UC-What’s the Christian view of the environment?

As with other issues, we look to the Bible for our direction here. And to properly answer this question in the context of our culture, we have to go into what we are and what we aren’t.

Let’s start broad—sky and stars broad, to be exact. The first verse of Psalm 119 says “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handiwork.”  We’re not pantheists—we don’t believe that creation (what we sometimes call the universe and all natural things on earth) IS God, but that creation reflects His creativity and power. So everything we see on earth and in the sky is something we see as from His hand. We see Him behind it and see much of Him through it. After all, when He was done creating, He said it was “good.”

When it comes to more earthbound creations such as mountains, hills, rivers, and lakes, we still see it in the context of God. As when we look at the skies, we see the ebb and flow of nature and the grandeur of the more breathtaking formations as reflective of God’s glory and greatness. So in a sense, we see a strong connection between all nature and God.

When it comes to the environment, there is a creative tension between our love of God’s creation and our mandate (yes, that’s the term) found in the first book of the Bible, Genesis. Whether or not a certain Christian believes in a literal Adam and Eve (and most Christians do), it’s worth noting for us that God created a garden and put man in it “to tend and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). And there are several Bible passages that indicate that this natural world will ultimately be transformed, not destroyed. So care of our environment has been part of our call from the first.

But one chapter earlier (Gen. 1:28), God told this to the first people: “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Most take this to mean that we have the instruction from God to go forth and use (not abuse) the earth, and to tend it, keep it, farm it, and extract things from it.

Christians don’t believe that earth is our Mother, and that the best earth is the earth with the smallest evidence of man’s presence. We view it as dangerous to think of people as the enemy of earth, and that the greatest thing we could do for the planet would be to die off or leave it.

Could believing in that mandate cause people to abuse the earth? Of course it could. And people have. But proper stewardship of the land is an integral part of the Old Testament (the Lord left instructions about not over-planting the land and allowing it to recover, for example). Right now, “creation care” is a Christian-based movement that seeks to put issues of environmental stewardship back into the hands of those that believe in and love its creator. But Christians have traditionally been connected to nature because of its connection to its creator, and abusing His creation has always been looked down upon.

Bottom line: We don’t believe that creation is god-like. It’s from God’s hand and we both enjoy it and see His hand and character in it. We are called to wisely subdue it for the betterment of the human race, doing so in a way that glorifies God through wise stewardship and respect for the natural systems He established.