1. Why should we care about the earth since this world is not our home?
It’s unfortunate that a line from an old church song has created a view that somehow we need to escape the earth: “This world is not my home, I’m just a passin’ through.” The reality the song was referring to was that we should indeed not feel at home in the godless world system that surrounds us. The material earth, however, is not the problem. One of the thrilling promises given to us by Paul is that “our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Php. 3:20-21, NIV). This passage speaks of the future when Jesus Christ returns and establishes His Kingdom, which, according to many evangelical theologians, will be on this present earth. We will return to earth in our resurrected bodies, but the godless will be gone.
It’s important to remember too that the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ provided not only for the salvation of mankind, but also for the restoration (Rom. 8:21), reunification (Eph. 1:9-10), and reconciliation of the whole creation (Col. 1:20). Our non-human co-worshipers-the stars, the land, the animals, the plants-will share our return to pre-Fall conditions which, as suggested by John Wesley, will likely exceed the glories of the original creation. What remarkable things might be accomplished if we lived on the fallen earth today like we will be expected to live on the restored earth tomorrow?
We should always remember this: to abuse the earth is to profane the handiwork of God. Revelation 11:18 should sober any of those who are careless regarding the earth: “The nations were angry; and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great-and for destroying those who destroy the earth” (Rev. 11:18, NIV). [Italics added.]
2. Why should we care about the environment since it’s all going to burn anyway?
Consider similar questions: Why should we care about our bodies since they are all going to die anyway? Or why care for our homes or business establishments since they will all eventually be demolished? Careful consideration of these questions should make it clear to Christians that biblical prophecy about the future of the earth must not be used to excuse present carelessness regarding it. This kind of attitude has often been expressed in the accusation that “some believers are so heavenly minded they’re of no earthly good.”
This understanding about all things eventually burning up comes chiefly from 2 Peter 3:10-13 (the passage that tells us of the “elements” of the earth burning “with fervent heat”). This is not an easy Scripture to understand, however, nor is its chronology clear. Additionally, many Old Testament passages speak about the permanence of the earth; and both Old and New Testament scriptures tell of a future time of restoration, reunification, and reconciliation when the earth will return to the peaceable kingdom similar to that of the Garden of Eden. Certainly that is an event yet to come. Francis Schaeffer reminded us in his book Pollution and the Death of Man: The Christian View of Ecology that “on the basis of the fact that there is going to be total redemption in the future, not only of man, but also of all creation, the Christian who believes the Bible should be the one who – with God’s help and in the power of the Holy Spirit – is treating nature now in the direction of the way nature will be then. It [our healing work] will not now be perfect, but it must be substantial, or we have missed our calling.”
The major problem with basing our present attitude toward the earth on an uncertain chronology of the future is that we fail to remember the very clear mandates of the past. Caring for creation is a matter of obedience: it is our God-given responsibility to care for the earth regardless of what we think God might have to do to put things right with the material world He created.
We understand this from Genesis 2:15: “The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and care for it” (New Living Translation, a “thought for thought” translation of the Bible). We are to be “good earthkeepers.”
3. Isn’t “earthkeeping” just another expression for environmentalism?
When a philosophy becomes dominant in an individual’s life, it virtually becomes a religion. When it does, we often add the suffix “ism” to the main word defining what people have given themselves over to. Many people are so given over to socialism, capitalism, scientism, creationism, “family-ism” or any one of dozens of other “isms” that these become virtual worship systems for them. Because these philosophies and/or belief systems come to rule an individual’s behavior, they strongly affect their emotions as well as their beliefs. “Environmentalism” is an emotionally charged word that evokes images of radical activists storming the fences of nuclear power plants or chaining themselves to trees about to be cut, made in to timber, and sent to Home Depot. It can also paint mental pictures of people worshiping nature. Without question, thousands of environmental activists really do seem to have no greater object of worship than the natural world. The material world appears to have become their god because it’s the most amazing thing they know.
