On Being Green
Written by Ray Pennings
|Reformed Worldviews - Environment|
Green. For a long time, this colour was a metaphor for money. Recently, the brand has changed. “Being green” is almost universally understood as being referencing the natural environment and engaging in practices that consciously protect it.
The evidence of the world “going green” was on display during the December 2009 Copenhagen conference. With unprecedented build-up and under the spotlight of global media, world leaders took turns to publicly decry global warming and its catastrophic impact on the planet, all-the-while privately being unable to reach any meaningful agreement regarding a plan to counteract it. Skeptics and “climate change deniers” considered this a good thing. Most environmentalists, on the other hand, were disturbed. And given that many in the environmental movement express their concerns with language of religious zeal – even if in many cases this the religion of a secular fundamentalism – talk of the “world as we know it coming to an end” and apocalyptic predictions regarding what will be faced in our lifetimes were at least for a time the stuff of everyday news.
Most Youth Messenger readers recognize the idolatry and misplaced religious zeal which accompany this issue. However there is also a nagging sense among many that simply exposing the misplaced zeal of others is not an adequate response. “Christians ought to be environmentally concerned?” one frustrated young person from our churches asked me last year. “Why is it that many who call themselves Christian are coming so late to this issue, and then only critiquing or copying how non-believers are dealing with this issue, rather than being able to articulate a clear alternative approach?”
This short article cannot adequately address the question but as with most complex current issues, it is helpful to consider the creation-fall-redemption lens to identify various Scriptural considerations that ought to influence our answer. These principles taken together provide valuable building blocks for developing a more biblically-informed perspective on the issue.
Genesis tells us that the creation was “very good” and pleased God greatly. The natural beauty of the creation is highlighted for us alongside its functional utility: the trees of the garden were beautiful to look at as well as providers of abundant food. (Genesis 2:9). The human assignment was to tend and care for the garden but it was more than that. “Let them have dominion” was God’s word to Adam (Genesis 1:28). In his task to subdue the earth, mankind was to combine creativity and industriousness with the resources of creation to develop the creation. Genesis 4 provides an account of the trades and tools that were soon developed (with both musical instruments and blacksmithing on that early list). With this in view, it is proper to say that all of the discoveries of science and technological advances, the aesthetics of art and the insights of the academy that we consider “good” and worthwhile, were already present in embryonic form in the perfect Eden. It is a mistake to place the unspoiled creation – beautiful mountains and sprawling meadows teeming with wildlife – as belonging to God’s good creation while considering things that are man-made as being a lesser part of the creation. There is in much of the environmental movement romanticism about rural life and being “closer to nature” as if that is somehow closer to God’s intention. Had Adam and Even not fallen, there would have been technology and the progress of civilization as discovering the riches God had put into the creation is part of the human task and the divine purpose for creation.
The fall, of course, spoiled all of this. When the first city was named, God was not acknowledged as the giver of the technology. Instead Cain called the city after the name of his son (Genesis 4:17). The pride, wastage, and sinful application of so much of creation is evident enough to all of us. But the fall also affected the physical environment. Prior to the fall, Adam and Eve stewarded the garden without worry for thorns and thistles. After the fall, the curse came upon the earth. Now the winds not only created a comforting breeze and cool of the evening in which God and man had previously enjoyed their communion, but also the destructive hurricanes, tornados and tsunamis that wreaked havoc on this cursed creation. The polluting effects of original sin not only affect humans so that they are naturally inclined to all evil, but also the natural environment is impacted by the fall. The creation is now groaning (Romans 8:22) under the curse.
But just as God’s children long for the day when their battle with sin and its effects will be over, so the creation is longing for the day when there will again be a perfect balance and the curse will be undone. It is telling that the various texts which speak of fire at judgment day do not use the term for destructive fire but use words that speak to a refiner’s fire. The curse will be burned off as dross and the creation will be restored. But the picture of the future creation provided for us in Revelation is not a return to an Edenic garden but rather a picture of a city, where the fullness of creation’s potential will be on God-glorifying display. He is not coming to make new things; He is coming to make all things new!
These biblical truths provide us a different context for evaluating the environmental debate of our day. The world has a purpose and is in the care of a providential God is actively caring for it. Both apocalyptic predictions about the end of the world and the romanticized ideal of living closer to nature are themes which ignore God and His revelation regarding the purpose and plan for creation. That does not justify indifference or a warrant to not be good stewards of the creation. Quite the opposite! It is out of an expression of love for God and a love for what He has made and loves that the believer is called to take care of the creation. An attitude that “it makes no difference, God is going to judge and destroy this sinful earth anyways” (which sadly is too often heard from Christian circles) is an unbiblical and God-dishonoring attitude. It is the equivalent of indifference to sin in our personal life, which Paul argues against in Romans 6:1-3.
Sadly, much of the green agenda today has become mixed up with an idolatry serving the earth, a wealth-transfer scheme from the developed world to the not-yet-developed world on the premise that development is bad, and a hubris of scientists with an agenda that causes them to break their own rules and essentially lie and propagandize rather than engage in research. Still, the sins of those around us do not warrant a self-righteous indifference on those who confess Christ’s name. It is my Father’s world and He has called me to care for it, listen to its declaration of His glory and see in it the active creative, providential, and redemptive work which He is carrying out, with the expectation of living as a sanctified saint in a renewed creation throughout all eternity.
Ray Pennings is an elder in the Calgary Free Reformed Church, Alberta, Canada. He is the Director of Research for Cardus (www.cardus.ca), a think-tank focused on issues relating to the intersection of faith and public life. This article was previously printed in the FRC Youth Messenger and has been republished here with permission.