“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).
This sentence commonly sums up the Christian faith, which also has deep ecological implications.
First, one must know a little about Christianity. Christianity is a monotheistic faith that dictates, unlike most religious worldviews, that God not only exists but also that He communicates and is active, speaking His word through the Bible. Christians foster and enjoy a relationship with this living God. Those who only take the teachings of Jesus as a “life philosophy” without acknowledging His divinity are not Christians. The Bible includes directions on how people should interact with one another and with the planet. People, animals, natural “resources,” biotic communities, etc. are all created by God.
Unlike pantheistic religions, Christians do not believe that God is “in” the earth, or that God is equal to His creation. We also do not believe that God is distant or that He has set creation into motion and stepped back.God created man to be without sin but with the freedom to choose his fate and created a planet that functioned perfectly according to His design. When man stepped out of his boundaries and opposed God and wanted to be a god, himself, it threw creation into disorder. Man became “fallen” from grace; he was imperfect — infinitely imperfect — and needed an intercessor to go before him to an infinitely perfect God.
Because the penalty for a crime committed against such a high power is great, our penalty is great for our imperfection, into which we are born. However, God loves us, His creation, enough to pay our dues Himself. He sent His only Son, Jesus, to earth in a remarkably humble packet of human flesh.
Jesus didn’t come to be a philosopher; He came to do what no one else could do: die in our place and pay the penalty of sinfulness, and then rise from death and thereby conquer it for us, so that we may have an everlasting life in the presence of God.
Therefore, the Christian land ethic can be described in four points:
I. Christianity provides a moral standard by which to explain environmental priorities, and therefore, by which to act.
II. The Bible presents proof that God cares about the planet.
III. God sees the planet as a necessity for human well-being and justice.
IV. God has a plan for ultimate redemption.
I. Environmentalists can rarely agree upon anything. Environmental justice advocates, who work to protect the health and environmental safety of the vulnerable, often disagree with conservationists, who seek to protect an entire ecosystem at the expense of individual organisms; conservationists often disagree with animal rights activists, who put the wellness of one organism above that of an ecosystem.
Clearly, the existence of a moral imperative like environmentalism cannot stand alone without a moral code. However, a moral code cannot exist without a moral absolute. Simply put, our views on environmentalism do not stand alone. We also have views about human rights, correct behavior, how we should be treated, the value of our lives, etc. Our views on environmentalism penetrate each of those corridors: it is a human right, it is a matter of behavior, it is personal; we want to be treated well and we want to know its importance relative to us. If the way in which we collect these philosophies and prioritizations can be called a moral code, then we all have a moral code.
Moreover, we all have different moral codes. However, a moral code, and also the moral standard by which we hold people accountable to our codes, cannot exist without a moral absolute. So, what is at the very top of the moral standard scale?
According to Christians, the top of this scale is God. The moral standard and code are given by His word, the Bible. The moral imperative of environmentalism falls under that broader moral code.
Environmentalism can only agree upon and achieve a larger end if environmentalists agree upon a moral standard, and therefore heed the existence of a moral absolute.
II. The Bible continually relays how God created and cares for His planet and children.
“For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:16-17).
The Bible indicates that life’s purpose is to attribute worship to the Creator. Creation worships God, even when people refuse to do so.
“The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun.” (Psalm 19:1-4).
And He wants us to care about it, too. Since it matters to Him, and since we were made in His image, we should desire to care for the planet, as well.
“The earth dries up and withers, the world languishes and withers, the exalted of the earth languish. The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws, violated the statutes and broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse consumes the earth; its people must bear their guilt. Therefore earth’s inhabitants are burned up, and very few are left.” (Isaiah 24:4-6).
Throughout the Old and New Testaments, God displays a consistent prioritization of the planet. It is His creation. He loves it. And He wants us to care about it, too.
This column is the first of two that will discuss the nature of a Christian environmental ethic.