Conservative Christians, of course, don’t want to be associated with nature worship, so we don’t want to be characterized as “environmentalists.” However, the difference between “environmentalism” and truly biblical earthkeeping is pretty extreme. Some environmentalism tends toward worship of the creation; biblical earthkeeping, however, is centered on a personal relationship with and worship of the Creator. And as a part of our worship we respect and care for the creation that comes from God’s awesome power and gracious providence. Caring for creation is one of the major responsibilities given by God to His people (Gen. 2:15). And there is no reason we can’t combine that responsibility with all the other responsibilities we have: care for our children, care for our neighbor, care for the lost, and the like. All the while we take great pains not to make the objects of our care the objects of our worship (Rom. 1:21-25). Our caring concern for the environment is an obligation of our work, not our worship.
4. Isn’t environmental concern primarily based on pantheistic thinking?
Because the earth is an object of worship for many of those given to New Age beliefs and other modern forms of pantheism, it’s logical for them to demonstrate devoted concern for the earth. That’s all they feel they have that is worthy of their reverence. Many of these individuals have followed the natural path of paganism illustrated by the apostle Paul: “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator-who is forever praised. Amen” (Rom. 1:25, NIV). There is a world of difference, however, between those who care for creation because they believe the earth itself is divine and those who care for creation because they honor and worship the divine Creator and desire to obey Him.
It’s good to keep in mind that it’s only natural for those who worship the creation to want to care for it-and to be disturbed by those who don’t care about it or for it. Pantheism (believing that God is everything or that He is the impersonal force that inhabits everything) is always significant today among those concerned about the degradation of the earth’s environment. In fact, forty years ago Francis Schaeffer warned the evangelical community that if we did not begin to address these real crises, the philosophy of the environmental movement would come to be based on pantheism. He was already voicing that concern when the Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught fire (because of extreme pollution by flammable liquids dumped into the stream by careless industries). This shocking event sent many non-Christians into a search for a philosophy or worldview that would address the abuse of our environment because, sadly, they did not find it in Christianity where it should have been evident.
Chuck Colson in his book The Body told us that, “we should be contending for truth in every area of life. Not for power or because we are taken with some trendy cause, but humbly to bring glory to God. For this reason, Christians should be the most ardent ecologists.”
Christians should be able to demonstrate to those who have fallen into the error of neo-paganism and pantheism that the Christian faith provides ample support for creation stewardship. Foundationally, Christians care because earth stewardship has is our responsibility of service to God. Why others may care is of little significance to believers-other than serving as a contact point for reaching them for Christ. Many believers who are outspoken advocates of creation care-good earthkeeping-have had significant opportunities to reach non-Christians with the truth of the Gospel-providing them with the fundamental reason for environmental concern: respect for and obedience to the One who created the earth. Many of earth worshipers might be drawn to the message of the Gospel if more believers lived out the meaning of the Gospel in all its aspects-including respect and care for the Creator’s handiwork.
5. Isn’t environmental talk just a ploy of left-wing liberals appealing to special interest groups to help keep them in office?
Environmental issues always have a way of polarizing people politically. Many who consider themselves left-wing and liberal are often opposed to the ethical standards and religious beliefs of conservative Christians. It also appears that issues related to caring for creation are championed more often by the left side of the political spectrum. Those on the right side politically are often identified by their strident demands for less governmental regulation on individuals and corporations to allow them the opportunity to profit from land and its “natural resources.” Conservatives are more likely to see proposed environmental protection measures as the result of unfounded liberal economic and political policies rather than viewing protection of the natural world as the legitimate responsibility of government. Stewardship of the earth from the Christian perspective, however, is based on principles found in God’s Word, not on any political or economic theory. Believers really should come to recognize that good earthkeeping is more beyond either politics or economics.
