Ethics ReformedExistentialist

Environmental Concern for the Protestant Unconcerned

“And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” — Genesis 1:28

Is Creation Included in Redemption? 

Is a call to blessing restored and man’s purpose as a cultivator of the earth included in what Jesus died for? Francis Schaeffer says in his book Pollution and the Death of Man: “As Christ’s death redeems men, including their bodies, from the consequences of the Fall, so His death will redeem all nature from its evil consequences, at the time we are raised from the dead.” Scripture tells us that all of the creation cries under the weight of the curse which has been laid upon while waiting for the final redemption promised by God (Rom. 8:20-22). When Jesus comes, everything will finally be made new, and the concerns of our suffering environment will be no more. However, while we wait, we must realize that part of Christian living consists in becoming realigned with what God has first called humanity to be and to do, not by promoting an ultra spiritualistic view of salvation that speaks very little to a holistic view of man’s relation to the earth, but by instilling in man a love for what God has made. For too long in the Christian community spirituality has been emphasized at the expense of the earth. The spiritual is Gnostically focused upon neglecting the physical and, as a result, the environmental. Because God made the birds and the living creatures and planted the trees, we should be concerned when oil spills wreck their habitat and ruin the life God has given them. We should seek ways to honor God by being considerate of the animals because all things are in their existence as creatures created for the glory of God.

Humanity in Genesis

With so many environmental concerns today and an almost universal silence of conservative Christians regarding the value that God has instilled in His creation, we need to be reminded of what God has called us to do and how His image (humanity) reflects His work as Creator. In the pre-Fall narrative (Gen. 1-2), we see this happening in two poignant ways: man is a gardener put in Eden to cultivate it (Gen. 1:15), and he is the one who names the animals (Gen. 2:19). In this manner, man images God by working in step with the purpose which God has blessed him with. Man is also created in God’s image (Gen. 1:26), and that image has two distinct genders which equally reflect God (Gen. 1:27). The successive blessing of God after the sixth day of creation is a call for man to be fruitful, like the trees which grow upon the same ground he is created from, and increase himself through his children who will grow, inhabit, and rule the earth and its creatures. Man is intimately related to the rest of creation because he, like all living things, bears fruit, multiplies, and fills the earth with his kind. Like the trees, he’s created from the ground; like the animals, he’s a living creature, and yet distinctly like God, he rules over creation as God’s image bearer. Man is a distinguished image, and yet he’s connected to all things which God has made; he is designed to know God in a way that no other creature can, with tremendous responsibility for the well-being of the earth and its inhabitants. The purpose which this narrative describes raises questions about our daily life and about how we as Christians are to act as those who have been restored to what we have been made to do by the grace of Jesus Christ.

Present Ecological Problems

Just asking basic questions about the environment on an internet search engine can provide you with a list of problems ranging from the chemicals used in the mass production of food to the abuse of farm animals in the food industry, etc. Technology in this way maintains a wider spectrum of sustenance at the expense of the resources consumed. Finding out these massive yet obscure problems raises further ethical questions about the legitimacy of these practices in the sight of God and the legitimacy of Christian dependence on such practices. Questions like whether or not caring for creation is a cause that coincides with the mass consumption which modern society is dependent upon. There are severe issues with the way man uses the environment, such as deforestation, whereby land is denuded to make places to live, or the land is expended for business purpose, or it is commodified to be an expendable resource without value or replenishment. It is an honest concern to ask if trees are being replanted and whether or not animals are suffering and going extinct with new feats of progress. More immediately, when we buy out milk, do we ask if the dairy industry runs on the exploitation of cows, the ruination of their health for the sake of corporate profit? When we consider a species very close to us, do we become grieved when gorillas in the Virunga jungles are needlessly killed by poachers and violent men? Do we value their lives? Does the silence and abdication of Christians in a dying world reflect an absence of grace? While Christians fight for the right to life and rightfully oppose abortion, do they also cry out against the extinction of animal species, or the loss of land that gives men and animals a context for life? Do we implicitly accept that a rightful concern for the life of one species which justifies a total lack of concern for the rest?

Sanctification Includes Environmental Compassion 

These concerns ought to in no way be left out of our view of sanctification because Romans 8 reveals to us that all of creation is in a posture of waiting poised in anticipation of a redemption that will, in the end, include a renewal of the earth and its creatures. It is not just humanity which is made new through the forgiveness of sin, but creation also awaits its emancipation from the effects of man’s sin. Hence, while all of creation waits, we still act in faith trusting that God will give grace to our successes and failures. As acts of faith, we ought to plant gardens, clean up trash, and concern ourselves with how what we eat and the stuff we buy negatively affects God’s creation, not just as a point of mental emphasis, but as a way of life. Perhaps the right way to do this is to begin by mourning appropriately the curse of unsustainability and exploitation which the earth endures because of man’s sin (Matt. 5:4) while stepping up to take our sanctification seriously in light of the environmental concerns. God calls what He has made good and what is good is groaning because of sin. Ephesians 2:10 says: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Perhaps the best thing for conservative Christians to do is to consider that the first two chapters of  Genesis were not read originally as an argument against evolution, but were understood as a definitive record of the God who made the heavens and the earth. God is revealed in the text, and he gives His image-bearers a deeply connected called to value and serve the life of the planet including its inhabitants and resources. As those who are being conformed to Jesus’ image (Rom. 8:29), let us fulfill our calling by promoting and defending the respective life of all things by the grace of God while waiting for Him to finally come and make enslaved creatures free share in our hope of redemption.

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