CRUDE AND THE CROSS: What Does Environmentalism Have To Do With Faith?
Christians haven’t exactly been known as the protectors of the planet. They’re sometimes maligned as narrow-minded capitalists who would sacrifice the last green tree on Earth for the sake of corporate profit. Or heartless monsters who would gleefully log the spotted owl into extinction.
But, then again, where was the Christian outcry when the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster rained down radiation on Northern Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, and Europe? When poisonous gas enveloped Bhopal, India in 1984, killing 25,000 people and sickening tens of thousands more? When the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground in Prince William Sound, Alaska, dumping more than 750,000 barrels of crude oil into the water and killing birds, fish, otters, seals, and orcas? When the Jilin, China, chemical plant explosions in 2005 polluted the Songhua River with more than 100 tons of toxic chemicals?
When you dig deep, very deep, you’ll see that Christians showed up.
Sometimes quietly, like the lone female doctor who, weeks after the Chernobyl meltdown, prayed with pregnant women and later died an agonizing death from radiation poisoning. Or the missions group who continues to send humanitarian aid in the form of money and volunteers to children in orphanages in Belarus. And sometimes they showed up in force, like during the Love Canal environmental tragedy, when the Ecumenical Task Force, a multi-faith group, organized to educate the public on the hazards of chemicals and toxic waste dump sites. Impressive work.
Historically, however, there’s been a lack of vocal leadership from the Christian community when it comes to environmental disasters. If we claim to love the things God loves, then shouldn’t it be the exact opposite? Shouldn’t Christians be at the forefront of protecting Creation? Of caring for it? Valuing it and nurturing it? Confronting those who would harm it?
I think so.
You can’t read the Bible and conclude otherwise. The Word of God is filled with amazing scriptures about His sovereignty over and love for His Creation. I invite you to take a look:
God made Creation:
Nehemiah 9:6: You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you.
Isaiah 40:28: Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
1 Chronicles 29:11: Yours, O LORD, are the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty; for all that is in the heavens and on the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all.
Psalm 24:1-2: The earth is the LORD's and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; for God has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers.
Hebrews 1:2: …but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.
Job 38:4-11: Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone—while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’?
God delights in and values Creation:
Genesis 1:31: God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
Deuteronomy 11:12: It is a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end.
Jeremiah 2:7: I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce. But you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance detestable.
Matthew 6:26: Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
God sustains and nurtures Creation:
Job 12:10: In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.
Psalm 104:10-14: 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.
Psalm 145:9, 17: The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.
Leviticus 25:2-4: When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a Sabbath to the Lord. For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of Sabbath rest, a Sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards.
Psalm 104:24-32: 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. When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground. May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his work—he who looks at the earth, and it trembles, who touches the mountains, and they smoke.
Luke 12:6: Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.
God is the hope for all Creation:
Psalm 65:5-13: By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance, O God of our salvation; you are the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas. By your strength you established the mountains; you are girded with might. You silence the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples. Those who live at earth's farthest bounds are awed by your signs; you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy. You visit the earth and water it, you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide the people with grain, for so you have prepared it. You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth. You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with richness. The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy.
Isaiah 42:5: Thus says God, the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it.
God redeems all of Creation:
Romans 8:19-21: For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
2 Chronicles 7:13-14: When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
Colossians 1:20: …and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Ephesians 1:10: to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
And look at His love for mankind: He created man in his own image! (Gen. 1:26-27). Then, gave his Son as an act of supreme love and redemption for all mankind. (John 3:16).
God is glorified by Creation:
Psalm 145:10-12: All your works praise you, Lord; your faithful people extol you. They tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might, so that all people may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
Psalm 19:1: The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Romans 1:20: 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, so that people are without excuse.
Revelation 5:13: Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”
And that’s just a sampling. I often wonder if the Bible has more to say about creation and the natural world than any other ancient text.
The good news is that Christians are increasingly vocal about God’s command to responsibly exercise dominion over the animals and the Earth (Gen. 1:26). More and more, they understand that environmental degradation affects all people—regardless of race, religion, or nationality. It affects all living things, from the lowliest patch of moss to the mightiest lion in Kenya. When these living things are harmed, when environmental disasters strike, God’s creation is impacted. The people, animals, and natural world He loves and values are degraded.
As the pinnacle of his Creation, and possessing the capacity for moral accountability, there’s no question that we’ve been tasked with the great responsibility to care for the Earth.
So, Christians, I’m calling on you to reexamine your stance on environmentalism. We can responsibly use the resources we need, but also protect the living things and the natural world that God loves.
We love Creation, but worship the Creator.
It’s time to step up.
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