Deer and Water

 

Christian Environmental Stewardship – Biblical Foundations

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  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 himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  COL 1:15-17 (NRSV)

God as Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer:
Virtually all Christians are familiar with the creation account in Genesis through which God declares His creation to be “Good”.  Indeed, at the end of the sixth day, God saw everything he had made, and indeed, it was very good (GEN 1:31).  In the book of Job, God admonishes Job and asserts His role as creator by asking:  Where were you [Job], when I laid the foundations of the earth?  Tell me if you have understanding (JOB 38:4).  So there is no doubt of God’s role as creator, and His intent to assert that role over us.

God’s glory is revealed in His creation.  The Psalmists call attention to this many times.  For example, in Psalm 8, the author writes - O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!  (PS 8:9).  Psalm 104 expounds on the workings of God’s creation to declare - O Lord, how manifold are your works!  In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.  (PS 104:24).  So our ancestors clearly understood how creation revealed God’s goodness and authority over all creation.

Just as God is creator of all things, so Jesus fulfills the same role as God’s son.  John’s gospel conveys this as clearly as it can be said – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through him and without him not one thing came into being (John 1:1-3).  And as quoted at the opening of this posting, Paul writes in his letter to the Colossians of Jesus Christ as creator and sustainer of all things, but also as redeemer – For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.  (COL 1:19-20)

God as creator, sustainer and redeemer of all things is foundational to Christian theology.  Yet Christians of today struggle with the notion that God’s creation warrants active stewardship – many adhere to the notion that, instead, the environment (God’s creation) is an exploitable commodity, given to us to use as we see fit.  Christian environmental stewardship, also known by a growing number of Christians as “Creation Care” takes a different view, reminding us that we cannot honestly declare that we love God, nor love Jesus, while at the same time destroying His creation, which He declared to be good and exists to glorify Him.

Two Books Theology:
Old and New Testament scripture abounds with references to God’s creation, not only to declare His glory, but also to remind us to care for His creation.  Over the last 30 years or so there has been a renewal of interest in creation care theology among those who are believers in Christ.  References to “Two Books Theology” are now finding their way into the literature, media, and the classroom.  In this paradigm, proponents tell us that God can be known not only through his word, but also through his works. 

Long before the notion of a two books paradigm was named as such, the apostle Paul wrote the key scriptural foundation for this understanding – Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.  So they [non-believers] are without excuse……. (ROM 1:20).  Iranaeus (ca. 120 – 200 CE), one of the first leaders in the Christian church, recognized that “The initial step for a soul to come to knowledge of God is contemplation of nature.”  Saint Augustine (ca. 354 – 430 CE) encouraged appreciation for God’s creation stating that “Some people, in order to discover God, read books.  But there is a great book: the very appearance of created things.  Look above you!  Look below you!  Read it.” 

The words of the apostle Paul and other founding fathers of the Christian church clearly identify God’s works as a source of understanding and inspiration.  But more powerful perhaps are the words of Job.  After God’s lengthy discourse with Job (see JOB chapters 38 to 41), in which He clearly establishes the grandeur of His creation, Job replies very humbly – I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes (JOB 42:5-6).  Job had “heard” – but then he “saw” through God’s account of His creation!  If we are careless in our stewardship of God’s creation, we not only destroy that which He has made for His glory, but we also deny others the opportunity to see with wonder and awe God’s handiwork and to know Him better.

Care of Creation:
A growing number of Christians are coming to recognize what the environmental community has been declaring for many years – that our ever expanding global human community and unbridled desire to accumulate material goods is contributing to an unraveling of the biosphere.  Evidence accumulated by the scientific community firmly establishes that we are now the most dominant species the Earth has ever seen!  Our cities, factories, farms, and land use practices disrupt habitat and displace uncounted numbers of species, resulting in a projected species extinction rate constituting a global-scale catastrophe for the biosphere; we have redistributed species around the world to the detriment of native species; we manufacture and release to the environment chemicals that in the absence of human industry would not otherwise exist on this planet; and the various byproducts of our economic prosperity degrade the air, water, and soils upon which our livelihood and the survival of other species depends.  Moreover, even though some remain skeptical, for the vast majority of climate scientists and ecologists the evidence supporting significant global climate change is undeniable.  Indeed, past projections concerning the rate at which these impacts are being felt underestimate the rate at which the climate is changing – for example, the climate near the poles is warming more rapidly than expected! 

This is a very dour view of our condition that overlooks the benefits we enjoy from the progress of the human endeavor.  After all, those of us in developed countries have never in human history enjoyed so many comforts, and our life spans are now decades longer than those of our ancestors.  But we have to be honest – at the same time many of us in industrialized nations enjoy the benefits of this prosperity, our brothers and sisters in the developing world suffer tremendous hardships, in substantial measure because of environmental degradation and overexploitation of natural resources made worse by political upheaval and other injustices in their nations.  Too often our prosperity in the developed world and progress in the developing world is directly tied to actions that weaken the integrity of God’s creation.  Indeed, it is easy to surmise that God may not find our behavior and attitudes toward His creation worthy of His faithful love and grace, not just because creation no longer reveals God’s full glory, but also because degradation of His creation results in more human suffering.

There is hope!  It lies in the growing re-discovery among Christians across the spectrum of faith traditions, from conservative evangelicals to those with more progressive or liberal views, that we are called to care for God’s creation.  Christian environmental stewardship is not a new issue, nor is it a liberal or conservative issue.  It is also not “worshiping creation.”  Christian environmental stewardship - creation care - is a biblically-based way of living, a way of discovering, and a way of honoring the creator that glorifies Him and better serves the needs of those less fortunate.  Finally, we must remember that “the least of these” who Jesus calls us to serve includes future generations as well as our brothers and sisters in Christ who are alive today.

Thankfully, Christians are also taking action, as demonstrated by the commitments made by Wayland Baptist University and many other Christian Universities and organizations to promote environmental stewardship through institutional action and academic programs.  Also, the number of missionaries focusing on environmental projects is growing – see for example the website for Care of Creation (www.careofcreation.org), Renewal Home (www.renewingcreation.org), Au Sable Institute for Environmental Studies (www.ausable.org), and other organizations with links on our web page.

At Wayland, we are eager to serve our creator by being more responsive to Him, and more responsive to our brothers and sisters around the world whose lives are less abundant, less secure, and less hopeful than ours because of environmental degradation.  We welcome your prayers and support for the success of our programs.