In a concerned conversation over the future of our planet, someone said to me recently, “Human beings are parasites and the earth would be much better off without us. The best thing we can do is stop breeding!” While I agree that the majority of humans do behave in a destructive fashion towards the earth, I don’t believe population control would solve the problem. As a Christian, I take issue with the underlying belief that man is the worst thing that ever happened to this planet.
Christians believe God created the earth and the book of Genesis describes how humans, created beings as well, were given the special responsibility of ‘serving and protecting’ or ‘stewarding’ the created order: ‘Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.’ Genesis 2.15 NASB. Humans were part of God’s wonderful creation plan, how then did we come to a place of destroying the earth we were supposed to preserve? Perhaps it started in the mistaken belief that the earth belongs to us rather than God. Although not a popular concept today, it seems to me that the selfish and destructive nature of sin lies at the root of most environmental problems e.g. greed, profit over people, and materialism.
What then can the Christian faith offer the environmental challenges facing us?
It’s a sad fact that the Church has been apathetic to the environmental question. Some extreme cases have even quoted biblical texts of ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ suggesting we let this one burn as we get a new one anyway! This argument goes against the instruction from Genesis to ‘serve and protect’.
The hope for the environment the Christian faith can offer is the miraculous power of redemption. As Jesus, through his death, came to bring about peace between men and women and the God who created them, he effectively gave them life instead of death, relationship and wholeness instead of brokenness.
As Christians experience this offering of peace from God through his son Jesus, we should extend this redemptive experience in our approach and attitude to creation. My heart longs to see abused and neglected areas of Birmingham brought back into a state where wildlife and people can flourish, the wonder of creation admired, and worship of the Creator inspired. While this may sound naïve and impossible with the challenges facing the environment, with God’s vision and power I believe it is possible.
The other week while on a train in the Rhondda Valleys, I saw a heron sitting on a burnt- out car wreck in a river. This made me very sad as I witnessed how nature struggles to exist alongside us as the vulnerable and abused victims of our materialistic and uncaring culture. I do believe that the earth can flourish when cared for and cultivated by man, but at the moment our lifestyles and attitudes are dominant and destructive.
In Romans 12.2, Christians are encouraged not to conform to the pattern of this world but to be transformed by the renewing of their minds. Christians therefore need to make a conscious shift away from our culture’s materialistic and self-centred lifestyles, towards a redemptive and nurturing approach to our environment and communities that reflects God’s love for us and his wonderful creation. Perhaps the words (with actions to back it up!) of the pioneering A Rocha organization are a good place to finish:
“Our Christian faith is the foundation and motivation for all we seek to be and do. In caring for creation we are responding to the Biblical revelation of one living God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is present and active in his world as creator, sustainer and redeemer, and calls people to act as responsible stewards of the earth. Our relationship with God enables us to integrate concern for sustainable human and non-human communities in practical expressions of Christian faith, hope and love in a fragmented world.” (See: arocha.org)