On the wall of my apartment is a poster that reads “God’s original plan was to hang out in a garden with some naked vegetarians.”
It makes a good point: God intends a certain level of care-taking for the earth—a responsibility we, as a community of believers, seldom consider.
Are we afraid that speaking up about environmental issues will cause us to be labeled as “liberals”? Could it be that we’re paralyzed by stereotypes of the Birkenstock-wearing, VW bus-driving, granola-crunching, Greenpeace-supporting pagan? How did “environmentalist” become nearly synonymous with “un-Christian”?
The exact opposite should be true. Christians should lead the way toward caring about the earth, keeping it healthy and feeding the people who live on it. We need look no further than the written authority for our lives to find issues of social justice addressed.
The first chapter of Genesis lays down the premise for how God views His creation: “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good” (1:31). The next chapter shows God entrusting Adam with the care-taking of the earth: “Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend it and keep it” (2:15). The Psalms mention humanity’s stewardship role: “You have made him to have dominion over the works of your hands; You have put all things under his feet” (8:6). Romans tells us that God’s character is revealed in creation: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made…” (1:20).
These are not the only scriptural references to the inherent value of the earth and how we should properly act toward it. Biblical writers joined in a chorus of affirmation of the goodness of God’s creation, describing it with awe and reverence.
Few Christians would dare argue that it is acceptable to intentionally destroy the earth, yet there is a disjunction between thought and action, and our thoughts do not reach far enough.
Responding correctly to global concerns requires a different kind of thinking about the Christian calling. As believers, we acknowledge that we’re supposed to spread the Gospel, serve others and live lives of faith, hope and love. But, we tend to shop short of applying these God-given guidelines to our thinking about consuming more than we need of a product, disposing of our unwanted waste or doing other things that ultimately harm our fellow inhabitants of planet earth. We march to the rhythm of selfishness and excess right along with unbelievers.
Take how we eat, for example. Literature from People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals spells out the harm done by the typical American meat-eating diet: “Of all the agricultural land in the U.S., 87 percent is used to raise animals for food … It takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of meat, but only 25 gallons to produce a pound of wheat.” Raising animals for food pollutes our water sources, eats away at our stores of raw materials, steals land away from forests and takes the majority of grain we grow.
How can we reconcile the fact that third world nations are populated by millions of suffering, rail-thin people, while the cows of the world consume enough food to more than feed the entire earth’s population?
Perhaps we are reluctant to exercise environmentalism because it would require us to make lots of small changes and to give up conveniences that we cling to. Stewardship includes standing in the line at the grocery store and asking ourselves, “Do I really need this third bag of chips?” It means actually separating our cans from our newspapers and ensuring that they each make it into the correct recycling bin. It requires taking time to find out if the company that produces the new pair of sneakers you want exploits third-world laborers.
Each time we, as believers, face a choice such as this, no matter how large or small, it is an opportunity for obedience, for us to act as we should toward God’s creation. Caring for the earth is important, because the earth is God’s handiwork, it reflects who He is, and it matters to Him. Check out the story of the first two naked vegetarians if you need further convincing.