No stable government or economic system can be built on a threatened ecosystem. Devastated landscapes, like those found in Haiti, Somalia, Madagascar, are both the result of and major causes of poverty and political and economic instability. Christian missions in these areas are often ineffective until they address the need for ample clean water, erosion control, and ecosystem restoration, and relief from poverty-along with the need for repentance from sin and commitment to Christ.
Many of us readily quote the verse, “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chron. 7:14, NIV). Few, however, recall the previous verse: “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people. . . (2 Chron. 7:13, NIV). The earlier verse makes it clear that the healing of the land is not so much spiritual, but material. The creation itself suffers because of sin, and it is unwise for Christians in North America to believe that our collective over-consumption and its inevitable environmental degradation could not be the logical result of our defying God’s terms for living on the land. Creation stewardship is not a political or economic issue; it is not a liberal or conservative issue. It’s a material and spiritual issue, and one that has to do with obedience to God. Therefore, caring for the creation should have precedence over political and economic concerns. Where politics and economics are most unstable is in lands where the environment has been devastated.
6. Aren’t most of our so-called environmental crises “manufactured” by secular humanists using bad science?
Unfortunately there are many Christians today who believe that anything having to do with science is bad. They mistrust science. This mistrust often seems defensible since so many scientists openly oppose belief in God. Such anti-Christian bias in the sciences, however, has little to do with science itself. True science is simply the process of people created in God’s image using their gifts of rationality and creativity to learn about the universe God created. Many gifted Christian scholars today are in fact demonstrating even in the arena of secular science the necessity of God for the existence of the universe.
In Christian theology the created universe is considered the “general revelation” of God. Along with the “special revelation,” the Bible, the created universe tells us a great deal about how God made the natural systems function. The earth demonstrates truth about God. To use the facts revealed by scientific study deceptively or for an immoral purpose is wrong-it is “bad science.” So is sloppy research and experimentation. “Good science” is that which handles all scrupulously determined facts truthfully and uses them in ways that ultimately honor God.
The major problem in the sciences, of course, is not in the revealed facts themselves, but in how those facts are interpreted and used. There is an abundance of factual data available to Christians and non-Christians alike that reveals serious environmental degradation. God’s creation clearly and, in many cases, dramatically demonstrates significant abuse at the hands of human beings acting both ignorantly and self-centeredly. As people of God, we have a responsibility to take scientific knowledge and apply it practically to our behavior in creation stewardship, while at the same time doing the best we can possibly do to determine that the information we receive is indeed factual. In doing this we should keep in mind some old admonitions: Aristotle’s conclusion that it is better to act in a timely manner on a fact half proved, than to wait until it is too late to act on a fact fully substantiated-and Francis Bacon’s understanding that people are far more likely to believe what they wish to be true than what is actually true.
Finally, if the issue in question relates to scientifically determined facts or at least to circumstances that are best understood and evaluated by scientific studies, it’s best to give our attention and make our judgments on the conclusions of people in the sciences, not to politicians or economists.
7. Isn’t environmentalism largely an anti-technology reaction?
Technology by itself is neither good nor bad. Technology is primarily the process of people using God’s gift of creativity to do their work. While some people think that the need to work was a result of the Fall, the Bible informs us that work is a primary activity of mankind assigned by God as we carry out our obligations in having dominion over and cultivating and caring for the earth (Gen. 1-2). Work became much more difficult because of the Fall; so a great deal of mankind’s effort ever since has, through technology, been to make work easier and more efficient.
However, like anything else associated with mankind’s creative capacity, technology can be utilized in the cause of either good or evil-in keeping with God’s purposes or opposed to God’s purposes. One of the most telling Scripture references regarding technology is the prophecy about the restoration of peace and harmony (shalom) in the coming Kingdom when people will “beat their swords into plowshares.” Implements of war will become implements of peaceful work, which provides for our daily bread-in a sense, Paradise regained. This stands in stark contrast to past and present civilizations pursuing the advantages of technology in the process of opposing God’s will. Powerful and efficient technological devices and processes in the service of self-aggrandizement and in pursuit of personal pleasure by those who have no desire to worship and honor the Creator or His creation will ultimately result in great wickedness and destruction (such as sophisticated terrorism and weapons of mass destruction in the hands of evil people).
