How Concerned Should I Be About the Environment?
Written by L. W. Bilkes
|Reformed Worldviews - Environment|
Question: How concerned should I be about the environment?
I believe your question is a good one. We hear a lot about the environment today. The media and politicians talk about “carbon footprints,” and oceanic pollution. Governments talk about reducing greenhouse gases and legislating environmental regulations. Since the Bible has a lot to say about the beauty of creation and being stewards of creation, it can get confusing how exactly to understand a Christian’s obligation regarding the environment. In fact, a lot of propaganda comes to us designed to scare us into changing our behavior. The fundamental answer to the question is this: “We should be as concerned about the environment as the Bible tells us to be.” Allow me to give the following pointers for all of us:
1. We need to have a biblical worldview.
It is important to understand what is involved in positions people take on the environment. People can say similar things; yet mean things very differently. Whether or not we have a truly biblical worldview is important. There are basically three different approaches to the environment that people advance today.
a. Anthropocentric approaches. These place humanity at the center of concern. God may have created the universe, but He did so for humanity’s sake and has now handed the dominion over to humanity. Humanity is now in charge and should use it for his benefit. Because humanity is intrinsically connected with the rest of the natural order, even anthropocentric approaches can be concerned about the ecological crisis because of its negative impact on humans, especially the poor.
b. Biocentric approaches. These give no special status to man, considering humanity only one species among others on earth. All of earth’s living creatures not only have intrinsic worth or value, but equal intrinsic worth or value. If biocentrists speak of God, they tend to speak of God pantheistically. They see God as identified with or part of the earth or universe. World religions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Native American spiritualities have traditionally espoused some biocentric approach. Likewise, the New Age movement reveres nature as holy in itself and worships nature.
c. Theocentric approaches. According to the Bible, God is not part of creation, but Lord of creation. The previous approach sees creation as sort of an extension of God. That is not biblical. However, neither should we imagine that He is disconnected from His creation. Rather, God is the Creator and the Provider. He upholds and governs everything perfectly according to His holy will. Christ teaches concerning God’s ongoing care for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field (Matthew 6:28).
According to Genesis 1-2, everything that we see and know to be part of creation was made by God out of nothing, and that in the span of 6 days. Man, however, fell into sin, and as a result God has put creation under the curse. Nevertheless, He continues to uphold it and govern it so that the seasons reoccur (Gen. 9). God has promised not to destroy again the earth with a flood. He commanded Israel to be stewards of the land of Canaan and their cattle in a way that would sustain them on the land long-term, and not simply provide yields for the proud. These obligations are especially strong in the Sabbath and Jubilee ordinances that Christ also spoke about and kept (e.g., Exodus 23:10-12).
When the Israelites went to war, they were not permitted “scorched earth policies” to wage warfare (Deuteronomy 20:19-20). Many of the prophets uttered God’s word condemning the people for their deceit, injustice, and violence, while they pictured how the land mourned and was defiled (Hosea 4:1-3; many passages in Jeremiah).
According to Scripture the whole of a person’s life is fundamentally serious, something for which he is responsible before God, and for which he will have to give an account (Rom. 14:12). The Bible clearly teaches our individual responsibility; and though sickness, weakness, ignorance and coercion of various kinds can lessen our responsibility, and that responsibility can be shared, at work, in the family, among friends, and in the church, yet none of this can set aside the biblical emphasis on individual responsibility. It is basic for understanding life as lived before God.
Many environmentalists act as if through our efforts we can pretty much put the curse on hold or even work out redemption for creation. This will only come about through Christ’s return, for which all creation now groans (Rom. 8:21-23). Till then, difficulties cannot be escaped, and it is part of the Christian’s calling to attempt to handle them and to respond to them in a biblical and stewardly way. It’s true that as a nation returns to the Lord and follows His commandments, there will come a measure of restoration (“healing”) even to the land (2 Chron. 7:14). Yet, the main emphasis of the New Testament is on the Christian’s need to be sober (1 Thess. 5:6), to be wide awake (Rom. 13:11), and to be careful and watchful. These are not narrowly ‘spiritual’ characteristics, which apply to the prayer-meeting but not to the workplace, but they are to stamp the whole of a Christian’s life.
Dr. L.W. Bilkes is an emeritus pastor in the Free Reformed Church. This article was previously printed in the FRC Youth Messenger and has been republished here with permission.