“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters.” Psalm 24:1-2 NIV
I recently spoke to a group of Christian college students about why they should care for God’s creation. The students were interested and engaged and there were several thought provoking questions. One student in particular made me really stop and think…
This young woman was very concerned about the poor. Like many Christian college students, she had spent time in third world countries on mission trips and had seen the suffering first hand, as I have.
“Caring for creation is a good thing,” she said, “but it’s not the most important.” She went on to say how the poor cannot stop to think about how their actions may be affecting the environment – they are simply trying to survive. Caring for the poor is certainly a higher priority than the environment…
Ben Lowe, the Senior Director of Outreach with the Evangelical Environmental Network, had a similar take on protecting the environment as a teen. When asked if he would pursue an environmental degree, he stated, “I’m a Christian – I have to do something that matters more than that.” (Watch his speech “The Gospel Call to Creation Care” here. You won’t be disappointed.)
So, how can I be a Christian and focus so much on the state of our world – on caring for God’s creation? Does that mean that I care less for people and for their salvation?
Absolutely not! Let’s take a look at scripture to see why I believe this.
In the book of Genesis, the very first instruction that God gave to man was to care for creation. In Genesis 1 God created man for the purpose of ruling over the other creation.
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” Genesis 1:26 NIV
Some people have argued that this “ruling” over creation gives people the right to abuse the earth and treat it in whatever way we want – giving us license to use the earth’s resources selfishly and without concern for others. This is not so. The command to rule was given to a sinless world and carried none of the negative connotations that the word now holds. When God made humans rulers of creation, He did not mean we were to act like tyrants or abusive slave owners. No, we are to rule righteously in a way that serves and protects and cherishes creation – just as Christ rules in our lives. We were given the highest position in creation and are the image bearers of God – as such, we have the greatest consequence for ignoring God’s command.
But Jesus said that the greatest commands are to love God and others. How does recycling, picking up trash, and using less energy accomplish those things? Isn’t that focusing on the material world and not the spiritual?
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Matt. 22: 37-39 NIV
We cannot love God with all our being – all that we are – without also loving that which He created – everything from the silent flower to the unborn baby. In the same way, since we all live on this interconnected planet, I cannot truly love my neighbor – all of humanity – without doing what God first commanded man to do – care for His creation.
You see, our neighbors, and especially our poorest neighbors, are affected by our actions. The poorest people on the planet, whether in the slums of India or the streets of San Francisco, are the ones most affected by the degradation of our planet. Half a million people die from polluted drinking water per year, according to the World Health Organization – still more die from air pollution, starvation, and disease. Climate change is causing drought, famines, and flooding. People who once fed their families from the land are unable to do it anymore.
To address my student’s concerns, yes, the poor family struggling to provide cannot focus on whether their actions are causing pollution. They must, and should, focus on the immediate need of feeding their family. But, we can focus on those things for them. If we make an effort to live more simply, to use less energy, to not over consume the earth’s resources – if we make an effort to recycle and compost and pollute less – if we are supporting ministries and organizations that work to make things better, we are doing things to help the poor. We are glorifying God with our actions.
When it comes down to it, Christians should be on the forefront of the environmental movement. Because of our love for our Creator, we have more reason to care for creation than anyone. By doing so, we are not only a witness to God’s love for creation, but also to our love for Him and for our fellow man.