Christians have a responsibility to consider how to use human technology in their service to God-being careful to respect all of God’s creation. This calls for great wisdom and understanding as we utilize the best of scientific knowledge and investigation. When it is learned that our use of technology is doing more harm than good in reference to God’s purposes and God’s good earth, we need to summon the will to change our ways. This may at times mean our ceasing to use certain technologies or altering them in such a way as to reverse their negative effects.
It seems that few people, Christians included, consider all the far-reaching effects of technology and are therefore ignorant of the many negative effects of our modern culture’s mostly self-centered fascination with and use of God’s creation gifts. We utilize the material gift of the creation and the spiritual gift of creativity developing technologies to avoid labor, to save time, and to create wealth. If we then turn around and use our leisure hours and money mostly in the pursuit of entertainment, material gain, and physical pleasures, we squander the material gifts of God-what we term natural resources. We need to be exceedingly wise in our use of technology, being careful always to ask if we are using it in ways that advance the kingdom of God and accomplish His will on earth. Do we use technology more to serve Mammon or God?
8. Isn’t environmental concern opposed to America’s free-market (capitalistic) economic system?
Not at all. In fact, it can be easily demonstrated that the best capitalist is the sincere and honest environmental scientist who is doing all he or she can do to preserve the sources of life upon which economic systems are built (our true capital). A nation’s economy is built upon a broadly diverse, fruitful, and healthy environment. Money, in fact, represents two things: our natural resources (goods) and the creative use of those resources by people (services). If people do not work hard to maintain the health of their nation’s environment, and if they carelessly pollute or waste their natural resources, their economy declines-unless, of course, they can extort or obtain by economic enticement the resources of other nations. That is why the citizens of every nation must work hard to protect their natural environment and its resources (the creation) through sound and effective environmental regulation, careful conservation, and a great deal of suspicion toward multi-national corporations offering them a pittance for their natural resources.
Unfortunately, when personal profit becomes the primary focus of people, the inevitable result is environmental degradation. The area around Nineveh in Old Testament times demonstrated that according to the prophet Nahum: “Merchants, as numerous as the stars, have filled your city with vast wealth. But like a swarm of locusts, they strip the land and then fly away” (Nahum 3:16, NLT).
We need to understand that capitalism without Christianity can swiftly become as cold and cruel as socialism in the hands of oppressive dictators. That fact has been clear to wise leaders from the very beginning of the American nation and throughout its brief history. Woodrow Wilson, a great visionary regarding the need for ethical economic behavior, said this about a free market unmarked by Christian virtues: “We are all caught in a great economic system which is heartless.” One of the virtues lost is the understanding that we are stewards of the earth who need always to consider how its material benefits can be used in a manner that ultimately honors the Creator. Christians must supply the “heart” that guides an economy in its use of God’s creation gifts.
We Americans take pride in our high standard of living. But we can’t forget that if our standards of living destroy our sources of life, they’re not high; they’re evil.
9. Don’t environmental regulations interfere with our fundamental private property rights?
This perception is very strong in America today. The reason is that America’s free-market economic system is based on the principle of private ownership of goods. We have the liberty to take the things that belong to us and dispose of them as we see fit-and expect our laws to protect that right. The problem comes when we think of land as we think of goods. The Bible is clear in maintaining that God owns the land and that we are stewards of it. Elaborate Old Testament laws protected the availability of land and its resources for the benefit of all people. On the other hand, there is no question that property and goods in Bible times were held, protected, and carefully maintained by individuals and families. In fact, when land is cared for in a biblical manner-affirming that it remains fruitful-it fulfills God’s purposes. Also when its fruit is equitably distributed, God will bless the land for the believer and the unbeliever alike
In the Bible, land was to be cherished, given its Sabbath rest (to assure productivity), used with thanksgiving to God through tithing, and finally passed on to its next “owners” as little diminished as possible [the principle of “usufruct”]. It was expected that the land-holder would be responsible to steward the land for God’s glory through careful and wise oversight. If our property holdings today were utilized in that biblical manner, there would be few land-related environmental problems. As it is, absentee owners, both governments and individuals, are often unable or unwilling to properly oversee the land to ensure that it is managed, used, and conserved in a way that fulfills God’s purposes.
