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April 22, 2013

“The Least of These”: Caring for The Environment of God’s Earth

We’re continuing our blog series called The Least of These, based on George Verwer’s excellent article “Seven People Lying on the Side of the Road: Will you be a good Samaritan?”. George may have surprised some by including the environment in his list as an area that we as Christians need to be concerned about and take initiative in caring for. But I’m very glad he did. I agree with what Geroge says:

It is a shame that so many evangelical Christians not only have little concern for the environment, but are sometimes known as anti-environmental. How can this be when our Creator God has asked us to care for his creation? Not only is our pollution of the earth totally unacceptable, but this is an issue that our young people care about; and if we don’t connect with them on valid issues such as preservation of the environment, how can we expect them to listen to us at all?

Child with clean waterWhy have so many Christians historically shied away from creation care? I think the answer is that  concern for the environment is generally regarded as part of the liberal agenda. What sounds socially liberal sounds theologically liberal. And, understandably, biblical conservatives don’t want to sound liberal.

We need to think this through carefully. I’m morally/politically conservative on issues such as abortion, in which lives are at stake. But I am also concerned about the welfare of the environment God has entrusted to our care. We need to understand that human lives are at stake in the issue of creation care! Consider, for instance, how many people die from contaminated water. Taking care of water is taking care of people!

There is absolutely no conflict whatsoever between standing up for human lives and caring for the environment. In fact, they are a perfect fit. How can you be prolife and not care about environmental conditions that can either foster and sustain life or harm and destroy life?

Desert vegetationKeep in mind God’s Word: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1). This is not our place to trash. It’s God’s place to treasure. To care for the world is to care for its people. To take care of people is to fulfill the second greatest commandment, to love our neighbors as ourselves. In doing so we also obey the greatest commandment, to love God with all our hearts.

You don’t have to like or agree with Al Gore in order to care about God’s creation. Christians have no business dismissing everyone who cares about this planet as “environmental wackos” “eco-Nazis,” cranks, and chicken littles. Yes, of course there are extremists. (Hey, I live in Oregon. I know those extremists, but I still want Oregon to remain clean and beautiful!) Remember, there are “Christian wackos” too, but most of us do not appreciate being dismissed by that label. Don’t throw out the baby of responsible earth-care with the bathwater of anti-enterprise gloom.

The Evangelical Environmental Network gives us these four reasons for caring for the environment:

  1. Christ died to reconcile all of creation to God (Col. 1:20).
  2. All of creation belongs to Jesus (Col. 1:16; Ps. 24:1).
  3. It fulfills the Great Commandments to love God and love what God loves. (It's hard to love a child with asthma when you're filling her lungs with pollution.)
  4. Pollution hurts the poor the most, and Christians are called to care for the poor and the less powerful (Mt. 25:37-40).

These are four very biblical reasons for Christians to be actively involved in preserving our ecosystem and environment without straying into any sort of pantheism or nature worship. Nature powerfully displays the beauty of the Creator, and God uses the wonder of nature to draw people to himself. The profoundly influential revivalist, theologian, philosopher and preacher Jonathan Edwards records this encounter with nature:

I walked abroad alone, in a solitary place in my father's pasture, for contemplation. And as I was walking there, and looked up on the sky and clouds, there came into my mind, so sweet a sense of the glorious majesty and grace of God, that I know not how to express. … God's excellency, his wisdom, his purity and love, seemed to appear in everything; in the sun, moon, and stars; in the clouds, and blue sky; in the grass, flowers, trees; in the water, and all nature. [1]

Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.” I too love the beauty even of this fallen creation (I always think, “What is it going to look like when it is a redeemed creation, on the New Earth?”).

ButterflyIf you’d like to explore more on the topic of creation care, and how you can get involved, my friend Mike Abbatte has written a book titled Gardening Eden that is well researched and readable, engaging and valuable. I wrote the foreword, which you can read in its entirety as a 3-part series on my blog.

Recommended Organizations

Evangelical Environmental Network
creationcare.org

Care of Creation
www.careofcreation.net

May we, as the body and bride of Christ, respect and steward creation as a gift to us from God, and spend this Earth Day not arguing about the extent of global warming or the age of the earth but rejoicing in its splendor and worshiping the Magnificent One who created it.

My thanks to EPM staffers Julia Stager and Stephanie Anderson for assembling resources for this blog.

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[1] Edwards, Jonathan A.M. A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, In Three Parts. James Crissy. Philadelphia. 1821

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hands: Izabelha vis sxc.hu  |  butterfly: waynebrown via sxc.hu  |  landscape: hdkam1 via sxc.hu

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