Like me, many Christians are convinced that following Christ includes helping to take care of the environment, being good environmental stewards. Some of the reason for this may be self-interest—we don’t want to burn down our house while we are living in it. But some of the reason for trying to care for nature around us stems from the fact that we think the Bible teaches that we should. Like me, many Christians like to find support for what they do, and don’t do, from scripture. Passages often used to support being careful with the environment include:
Genesis 1:26-28, in which the first humans were told that they were to “have dominion.”
Psalm 24:1: The earth is Yahweh’s, with its fullness…
Psalm 50:10: For every animal of the forest is mine, and the livestock on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the mountains. The wild animals of the field are mine. the world, and those who dwell therein.
Psalm 104:24: Yahweh, how many are your works! In wisdom have you made them all. The earth is full of your riches. There is the sea, great and wide, in which are innumerable living things, both small and large animals.
Jeremiah 2:7: I brought you into a plentiful land, to eat its fruit and its goodness; but when you entered, you defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination.
Other passages are also used. Almost all such support comes from the Old Testament. I have used Old Testament passages in teaching biology classes at a Christian college, and, as appropriate, in my church. But in the back of my mind, I wondered if there were good New Testament-based arguments for helping take care of the environment, as well. A few years ago, it suddenly occurred to me that there are at least two arguments that I have never used, one entirely from the New Testament, and one partly from it. I am not aware that anyone else has presented them. Perhaps that’s because I haven’t paid attention, or because they aren’t good arguments, but here they are, anyway:
1) Taking care of the environment makes God’s revelation clearer.
Psalm 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God. The expanse shows his handiwork. Day after day they pour out speech, and night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their voice has gone out through all the earth, their words to the end of the world.
Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known of God is revealed in them, for God revealed it to them. For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse.
These two passages tell us that observing nature is part of God’s revelation to humans. If that is so, isn’t that a reason to try to preserve nature as well as we can?
The Bible is one of the ways that God reveals himself to us. Christians, when we think about it, believe that the Bible should be translated into languages familiar to all people, so that that revelation may be as clear as possible. Thus, those of us whose “heart language” is English have a variety of translations available to us. There are efforts to translate the Bible into many other languages. Why? So God’s revelation, through scripture, will be as clear as possible to these speakers, even if there aren’t very many of them in a particular language group.
Shouldn’t God's revelation through nature also be as clear as possible? A person is more likely to see God in a pristine stream than in a polluted river. Seeing bison herds roam freely in Western North America gave early settlers a glimpse of one aspect of God’s power and majesty that they can’t really receive now. Helping to preserve nature in as good a condition as we can is one way to bring people to a saving knowledge of Christ. Perhaps not the most direct way, but still a way.
2) Stewardship of the environment assists Christ’s mission.
Colossians 1:15: …who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things are held together. He is the head of the body, the assembly, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For all the fullness was pleased to dwell in him; and through him to reconcile all things to himself, by him, whether things on the earth, or things in the heavens, having made peace through the blood of his cross.
That passage says that Jesus the son is working to reconcile all things to himself, and that he is working to make peace through the blood of the cross. As Christians, we believe that it is our duty to be his instruments in reconciling sinners to Christ, and to help him in the ministry of making peace. The Bible tells us that we should do this:
2 Corinthians 5:18: But all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ, and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation; namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses, and having committed to us the word of reconciliation. We are therefore ambassadors on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating by us: we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
Shouldn’t it also be true that we should be God’s instruments in his work of sustaining all things, which work is also set forth as Christ’s, in Colossians 1:17? Our desire to please and serve Christ should motivate us, in our own small ways, to hold things together. We may please Christ by protecting endangered species, ecosystems, and biological communities. We should also be motivated to try to clean up man-caused damage to the environment. We can’t hold the earth together by ourselves, any more than we can reconcile sinners to Christ without the help of the Holy Spirit. But that’s no excuse for not being involved in these ministries.
As N. T. Wright put it:
"God is utterly committed to set the world right in the end. This doctrine, like that of the resurrection itself, is held firmly in place by the belief in God as creator, on the one side, and the belief in his goodness on the other. And that setting right must necessarily involve the elimination of all that distorts God’s good and lovely creation and in particular of all that defaces his image-bearing human creatures. (Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. New York: HarperCollins, 2008, p. 179)"
So how do I make God’s revelation clearer? How do I help hold things together?
For me, these missions mean to try to consume as little as possible, especially to consume as little fossil fuel as possible. They mean I should habitually participate in recycling. They mean I should encourage efforts to reclaim natural areas, and to preserve wild living things. They mean that I should take the prospect of human-influenced climate change seriously. They mean that I should commend politicians who work to advance such efforts, and should express displeasure with those who don’t. These missions mean that I should try to spread the message of environmental stewardship to other Christians, because I believe the Bible, both in the Old Testament and the New, encourages me to do so.