Further, few are willing to recognize that a significant amount of land must be left undeveloped for immediate human purposes to ensure that the ecosystem remains sound enough to ultimately guarantee health for everyone. The Bible is full of references to wild lands that fulfill God’s purposes:
He makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains. They give water to all the beasts of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. The birds of the air nest by the waters; they sing among the branches…. The trees of the LORD are well watered, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted. There the birds make their nests; the stork has its home in the pine trees. The high mountains belong to the wild goats; the crags are a refuge for the conies. (Psa. 104:10-12, 16-18, NIV).
God obviously delights in His creation and all its marvelous creatures. His care encompasses all the elements of the creation. If we as land-holders cared as God cared, there would be little environmental degradation. But in a world where sin reigns, governments, which are ordained by God, are acting in His interest when they seek to curb and regulate the activities of those who would destroy or abuse His life-giving elements. Even Christians need the discipline of wise secular governance.
10. Won’t global concern about the environment lead eventually to a one-world government?
Christians understand that it is God who ultimately establishes and topples governments. And from prophecy many also understand that a one-world government will indeed come about-first, negatively, under the Antichrist and then, positively, under the reigning Messiah. Further we know that under Christ, the creation, which now “groans” beneath the burden of human sin, will be restored to grandeur even greater than its former state (Rom. 8:18-23). The paradise our souls long to regain will one day become a wonderful reality. Whatever we do today to care for creation is but a rehearsal for that coming kingdom we petition for in “The Lord’s Prayer.” Mankind’s present attempts to deal with global environmental problems are only marginally related to that prophetic future.
God’s creation has no political boundaries. Harmful emissions from America’s smokestacks drift into Canada’s forests. Deforestation in the mountains of Nepal affects the delta of the Ganges in Bangladesh. Timber cutting in America’s Pacific Northwest affects rain and snowfall in the Rockies. Pollution of the Danube or the Rhine impacts life in every European nation they touch. Increasing amounts of greenhouse gases in every nation affect the atmosphere of the entire globe.
Responsible attempts to deal with these problems are clearly sanctioned by Scripture as part of our stewardship requirement. One thing is absolutely certain: Carrying out God’s stewardship obligation will not bring about the reign of the Antichrist. It is disobedience and rebellion against God that will culminate in that first godless, one-world government. And environmental crises may indeed help compel unbelievers to yield their governance and their wills to a Godless world leader who promises false security. The more Christians act like Christians, the less likely it is that unbelievers would look for such a one-world leader. Could it not be possible that it’s not only the sin of unbelievers, but also the failure of believers to act as believers that will hasten the coming reign of the Antichrist? But in God’s Kingdom that is to come (the one we anticipate in singing our “Doxology”), followers of Christ will have a restored earth to celebrate and care for-in the process of worshiping the true, loving, righteous, and final one-world Governor, our Messiah.
11. Isn’t it more important to care for people than to care for creation? (or “Aren’t people more important than animals?”)
For Christians there is no question that people are more important to God than animals. Jesus clearly states this in His Sermon on the Mount: “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matt. 6:26, NIV). This question, however, is often asked in an attempt to make care of creation appear to be non-biblical. Proper earth stewardship rarely involves choices between the needs of people and the needs of the remainder of the creation. This is because the health and life of people and animals both depend upon a sound ecosystem. We have learned, for instance, that animal extinctions are often the first signs of a distressed environment-an environment that will ultimately become unhealthy even for people (like dead coal-mine canaries signaled miners about the presence of odorless, but lethal, gas).
