How Should a Disciple of Jesus View the Environment?
One aspect of God that I think we often forget is His creativity. As far as we know, He didn’t create the universe because He needed to; He did it because He wanted to.
In the account of creation, we see how God enjoyed creating. He could have made the world a blank box void of distractions, joy, or altruism. But instead, He made a vibrant system of life, from micro-organisms in the depths of the ocean unbeknownst to us to the huge systems of space light years away.
When God made humans, He gave us all the animals and plants to have control over (Gen. 1:26, 28-30; 2:15) and, as happened when He finished every other step of creation, it was good. On the seventh day, He rested to enjoy His creation–before we made a mess of it.
One way in which we are made in the image of God, I believe, is in our creativity too.
We are different from animals in that we create out of expression and not out of necessity (though we have seen that when humans are deprived of creativity, that does tax on our physiological state). So we know a tiny portion of how God must feel about the state of His creation now.
How would I feel if I worked so hard on something, gave it to someone as a gift, and then they proceeded to destroy it? Whether or not you believe climate change is real, whether or not you believe there is media hype, whether or not you believe humans influence Earth’s changes, you must know that God gave us His world–and everything on it–to care for it. And if you’re like me, you might not have even given a thought to how you might be caring for Earth.
It wasn’t until I lived in China nearly ten years ago. It was a small thing, but I noticed that most of the public trash cans were split in half: one half for waste and one half for recyclables. It made me take just that extra second before throwing something away to consider, “Is this recyclable or not?”
I had never really thought of that before; I just tossed everything away, and it was out of sight and out of mind.
At the international student dorms where I lived, we also had an aiyi–an “auntie”–who came to our rooms to collect any recyclable trash. When she first came, I didn’t have anything for her, but now that I knew she would be coming, I made sure to keep my plastic containers and paper in a separate bag so that I could easily give it to her when she knocked on my door.
Before this, I just shrugged off caring for the environment, not necessarily because I didn’t care for the environment but because I didn’t feel bothered to do anything more. From what I often saw and heard from others around me, it was something that was an overhyped fad–“hippie talk.” The earth was going through a natural change, and my actions wouldn’t affect that.
But what in that logic applies to any other area of discipleship? If my congregation moved toward the popularity of liberalism and started to gloss over Scripture, would I say then that I should just ignore it? If my brother or sister were mistreating someone, should I stay quiet because it’s more convenient? Then why should I take the gift of God’s earth and not serve it as if serving the Lord, all because of ignorance or convenience?
I started to feel the all-too-familiar pull that I should be doing something differently.
I started to think about God’s creation differently, as a gift that He painstakingly made and entrusted to us. Once I looked at the seven days of creation through the lens of someone caring for the earth, things looked much differently. I could see how human activity has directly disturbed the natural order of God’s creation.
God made light on the first day, but humans create a lot of light pollution that disrupts animal sleep and migration cycles and causes other problems for the environment. Nutrient pollution, primarily affecting air and water, is “one of America’s most widespread, costly and challenging environmental problems,” and water waste and inefficient energy usage only exacerbate many of the problems that pollution creates. With the spread of human habitation, we are destroying more trees and vegetation, which are obviously essential for animals and humans.
Even with human exploration to space, there has been growing concern of orbital space debris in the lower Earth orbit, which NASA now calls “the World’s largest garbage dump.” While many of the previously mentioned issues affect birds and fish, there is also what the Environmental Defense Fund calls “the most serious threat to our oceans”: overfishing. And it doesn’t take long to see how we are mistreating animals in the food industry, let alone other forms of animal abuse. We do a pretty good job of taking care of ourselves (though that is also highly debatable), but it seems we often do this at the expense of the rest of God’s creation.
One of my favorite passages has become Job 12:7-10:
“‘Ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.’”
There is wisdom in nature, and according to Paul, God has made us stewards of these mysteries of God–and that “it is required of stewards to be found trustworthy” (1 Cor. 4:2).
I think of Matthew 10:29, when Jesus says that not a single bird falls to the earth without God knowing it, and it makes me question how trustworthy we have actually been with the gift of God’s creation.
It’s not all bad news, though. Though things look bleak now when awareness increases, it’s important to remember that, as Master Gardener Susan Patterson puts it, “modern humans have been around for a very long time and lived for much of it without causing much irreparable damage to the environment.” Patterson goes on to say that it’s the recent overexploitation that has been especially destructive.
There have been things we have done in history to positively affect the environment, like protecting endangered species and establishing wildlife preserves, controlling wildfires, reforesting depleted areas, and holding nations and corporations accountable for pollutants. And just as we see through other aspects of our relationship with God, we know we have the ability to change.