Jay’s Note: The concept of creation-care (dare I say, environmentalism, even?) is met with interchanging engagements of scorn, concern or apathy by numerous Christians. This week, I ask my friend and redemptive creation-care analyst, Diane Huskinson, to engage you in some thoughts about where we live, who we are and who we are to be wherever that living takes place.
Environmentalists have a reputation for being idealistic, possibly eccentric, and even downright odd. I can confess to being all of those in some measure. (But I prefer hopeful to idealistic because I believe in redemption and God’s promises.)
I love nature. I do. It reflects God’s masterful creativity and awe-inspiring beauty. It’s in the great outdoors where I feel His presence most keenly. You could call me a tree hugger (seriously, who doesn’t love trees?), and I wouldn’t be offended. On the top of my bucket list is to camp out in a tree house, visit the breathtaking California redwoods, and, of course, get a few cliché scrapbook photos of me feebly trying to reach my arms around those enormous trunks. Creation brings me back to childhood and reminds me how much fun it is to forget about everything else, live in the moment, and play. My worries slip away, and my faith is renewed in the One who holds the whole Earth in His hands. I wonder if that’s something like the state Adam and Eve lived in before the fall, when they were stewards of Eden.
It’s in Genesis where God first describes creation and what a God-honoring relationship with the created order looks like. He made the oceans and the land, the plants, and the animals, and he called all of it “good.” Genesis describes creation in a whirlwind of detail. Once God finished with Earth, he then made mankind “so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (1:26, NIV; emphasis added).
From the very beginning, God gave us the wonderful and significant responsibility of ruling over the earth. God’s love of all His creation and the magnitude of its reflection of His glory are undeniable, and not just in Genesis:
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 sky nest by the waters,
they sing among the branches.
He waters the mountains from his upper chambers;
the land is satisfied by the fruit of his work.
He makes grass grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to cultivate—
bringing forth food from the earth:
wine that gladdens human hearts,
oil to make their faces shine,
and bread that sustains their hearts.
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 junipers.
The high mountains belong to the wild goats;
the crags are a refuge for the hyrax.
He made the moon to mark the seasons,
and the sun knows when to go down.
You bring darkness, it becomes night,
and all the beasts of the forest prowl.
The lions roar for their prey
and seek their food from God.
The sun rises, and they steal away;
they return and lie down in their dens.
Then people go out to their work,
to their labor until evening.
How many are your works, Lord!
In wisdom you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
There is the sea, vast and spacious,
teeming with creatures beyond number—
living things both large and small.
There the ships go to and fro,
and Leviathan, which you formed to frolic there.
All creatures look to you
to give them their food at the proper time.
When you give it to them,
they gather it up;
when you open your hand,
they are satisfied with good things.
— Psalm 104:10-28
But like everything else, how we rule changed when we fell. Whether you believe in saving the whales or not, recycling or not, climate change or not, the Scriptures say,
How long will the land lie parched
and the grass in every field be withered?
Because those who live in it are wicked,
the animals and birds have perished.
Moreover, the people are saying,
”He will not see what happens to us.”
— Jeremiah 12:4
While we are incredibly resource rich in the U.S., many parts of the world are not. In other countries, battles rage over access to water.
And in fact, such sobering realities are closer to home than we realize.
We can choose to ignore how our actions affect the earth, others who are less fortunate, and our children and their children, but God doesn’t deal lightly with those who destroy 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 people who revere your name,
both great and small—
and for destroying those who destroy the earth.”
— Revelation 11:18
By God’s grace, as Christians, we are not condemned for failing in the stewardship department. But remember what Paul said, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1-3).
From day six in Genesis, God made us stewards. He made us to be in relationship with His creation just as He made us to be in relationship with Him and each other. And what a blessing and an honor it is.
So why is it then, when we talk about stewardship, the conversation so often focuses on time and money but not the environment?
I think, first, we misunderstand stewardship. It’s not about the money and whether we calculate our tithes using gross income or net. Nor is it about how many times we volunteer in the church nursery or at the homeless shelter. Stewardship is about aligning our hearts with God’s. And that includes everything He’s given us.
Second, we think “environment” is a dirty word, one that’s akin to “liberal,” “hippie,” or “science.” Christian media that do discuss environmental stewardship have invented a new, safer term, sterilized of any scientific association. If we call it “creation care,” we can organize a tree-planting event for our kids without fear that they may next want to plant a community Cannabis garden. But what environmental stresses do we ignore by also ignoring science?
Third, we don’t trust the scientific basis for environmental conservation, protection, and restoration. Science can tell us how to treat our medical needs or how to produce energy in our homes, but we feel threatened when science tells us about the consequences of our consumption. Katherine Hayhoe, an evangelical Christian and a climate change scientist, says,
“Much of our response to this issue [climate change and other environmental issues] is emotional: the fear of how our lives would be irrevocably changed if we uprooted our entire economy and how our rights to enjoy the luxuries of energy and water might be ripped away from us. Well, as a Christian, we’re told that God is not the author of fear. God is love. When we’re acting out of fear, we’re thinking about ourselves. When we act out of love, we’re not thinking about ourselves; we’re thinking about others: our global neighbors, the poor and the disadvantaged, the people who do not have the resources to adapt. And so I believe we are called, first of all, to love each other, and second of all, to act.” — Secret Life of Scientists
And finally, we are blissfully ignorant. Do you know where your water comes from or where your trash goes? Many of us, Christians and non-Christians alike, don’t.
But let’s be clear, environmental stewardship, is not about creating yet another false god:
They exchanged the truth about God for a lie,
and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—
who is forever praised. Amen.
— Romans 1:25
It is about honoring God by caring for what, in fact, belongs to Him:
“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;”
— Psalm 24:1