A Christian Perspective on the Environment

To whom does the earth belong? It certainly belongs to God. The Bible is clear, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” And we are God’s creatures and his possessions as surely as plants and animals are, but we are different. Alone among the rest of all creation we are created in the image of God. What does this mean, the imago dei?

Some have interpreted it to mean intelligence/self awareness. I am sure, and you would be too if you lived with him for a while, that my dog has some degree of intelligence. I am also sure he is self aware to some degree. Does this mean that, to some extent he is also created in God’s image? Is there some scale, some gradation of God’s image? I don’t think so. I think that there is a sharp break, that I am made in the image of God and my dog is not, that there is a qualitative difference in my dog and me, not just a quantitative difference. I am something my dog is not and he is none of what I am.

By the way, I believe that being created in God’s image means that we have the potential to have a relationship with God. Gorillas, whales, sea turtles, and my dog have no such possibility.

Are there ways to prove my thesis? I don’t know but here are some efforts (they all rely on scripture, just as my assertion that I am created in God’s image does — if you don’t believe scripture to be true this is likewise a load of hooey):

1.Man is the only creature noted as being created in God’s image.
2.Man is the only creature God was concerned about finding a companion for.
3.Man is the only creature capable of sinning.
4.God put Man in charge of creation.
5.Man is the only creature for whom God sent his only begotten Son to die.

But why am I telling you all of this? When talking about our relationship to God’s creation it is important to have the same perspective on creation that God has (or as near as we can get). Based on the forgoing and on what you know about God, where would you say Man ranks in terms of God’s concern versus all of the rest of creation?

My thought is this, if God cares so much for you that he would have sacrificed his own Son to save you if you were the only person in the world, how much more would he have sacrificed the whole of creation for you if that would have been sufficient? I cannot but conclude that God cares more for man that for the whole of the other parts of his creation. Any discussion about the environment, then, must insure that concern for people is paramount.

Most of today’s environmentalists assume that people are the problem. That we are some disease inflicting the planet, that the less of us there are the better off the planet would be. This, I fear, is not the view of a God who told us to be fruitful and multiply. God loves nature and it is his, but he loves Man more.

This brings us to another philosophical point — Why does creation exist?

1.Because it pleased God that it should exist generally (after each thing was made, he saw that it was good).
2.Because it pleased God to make a home for Man specifically.

We were not created to serve the environment; the environment was created to serve us. Think of us as a diamond in a ring and nature as the setting. It is our home and for the same reasons you would not foul your home we should not foul the environment. By the same token it exists for our benefit and pleasure. If we want to add room, or remodel, it’s our house built for us and given to us by God. Also, the well being of people comes ahead of the environment every time. He does not call us to sacrifice the well being of people to the well being of owls.

God commanded us to possess the world, to subdue it, to own it. Why, because he knew that something that no one owns, something that no one can exploit (exploit does not mean destroy or abuse, it means to use profitably) has no value and God valued his creation.

Our view of the environment as a nurturing mother is a very recent thing. Certainly the ancients did not see nature in this light. Nature was something to be feared and either tamed or placated. Nature was seen as cruel and fearsome. Our ability to see nature as soft and cuddly is a result of our very recent total domination of the natural world. In other words, our control of the natural environment is what allows us to even think about its preservation.

But preserve it how? Some would suggest that if we mine for coal or drill for oil, if we use “non-renewable resources” we offend God. Are we to return to God at the end of time the world just as he gave it to us? I refer you to the parable of the talents. The man with the single talent buried it in the ground and gave it back to the master just as he had found it, to the master’s great displeasure.

We are to make something of the world, not leave it as we found it. The elitist advocates of pristine natural spaces are the product of our incredibly wealthy, high energy, western civilization. Natural pristine spaces that only a select few can visit are a luxury. Only a wealthy society can afford to take land out of agricultural production. Only a wealthy society can set aside places for large predators to roam unchecked instead of using that space for homes for people. Only an extremely wealthy society can consider whether it is more important for woodcutters to have jobs or for owls to have homes, to control chronic floods or save snail darters, to have a wild river or water for our farms and electricity for our homes.

I find it extremely ironic that the wealth of Western Civilization, that allows us to consider our impact on the environment comes from the exploitation of natural resources. It comes from efficient farming, mining and manufacturing methods and the notion that nature is there for our use. Our wealth, and hence our ability to consider conservation, comes from our ability to use nature for our ends, not be its servants.