By Dr. Ray Bohlin
The news media is full of stories concerning environmental disasters of one kind or another, from global warming to endangered species to destruction of the rain forests to nuclear accidents. It is not hard to notice that the environmental issue receives very little attention in Christian circles. There are so many other significant issues that occupy our attention that we seem to think of the environment as somebody else’s issue.
Many Christians are openly skeptical of the reality of any environmental crisis. It is viewed as a liberal issue, or New Age propaganda, or just plain unimportant since this earth will be destroyed after the millennium. What we fail to realize is that Christians have a sacred responsibility to the earth and the creatures within it. The earth is being affected by humans in an unprecedented manner, and we do not know what the short or long term effects will be.
A true Christian environmental ethic differs from the naturalistic and pantheistic ethics in that it is based on the reality of God as Creator and man as his image-bearer and steward. God is the Creator of nature, not part of nature. He transcends nature (Gen. 1-2; Job 38-41; Ps. 19, 24, and 104; Rom 1:18-20; Col. 1:16-17). All of nature, including man, is equal in its origin. Nature has value in and of itself because God created it. Nature’s value is intrinsic; it will not change because the fact of its creation will not change. The rock, the tree, and the cat deserve our respect because God made them to be as they are.
While man is a creature and therefore is identified with the other creatures, he is also created in God’s image. It is this image that separates humans from the rest of creation (Gen. 1:26-27; Ps. 139:13-16). God did not bestow His image anywhere else in nature. Therefore, while a cat has value because God created it, it is inappropriate to romanticize the cat as though it had human emotions. All God’s creatures glorify Him by their very existence, but only one is able to worship Him by an act of the will.
But a responsibility goes along with bearing the image of God. In its proper sense, man’s rule and dominion over the earth is that of a steward or a caretaker, not a reckless exploiter. Man is not sovereign over the lower orders of creation. Ownership is in the hands of the Lord.
God told Adam and Eve to cultivate and keep the garden (Gen. 2:15), and we may certainly use nature for our benefit, but we may only use it as God intends. An effective steward understands that which he oversees, and science can help us discover the intricacies of nature. Technology puts the creation to man’s use, but unnecessary waste and pollution degrades it and spoils the creation’s ability to give glorify to its creator. I think it is helpful to realize that we are to exercise dominion over nature not as though we are entitled to exploit it but as something borrowed or held in trust.
The Bible contains numerous examples of the care with which we are expected to treat the environment. Leviticus 25:1-12 speaks of the care Israel was to have for the land. Deuteronomy 25:4 and 22:6 indicate the proper care for domestic animals and a respect for wildlife. In Isaiah 5:8-10 the Lord judges those who have misused the land. Job 38:25-28 and Psalm 104:27-30 speak of God’s nurture and care for His creation. And Jesus spoke on two occasions of how much the Father cared for even the smallest sparrow (Matt. 6:26, 10:29).
Because the environmental movement has been co-opted by those involved in the New Age Movement, many Christians have begun to confuse interest in the environment with interest in pantheism and have hesitated to get involved. But we cannot allow the enemy to take over leadership in an area that is rightfully ours. As the redeemed of the earth, our motivation to care for the land is even higher than that of the New Ager. Jesus has redeemed all of the effects of the curse, including our relationship with God, our relationship with other people and our relationship with the creation (1 Cor. 15:21-22, Rom. 5:12-21). Though the heavens and the earth will eventually be destroyed, we should still work for healing now.