When God gave Adam dominion over the earth, He entrusted him with its care and stewardship. In many ways, caring for the environment wasn't much of an issue before the Industrial Age, with its new pollution-creating technology. Now the problems of pollution and exhaustion of natural resources have brought the environment to the forefront of important concerns. However, the way our modern society is relating to those concerns may be wrongheaded.
As Christians, we feel obligated to care for and promote the care of the environment. The world God created was good, and to treat it as merely a slave to our whims rather than an integral part of creation is to think and act unbiblically. However, we also need to avoid the trap of worshipping nature or valuing it more highly than we do other people. What is needed in this debate is clarity and balance, not polemics and categorical statements.
The debate as it is being conducted in the present is full of polemics. The frequency of the argumentation is high. If cooler heads are to prevail we need to calmly think through the obligation we have as stewards of God’s creation.
John Calvin warned us in his Institutes of the Christian Religion that man is an idol factory. The Apostle Paul concurs. All men are prone to idolize creation and “worship and serve the creature instead of the Creator, who is blessed forevermore” (Rom. 1:25). A brief review of the present state of discussion regarding the environment and Global Warming, also known as Climate Change, will demonstrate this tendency.
There are some extremists who go so far as to personify the environment, often calling it “Gaia”, a reference to an ancient Greek goddess of the earth. Many others avoid the overt pagan connection but do attach religious fervor to their concern for and efforts to defend the environment. But perhaps the greatest evidence that modern Environmentalism has become an idolatry is the fact that we now have a host of “blasphemy laws”; requirements that certain statements must never be spoken. What would happen if in a crowded room I were to loudly assert, “Creation is a raw material given to man to use and improve as he sees fit all to the glory of God”? I can hear the cries of “crucify him” even now! Another example of such blasphemy laws is the almost universal concurrence of the scientific community to the mantra of Global Warming. You would not know from the media reports that there are actually scientists who reject the notion that human pollution is alone responsible for the recent climate shifts on our planet. The priests of our day are shouting down all opposition. Environmentalism is a false religion. It is idolatry.
But Christians are not permitted to worship at the altars of pagan gods. What then is to be our response to environmentalism? We must reject the idolatry. But we mustn’t do so by promoting the destruction of the created world. The opposite of what the world asserts is not necessarily the truth. We have a better reason for protecting the cosmos than do our unbelieving neighbors. We are motivated by loving gratitude to the Creator of all. When you look at the ocean on a stormy day, or Mt. Hood when the evening sun has made it glow pink, or on a massive douglas fir tree growing in a park, you respond with awe and with thankfulness. That is proper. Do you also respond with a sense of duty to care for and to nurture? If you do you are on the right track to a Christian conservationism, far superior to modern pagan environmentalism.
One of the best ways to train ourselves and our children to have the proper Christian attitude toward the earth is to encourage in them a sense of wonder toward creation. That wonder will invariably produce in us a desire to protect it. Stewardship is the term that the Church has used and needs to use again to express the proper stance that man has toward creation. By valuing the created world in light of its place in God’s cosmos and by understanding the great honor that has been bestowed upon man as the guardian of that creation we and our children will do a better job of caring for the animals and plants of our world and will at the same time bring crashing down the temples of the false environmental gods in our land.
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