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The Bible and the Environment

-- God: The First Environmentalist
In the past few decades, Christianity has often been blamed for being the cause of the global environmental crisis. God's command that humans have dominion over all created things has too often been used as an excuse to plunder the earth. While it is true that many Christians have not responded to God's call to serve the creation, the Bible's message is very clear: humanity must keep the creation just as God keeps us.

Quotes

Martin Luther
God... is present everywhere in and through the whole creation in all its parts and in all places, and so the world is full of God and God fills it all, yet God is not limited to or circumscribed by it, but is at the same time beyond and above the whole creation.1

John Calvin
Let all regard themselves as the stewards of God in all things which they possess. Then they will neither conduct themselves dissolutely, nor corrupt by abuse those things which God requires to be preserved.2

Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Orthodox Churches
To commit a crime against the natural world is a sin...For humans to cause species to become extinct and to destroy the biological diversity of God's creation, for humans to degrade the integrity of the earth by stripping the earth of its natural forests, or destroying its wetlands... for humans to contaminate the earth's water, its land, its air, and its life with poisonous substances...these are sins.3

Creation: God's Magnificent Artistry

GOODNESS:God's original creation is good. "And God saw everything that God had made, and, behold, it was very good," Genesis 1:31.

REVELATION:Creation reveals God's character. "For since the creation of the world, God's invisible qualities -- God's eternal power and divine nature -- has been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that humans are without excuse," Romans 1:20. See also Psalm 19.

VALUE:God values all of creation. "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of God," Matthew 10:29.

DEPENDENCE:All things depend on God's continuing care. "[Christ] is before all things, and in Christ all things hold together," Colossians 1:17.

THE EARTH IS THE LORD'S AND EVERYTHING IN IT, PSALM 24:1

Sin's Destruction and God's Redemption

SIN'S DESTRUCTION:"The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice... The whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time," Romans 8:19-22.

GOD'S REDEMPTION:"God was pleased to have all God's fullness dwell in [Christ] and through him to reconcile to God all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross," Colossians 1:19-20.

Earthkeeping: Our Responsibility

CARE-TAKERS:We are care-takers. "The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till and keep it," Genesis 2:15. The Hebrew words shamar and abad, usually translated as "till and keep" in this verse, could be just as accurately translated as "serve and preserve." The word shamar is also used in Numbers 6:24: "The Lord bless you and keep you." God desires that we treat the creation in the same way that God treats us.

STEWARDS:We are stewards of God's earth, ruling over that which is not ours. "You [God] made humans ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under our feet: All flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas," Ps 8:6-8.

SERVANTS:We are servants. Jesus "did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many," Mt. 20:28. Christ-like rule is servanthood.

God's Refining Fire

"But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed,"
-- 2 Peter 3:10.

God did not make the earth "disposable." The scriptures reveal a God who intends to restore all things to the beauty and wholeness God created in the beginning. Theologian Steve Bouma-Prediger describes the biblical concept of fire "not as a fire which destroys but one which cleanses and purifies."4 The fire in 2 Peter 3:10 is parallel to the following scriptures in the Old Testament which describe a refining fire: And I will put [my people] into the fire, refine them as one refines silver and test them as gold is tested.
-- Zechariah 13:9.

See also Malachi 3:3.

No one knows the time of Christ's return, but in the meantime we are commanded to "be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord,"
-- 1 Cor. 15:58.

Over-Indulgence and the Bible

Many of our environmental problems can be traced to products we consume. With only 5% of the world's people, North America consumes 25% of the world's resources. The Bible has plenty to say about such greed and over-indulgence:

  • "Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed." Luke 12:15
  • "The lover of money will not be satisfied with money." Ecclesiastes 5:10
  • "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." Matthew 6:21
  • "Godliness with contentment is great gain." I Timothy 6:6
  • "Jesus said to him, 'If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven.'" Matthew 19:21

Resources

Bible Studies:     Environmental Stewardship by Ruth Goring Stewart. Available from Target Earth International($1/copy).
Earth-Wise: A Biblical Response to Environmental Issues by Calvin DeWitt. (Grand Rapids: CRC, 1994).
Books:     Remember Creation by Scott Hoezee (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998).
Thorns in the Garden Planet: Meditations on the Creator's Care by Vera Shaw (Nashville: Nelson, 1993).
Redeeming Creation: The Biblical Basis for Environmental Stewardship by Fred Van Dyke, et al. (IVP, 1996).
Earthkeeping in the '90s: Stewardship of Creation edited by Loren Wilkinson. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991).
How to Rescue the Earth Without Worshipping Nature: A Christian's Call to Save Creation by Tony Campolo. (Nashville: Nelson, 1992). Available for $10 through Target Earth International.
Organizations:     Earth Ministry, 1305 NE 47th St., Seattle, WA 98105. (206) 632-2426. Contact Tanya Becker, emoffice@earthministry.org.
Eco-Justice Working Group, National Council of Churches of Christ USA, 475 Riverside Dr., New York, NY 10115-0050.
Web of Creation: An environmental Web site for faith-based communities. www.webofcreation.org.
Mountain Spirit Learning Center: Estes Park, CO. Contact Steven Todd. (970) 586-1020. sstodd@aol.com.
References
1. From Martin Luther, "That These Words of Christ -- This is my Body, etc., Still Stand Firm against the Fanatics," Luther's Works (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg, 1961).
2. John Calvin, 1554, Commentary on Genesis, from the English translation of 1847. As reprinted by Banner of Truth Publishers, 1965.
3. From his speech in Santa Barbara, CA on Nov. 8, 1997, www.igc.apc.org/ei/journal/Spring1998/43c.htm
4. Fred Van Dyke & Others. Redeeming Creation: The Biblical Basis for Environmental Stewardship. Dowers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996.
5. Phone Interview with Steve Bouma-Prediger, Feb. 22, 1999. Scripture verses taken from NIV, KJV, RSV, NASB translations. All scripture verses have been rendered gender inclusive. Sin's Destruction and God's Redemption.

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