How protecting the environment is not just a hot topic, but a good… | The Best Samaritan with Jamie Aten and Kent Annan
Several years ago my family had the opportunity to vacation at a friend’s house in the Rockies. When we unlocked the front door and stepped inside, we let out a collective gasp; this house was more extravagant than any place we have stayed. Every day our gratitude grew for the craftsmanship and the breathtaking views. When it came time to pack, we cleaned up with unusual enthusiasm and thoroughness out of respect and appreciation for the owners.
According to the creation story, God gave mankind the keys to an even more beautiful and magnificent house than the most gifted architect could ever design. Much like our vacation experience, when we receive permission to stay in a place that is not ours, we must understand and agree to the owner’s terms. Genesis 1:28 states the terms of God:
Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and rule it. Rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky and all the animals that rush on the ground.
These verses are essentially God’s first commandments to mankind. All of creation bears fruit, but only humans have the unique role of filling, governing, and reigning over everything on earth. These days it is hard for us not to associate reigning and ruling with abuse and corruption, but remember, this order was issued before the fall. God wanted men and women to nurture and protect all life on planet earth.
Despite the fact that these early commandments have been part of our spiritual heritage from the beginning, according to author Wendell Berry, “modern Christianity has remained silent as a predatory economy has ravaged the world, destroyed its natural beauty and health, divided and plundered its communities and households.Rather than unifying Christians, environmental stewardship has polarized us.
At one end of the spectrum are believers who interpret certain biblical passages as permission to exploit the earth since it will burn anyway (“For this world as we know it shall soon pass away.” 1 Corinthians 7:31). At the other extreme are passionate environmentalists, some of whom deify the earth and promote strict population control and biological egalitarianism (perceiving the earth and humanity as equal). The first perspective often leads to apathy and contempt, while the second leads to fear and despair. Over time, fruitful conversations are rare.
Leah Kostamo, author of Planted, believes that “polemical arguments have a short lifespan when it comes to transformation. What lasts and what changes hearts is wonder: a wonder born of a direct experience of creation. Far too many of us spend our days disconnected from both wonder and creation. We don’t need to put dirt under our fingernails to eat. We are spending less and less time in nature, which led author Richard Louv to coin the term “nature deficit disorder”. By losing our connection to creation, it is all too easy to dismiss our sacred responsibility to care for and sustain this world.
Do we sin when we refuse to take care of the earth?
Fortunately, over the past decade, a growing number of Christians seem to be responding to God’s call to action. Whether you’re already deployed in a meaningful way or still standing on the sidelines, each of us must wrestle with the potentially menacing question: do we sin when we refuse to care for the earth? To answer the spirit of this question, we must refrain from defining stewardship and sin too narrowly. If we equate good stewardship only with eating organic, cycling to work while wearing fair trade clothing, and having solar panels on our roof, it seems pointless to try, because a lot of ‘between us don’t.
And if we limit our understanding of sin to committing adultery or coveting our neighbor’s fuel-efficient hybrid, we are denying the redemptive, albeit painful, role of conviction. Richard Slimbach, professor of global studies at Azusa Pacific University, expands the definition of sin: “We sin when we understand the moral obligations that come with our relationships and ignore them.” This echoes the words of the apostle James: “Remember, it is a sin to know what to do and then not to do it” (James 4:17). For the vacation home where my family stayed, if we had left and left the doors unlocked, the windows open, and the hot tub running, we would have sinned against the owners because we understood the moral obligation, or conditions, to use their home.
We don’t have to work for the Sierra Club or live off the grid, but we all have to do something.
In the case of stewardship, I think it’s fair to say that we sin when we reject God’s clear call to rule and reign wisely and lovingly over creation. We don’t have to work for the Sierra Club or live off the grid, but we all have to do something. Something could mean installing a home compost bin that reduces household waste by twenty to thirty percent. It could mean refusing to bow down to the idol gods of consumerism who demand that we spend our resources on superfluous goods. For others, it could mean pressuring government officials to prioritize tackling global climate change.
According to an article by the Acton Institute, “Our stewardship under God implies that we are morally responsible to him to deal with creation in a way that best serves the purposes of the kingdom of God.” As with all commandments in scripture, we can view stewardship as an invitation to partner with God to bring His kingdom to earth, or decline the invitation. All of creation awaits our response.
- Watch this TED Talk by Katherine Hayhoe, then order her new book, Saving Ourselves, from the library.
- Earth-Wise, by Cal DeWitt.
- Planted, by Leah Kostamo
- Serve God, Save the Planet, by Matthew Sleeth
- Our Father’s World, by Ed Brown
- Turn Here, Sweetcorn, by Atina Diffley
- The Art of the Commonplace: Wendell Berry’s Agrarian Essays, by Wendell Berry
Dorothy Littell Greco is the author of Marriage in the Middle and Making Marriage Beautiful. When she’s not writing or taking photos, Dorothy loves taking long walks and lazy kayaking with her husband of 30 years. You can find more of his work on his website.