An element often forgotten in the emotional confusion that follows the posing of this question is that mankind has been given the responsibility to care for the needs of animals. While we are charged by God to love our neighbors and meet the needs of suffering people, we are not therefore dismissed from our stewardship tasks toward the rest of creation. It’s not an “either/or” situation: We must care for people and for the remainder of the creation. Certainly it is sinful to care more for stranded whales than helpless infants in the womb. But it is also sinful to neglect the pain and strife mankind unnecessarily creates for God’s other creatures. We must not prioritize our obligations to our Creator to the extent that the ones we place lower on the list are never addressed. We simply have no excuse to ignore the plight of animals made to suffer by our neglect, carelessness, or deliberate cruelty
12. Isn’t presenting the Gospel more important than caring for creation?
This question is best addressed by asking a similar question: Isn’t presenting the Gospel more important than parenting? When we consider the second question, we see that the first question is meaningless. It’s primarily a question used to stir up emotions rather than address the practical issues. For those who have children, parenting is a major, time-consuming responsibility that we must carry out daily. It’s a part of living responsibly in obedience to the heavenly Father. We seldom have to make a choice between caring for children and witnessing for Christ. We do both when they are required, and doing one does not preclude doing the other. Further, we spend far more time in our parenting tasks than in openly declaring the message of the Gospel. Just like parenting, eating, exercising, studying, and making a living, procreating, and caring for creation is a regular and expected part of our daily activity.
Good earthkeeping is a natural and integral aspect of our day-to-day decision-making regarding spending, work, consumption, transportation, waste management, and so forth. The problem is that not until recently have we come to understand how irresponsible we have been regarding this foundational aspect of daily living.
Further, when Christians demonstrate to the world that caring for God’s creation is important to us, we often create opportunities to share the Gospel that would come about no other way. Creation stewardship is a way of honoring the Creator who is also our Savior. It will not go unnoticed by those who have yet to consider Christ. In essence, just like good parenting and good work, good earthkeeping is a proclamation of the Gospel truth-by Gospel living. By diligently caring for our Creator’s world, we may well have far more opportunity to actually speak to people about our faith than by our good parenting or exemplary work ethic. Caring for creation should be a natural part of every believer’s living in the light of the Gospel. We live the way we do not only because we believe the Gospel, but also because we understand the implications of the Gospel. Some people may never believe the Gospel until they see followers of Christ living like we believe it.
13. Doesn’t concern over the environment lead to population control and the support of abortion?
This too is a loaded question. It assumes that environmental problems created by human beings are resolved simply by reducing the number of people on the earth. That’s a false perception. Rarely is environmental degradation related to absolute numbers. Almost always human-induced environmental problems are caused by too many people in one place doing the wrong things-not simply by too many people.
One could address the problems of rapid population growth by eliminating some of the people or by moving some of the people or by changing the behavior of the people or by a combination of all three. Those who do not value the lives of unborn children may think that the first choice is the best and quickest way to handle such problems: abort all children conceived after the first one or two. Christians, of course, would never consider such an option. They look to the other possible remedies. Most of the time it’s obvious that living patterns and behavior are the major problems-and those primarily being the result of our over-consumptive living.
Christian farmer/philosopher Wendell Berry summarizes it this way:
The “population problem” initially should be examined as a problem not of quantity, but of pattern. Before we conclude that we have too many people, we must ask if we have people who are misused, people who are misplaced, or people who are abusing the places they have. The facts of most immediate importance may be not how many we are, but where we are and what we are doing.
Understanding this, we recognize that it’s critical for Christians to demonstrate that population problems can be solved better by a return to biblical living than by resorting to the evil of abortion, forced sterilization, or euthanasia. Living in accord with all of God’s mandates would keep us from such dilemmas.