This week’s column is the second of two that discuss a Christian environmental ethic.
Two weeks ago, I discussed two major descriptors of a Christian environmental ethic: Christianity provides a moral standard by which to explain environmental priorities, and therefore, by which to act; and additionally, the Bible presents proof that God cares about the planet.
III. God sees the planet as a necessity for human well-being and justice.
God created a planet for us to steward, not to ruin. The way the planet is “subservient” to humans is the way in which humans are subservient to one another. People must serve their spouses, their families and their communities. We often hate to use such terms to denote servitude in our individualistic, self-centered culture, but servitude does not imply one’s value over another; it means that the elements need one another. Jesus Himself was the greatest servant of all, judging by the description of His humble birth, His actions throughout his life, and His ultimate act of servitude: serving as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of all creation. So, yes, the planet is subservient to us, but we have not upheld our side of the bargain in caring for and nurturing it.
According to the Christian faith, God embodies justice, and therefore enacts justice where it is due. As I mentioned in my previous column, justice involves many moral imperatives: justice is environmental. Justice is human. Justice must be done for all minorities. Justice must be done for abused animals. To God, all these facets of justice fall under the greater umbrella of His perfect justice. He does not equip believers to enact vengeance, for vengeance is His to take; our rash, emotion-driven version of justice most often results in cruelty, hatred and destruction. Instead, He equips them to build a kingdom of justice and love. We combat evil such as environmental degradation and corporate irresponsibility with prayer and deliberated, prayerful action.
“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 saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great — and for destroying those who destroy the earth.” (Revelation 11:18).
IV. He has a redemptive plan.
Therefore, the Christian environmentalist has an outlook different from that of other self-described environmentalists. Let’s take another look at John 3:16, the verse I shared in my previous column: “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.”
While this verse could easily have said that God only loved humans, it doesn’t. His redemptive plan is for all of creation. God recognizes the fallen nature of the planet, along with the fallen nature of people, and allowed His son to die and pay the debt so that we may freely enter into a relationship with God and be with Him in joy for eternity.
The Christian environmentalist is also different because it runs on a timeline different from that of non-Christian environmentalists, and serves a different end. The non-Christian environmentalist has a timeline that either ends with utter destruction and gloom or with optimism founded upon the flimsy confidence of fallible people. The Christian environmentalist has a timeline on which a fantastic event occurs: complete redemption. This environmentalist can work with optimism founded on certainty and joy, which are founded on the promises of a God that is faithful and mighty.
The Christian environmentalist also knows that one’s goodness does not stem from one’s self. Since we are hopelessly sinful, we rely on grace, a free gift from God upon one’s asking. The goodness that we can do, environmentally or otherwise, is therefore no reason for us to boast in our holiness or ourselves, since we have nothing to boast except in what God has done. Environmentalism is no reason for us to think ourselves higher than others; a Christian environmentalist can only work and accomplish anything worthwhile through God. The sly elitism that often accompanies environmental work is therefore illegitimate through the lens of a Christian perspective.
In addition, it is a brand of environmentalism in which environmentalism is not the end-all-be-all. While environmental issues are important to address, we can probably all agree that dedication to environmentalism is not enough to ultimately, completely, endlessly satisfy the soul. Christian environmentalism claims that people’s first priority is to have a relationship with and glorify God. Environmental activism, justice, rights, and conservation are efforts undertaken to glorify God and carry out His will, “on Earth as it is in Heaven,” as the Lord’s Prayer goes. But they are not the ends in and of themselves. In other words, the moral imperative of environmentalism points to the moral standard of a life lived in service to God, the moral absolute.
The Bible is resplendent with verses that point creation toward complete redemption; here are only three of them:
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’ And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’” (Revelation 21:1-5).