You must not defile the land where you live, for I live there myself. Numbers 35:34, NLT
Anyone who’s had to spend any time in conversation with me will know that I’m kind of passionate about the environment. For one, it’s my day job – I work as a consultant trying to get people to think more about how they use the resources of the world around them. But I’m also the woman who always checks a brand’s green credentials before she buys anything, who doesn’t eat beef because oh-my-gosh-do-you-know-how-bad-that-stuff-is-for-the-planet, and who’s still on the hunt for a really good all-natural, organic mascara (seriously, if you find one let me know).
Put simply, I feel that part of God’s purpose for my life is to be a bit of a Lorax.
Unfortunately I still come across many Christians who see me as some sort of pagan tree-worshipper. Who see the earth as a sinking ship that God will lift our souls from in the end; temporary and therefore not important. Who seem to think that ‘saving the planet’ somehow contradicts saving people for Jesus.
But I don’t think it’s just me. I think God is passionate about the environment. I think God loves His creation and it breaks His heart that we are so careless with it. So I’ve lined up five reasons why I think it is every Christian’s responsibility to do everything in their power to protect the planet.
1. God created the world and is its ultimate owner (i.e., put that down, it’s not yours)
Psalm 24:1-2 says:
The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him. For he laid the earth’s foundation on the seas and built it on the ocean depths. NLT
From animals (Psalm 50:10-11) to natural resources like silver and gold (Haggai 2:8), the Bible tells us it all belongs to God. God created the world, and (controversially) He didn’t create it for us. In Colossians 1:16, when talking about Jesus, Paul says:
Everything was created through him and for him. NLT
God created the world for Himself. It’s not ours, He just lets us live here. We see that clearly when, in Leviticus (25:23), God tells the people:
The land must never be sold on a permanent basis for the land belongs to me. You are only foreigners and tenant farmers working for me. NLT [emphasis mine]
If a good friend lent you their shiny new car for a week, how would treat it? Would you drive like an idiot, burn out the clutch and scratch the bodywork? Smear your muddy boots on the carpets and crumble crisps over the passenger seat? After all, they lent it to you, you can do what you want with it.
Of course you wouldn’t. It’s not yours. You’d be extra careful because at the end of the week you were going to be returning it to its owner, who’d probably not be too pleased that you’d ruined such a valuable asset.
God’s been so good to let us experience and make use of the wonderful world He made for Himself, the least we can do is take care of it until we give it back.
2. Jesus redeems all of creation
John 3:16 has got to be one of the most well-known verses in the Bible.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. NKJV
What’s lost in our modern English translations is that the original Greek word used for ‘world’ was kosmos, which literally translates as ‘universe’. That favourite passage is telling us that Jesus came to earth and died for our whole broken creation, not just for humans.
In another favourite part of the Bible, Romans 8, Paul describes creation waiting with eager longing, he describes creation as groaning in labour pains and he says that creation will be set free from bondage to decay.
I think we minify God’s amazing plan when we limit Christ’s work to the forgiveness of sins. It goes beyond that; it is to reconcile God to His creation:
For God in all His fullness
was pleased to live in Christ,
and through Him God reconciled
everything to Himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. Colossians 1:19-20, NLT
Everything. All of it. Tout.
3. We are called to be stewards
Looking after the world was the very first thing God told us to do. It was the first commission. Before anything else,
The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. Genesis 2:15, NLT
The original word for ‘tend’ is shamar, and is elsewhere in the Bible translated as ‘serve’, for example when saying we should ‘serve’ the Lord. It’s the same word. And the word that’s here translated as ‘watch over’ is abad, which could also translate as ‘preserve’ or ‘keep’. The same word is used in the popular blessing ‘the Lord bless you and keep you’ (Numbers 6:24).
To me, God’s instructions to us in Genesis 2:15 have a caring connotation. The words used to denote our relationship with creation are the same words used to describe our relationship with God. We are to serve it as we serve God, and we are to protect it as God protects us.
Many Christians use Genesis 1:26-29 as an argument against caring for the planet. Here it says:
Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. KJV
The mistake that I think people make here is in thinking that ‘dominion’ is synonymous with ‘exploitation’. But dominion is morally neutral. It is true that we have been given incredible power over the planet, but it is up to us whether we exercise our dominion with responsibility and loving-kindness, or whether our dominion will be selfish and destructive.
After all, God has ultimate dominion of the universe, and yet when He came as the person of Jesus He came not to be served but to serve. God shows us that the model for dominion is service, just as His first commission suggests.
4. God is the Lord of Justice
Across the world, it is the poor and the powerless who suffer from humanity’s environmental carelessness. Central to Jesus’ teaching is compassion and justice to the vulnerable. Across the world it is a commitment of the Church to fight poverty and prejudice. It’s a central part of our faith. And as we know that is the poor who are disproportionately exposed to dirty air and water, toxic chemicals, lack of open space, and poor sanitation, shouldn’t we as Christians be making a difference for these people who can’t make a difference for themselves?
Ezekiel 34:18 says:
Isn’t it enough for you to keep the best pastures for yourselves? Must you also trample down the rest? Isn’t it enough for you to drink clear water for yourselves? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? NLT
In our western society, we are certainly doing a whole bunch of trampling and muddying with our lifestyles. And there are a whole bunch of far less fortunate people trying to scratch a life off what’s left.
5. Jesus is the greatest green activist
Finally, take a look at Hebrews 1:3.
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word. After He had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. NIV [emphasis mine]
This verse has major implications on how we have to view issues like pollution. Jesus sustains all things. It’s what he does. And we’re called to be more like Jesus.
So if Jesus sustains (maintains, preserves, defends, continues) creation (i.e the entire physical and spiritual universe), what does that make us when we act to destroy it? With every lake we dry up, every seabird we choke in oil, every glacier we melt, every piece of litter we drop, we are contravening the will of God, which is to preserve. We are setting ourselves on the opposing side to the designer and sustainer of the universe.
I don’t know about you, but I know who’s side I’m on. And I for one am going to keep speaking for the trees.