earth; it was He who set the carefully balanced environment in place that we see today. If He was powerful enough to establish the world, is He not also capable of maintaining it if He sees fit? A Christian’s perspective on the environmental movement should put much trust in God’s ability to accomplish what He wills (cf. Matthew 6:26-28). We must have confidence that God is in control!
Because God is the Creator, the things that He created are rightly His. However, in the Scriptures we find that He handed over its management to man shortly after the creation. In Genesis 1:26 we read “And 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 fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth,” and then in verse twenty-eight He gave Adam and Eve the command to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it.” Here we find that the earth and its contents were made for man’s use and enjoyment, and that man was told to subdue it. This Biblical view is in contradiction with those who believe that humans are simply one of the many species that happen to occupy the same space as the other animals on a globe that came about through chance happenings, and holding this view will certainly influence our thoughts about environmental concerns. While we should be concerned with how we are using natural resources, we should in no way feel guilty for using them in the first place. God made this place especially for us, and we may take advantage of its riches. However, when God entrusted mankind with this blessing, it came with responsibilities. The Holy Scriptures repeatedly emphasize the importance of stewardship, and when considering this role it is good to realize that, by definition, a steward cannot be the owner of the entrusted things, or else he would not be a steward. God has told us to have dominion over all the earth, but it still remains that He is the master. As with all the worldly possessions God allows us to keep while living, we should treasure the natural world and take care of it as a gift from God.
God is eternal—He has always existed and will always exist—but the physical things He has made had a beginning, and will also have an end. While many deny even God’s existence, even the atheists agree that physical things are running down and will eventually die, break, or disintegrate. Rocks wear down, rivers erode land, and living creatures die and decay. From an evolutionary point of view, there’s not much to look forward to in the next several billion years. Even if we are able to hold our dying planet together for that long, the sun will eventually run out of fuel and its flame will flicker and then go out, effectively ending life on earth in its entirety. Or so say those who have no God. As Christians, we can be sure that God surely does hold the world in His hands. Moreover, we know through divinely inspired revelation (i.e. God’s Word) that our Creator does have plans for us—He didn’t just stick mankind on earth and tell them to fend for themselves. Besides the promise of either spiritual rapture or damnation, there is also a promise of physical destruction for this universe when the time comes. Peter wrote in II Peter 3:10:
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.
While the point being made in the Scripture is that we should be preparing ourselves now for that time when Jesus will return, it is also easily seen that this information may change the way we think about the natural environment and its care. Instead of having a mindset of “saving the earth” so it will continue to be comfortably habitable for billions of years to come, we know that we are going to a better country, and that this place is only temporary. Hebrews 11:14-16 speaks of those individuals of great faith, saying
For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.
In modern times Christians seem to have become more comfortable in their earthly home, and more desirous to stay here instead of having the desire to move on to eternal bliss. Many hymns from years past speak of earthly life as a hard and difficult journey, contrasting it with the splendor and eternal rest of heaven. Although life for us is definitely easier than it was for our ancestors, we should not forget that we are only here for a short while, and that even the world we love and cherish (for it is the only home we have ever known) must someday be burned along with everything we treasure on earth. It is true that we should have concern for how we are treating the environment, but we must always keep in mind that it too will pass away when the Lord comes back for the last time.
Having seen, then, all of the considerations that must be examined for a Christian to take a stance on the issue of environmentalism, what may be concluded? We must certainly manage well the things God has given us, but should this be something that the Christian is fundamentally concerned about and involved with?
It is clear that the Bible has precious little to say on the subject, besides that which has been presented here. Nowhere do we read “thou shalt not destroy natural habitat,” or “thou shalt ensure that every type of creeping thing be maintained in good numbers.” Nor has God revealed to us anything pertaining to the management of His natural resources, other than we are to subdue and dominate the natural world. In contrast, how much Scripture is dedicated to spiritual growth and understanding, and how much God has revealed to us about salvation through His Son! Even when speaking of the Day of the Lord, the emphasis was placed on our spiritual readiness, not whether the earth’s ecosystems will still be healthy and thriving then.
Though we cannot ignore such concerns about our impact on native habitat and wildlife, I humbly assert that this should not be one of our fundamental concerns, as there are so many other things of greater importance that would bring much more profit from an eternal standpoint. Instead of worrying about a certain species of salamander that is sure to disappear without human intervention, we should be doing all we can to bring wandering souls to Christ, people who are headed towards eternal damnation if we do not turn them from their ways. Instead of pouring money into research projects to make for a “greener” earth, let us give our funds to the church of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is perfectly fine to recycle, invest in energy-efficient products, and do other things that are supposed to contribute to a healthier planet. But let this not be our ultimate goal! Our eyes should be fixed on heaven.
Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.