On this Earth Day, I would like to make a case that caring for the Earth ought to be considered a normal part of the Christian life. In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul wrote that the creation is groaning, that it is not what it should be, and that it is waiting for a right relationship with God’s children to be restored. Even in Roman times, scholars bemoaned deforestation, and were concerned about whether or not the land could support a growing population. The creation still groans today.
I would like to briefly outline just a few of the ways in which the Bible lays a firm foundation for caring for the Earth. In the creation account in Genesis 1, one of the phrases that is repeated multiple times is “God saw that it was good.” Before humans entered the scene, Earth’s land, sea and air were teeming with life, and it was good in God’s eyes. If God had stopped before the arrival of the first humans, the creation still would have been good in and of itself. The world does not have value only because of the resources it provides to humans, but because God has declared it to be good.
God went on to create humanity, and then he commanded them to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion.” (Genesis 1:28 ESV). Much ink has been spilt over this verse in the environmental literature, with some claiming that this mandate for humans to subdue and rule has led to wholesale exploitation of our planet. There have been a number of excellent rebuttals to this accusation, but I will sum it up by saying that throughout the Bible, to rule is to serve for the benefit of others. Selfish exploitation was never the intention.
At the heart of Christian theology is the idea that the second person of the Trinity has become human in the person of Jesus Christ. This speaks loudly not only about God’s love for sinners, but of the value of the physical world. The idea that God became flesh stands in stark contrast to any philosophy that says that the spiritual world is more important than the physical.
We believe that human sin has broken four sets of relationships: our relationship with God, with each other, with nature, and with ourselves. Jesus did not just come to “save souls,” but to ultimately restore all of creation and all of these types of relationships for his people. In the meantime, we are called to be ambassadors of reconciliation, calling people to be reconciled to God, but also for the flourishing of the other relationships as well, which includes our relationship with nature.
One of the challenges facing environmental ethicists is answering the question of how we can find intrinsic value in nature. Do the things in nature — plants, animals, ecosystems — have value in and of themselves? If so, where does that value come from, and how should we then live? I believe that as Christians, we have excellent answers to these questions. We learned from Genesis that nature has value because God values it. In addition, rather than being a cancer or disease on the Earth, humans are embedded within the creation as God’s representatives, not just so we can be fruitful and multiply, but so that the rest of creation can flourish as well.
If you are a Christian, you ought to be concerned about the Earth. “The Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” If you are not a Christian, I invite you to consider the Biblical foundation I have presented for Earth care. If the Earth indeed belongs to God, you can best care for it by doing so as a disciple of Jesus.