Christians and Environmentalism

Growing up on Dr. Seuss, “The Lorax” always spoke to me. As the story goes, an entrepreneur stumbles upon a beautiful forest. The trees grow fluffy tufts, but he sees something else: money. Soon, he is knitting their tufts into lucrative Thneeds. What is a Thneed? Hard telling, but they sure sell well.

First one tree, then swathes are harvested as business booms and factories spring up. Yet the day comes when the axe rings for the last time against the last tree which gives one final, pitiful plop onto an endless wasteland of stumps. No more Thneeds, no more money, no more trees. Instead of sweet breezes, foul smog rises from filthy land. Only the trunks of rusting smokestacks remain to groan their protest.

Forget Thneeds and Seuss for a moment, because this story means to show something about the real world. Beauty also cloaks our world; so too do stump fields. Today the Environmentalist claims to speak for the trees and demands radical action. Equally adamant, others shout “full speed ahead,” using Earth’s precious cargo to build higher and grow richer. How should Christians respond to environmental concerns?

Far too often, Christians respond with silence or – even worse – with ignorant, prepackaged answers. It’s easy to place blame and ignore problems, but real answers require thoughtful consideration. Real answers start with God’s word, the only lens that makes sense of the beauty and the stumps. As Christians we must act biblically and redemptively in our fallen world, rejecting the world’s agenda and developing a biblical framework for environmental issues.

Recognizing the Problem

There is no denying that real problems exist in our world. Humans are messy; we spill chemicals, dump trash, and make smog. The World Health Organization estimates that about seven million deaths each year, about one in eight, are related to air pollution.1 Other problems are less obvious: the urban sprawl, the slow loss of fisheries, the loss of diversity. Even fresh water – surely there’s plenty of that – is disappearing from misuse.2

Environmentalism arose as a response to these problems. Science showed the damage, environmentalism demanded a solution. By default another group formed (for lack of a better term, the Utilitarians), who saw natural resources as the key to human achievement. Environmentalists conserve nature at all costs; Utilitarians seek economic success at all costs.

Obviously this oversimplifies the matter, because these positions bookend a broad spectrum of beliefs. Not even the staunchest Utilitarian really wants to kill whales, nor does the most passionate Environmentalist despise his air conditioner. Rather, these positions reflect which has priority: nature or human achievement.

Rejecting the World’s Agenda

Nature and progress are both good, but neither is ultimate. Environmentalism, in making nature ultimate, now worships “Mother Earth.” Utilitarianism, in making human achievement ultimate, has rebuilt the Tower of Babel. Taken to its end, environmentalism has no place for mankind, no place for anything but the god of nature. Followed to his conclusion, the Utilitarian has replaced God with himself. No wonder PETA demands animals have the same rights as people; no wonder oil companies destroy huge areas with careless spills. Where have the world’s solutions left room for God?

They haven’t.

Neither should Christians “leave room” for the world’s framework when dealing with God’s creation. Starting with creation and ending with a new earth, the Bible records God’s creativity. In the very first chapter, in Genesis 1, God spoke the world ex nihilo and he called it “very good.” Crowning all of it was Man, the Image Bearer. Unlike Environmentalism where man is an intruder, God made man the caretaker and ruler. Furthermore, God did not tell Adam to “stay off the lawn;” rather, he told Adam to enjoy, to taste, to delight in all of it! God receives glory when we enjoy what he has made.

Yet contrary to what Environmentalism might suggest, nature is not pristine. Still good, yes, but it is no longer “very good.” Environmentalism cannot revoke “the law of club and fang” that taints nature. Genesis 3, however, explains that all thorns, all death – the brokenness that marks everything – results from man’s sin. Because of the curse, nature will never be the utopia Environmentalists seek; because of our greed, we sometimes trample with our achievements instead of cultivating.

Loving the Creator

Is there hope for this trampled, weedy Eden? Yes, for Jesus Christ came to redeem not just us, but all things. Romans 8 says that creation waits eagerly for the Sons of God and groans with longing to likewise be freed from corruption. Some say that we needn’t care for the Earth because it’s going to be destroyed and remade anyway, but this passage compares creation to our redemption. Just as we care for our earthly bodies, we should care for God’s creation, knowing full well that one day our bodies and our planet will be made new.

It’s curious that, while God made Earth for our benefit, not everything is useful to us. God commands Job to “Behold, Behemoth, which I made as I made you… He is the first of the works of God.”3 Was this creature useful to Job? Not a bit. Rather, it displayed to Job God’s power. A mountain has value, not just because lumber cloaks its shoulders or coal fills its belly, but because God made it. We, as God’s people, should care about his creation, even the parts we can’t use, just because he made it!

Am I suggesting we should “Christianize” Environmentalism? Not at all; we should reject their agenda. Rather, we ought to make Biblical choices about the Earth that honor God as he intended. We should not worship the Earth, but worship God through it. Caring for the environment should not replace the command to love God and men; it should flow out of it. So let us study and enjoy and cultivate and be amazed at God’s creation – not because we are Earth-lovers, but because we are God-lovers.

Bryce Bryce Wenger lives and works on a small farm near Dalton, Ohio. He has a love for music, literature, and learning. His free time is usually spent backpacking, canoeing, or otherwise enjoying nature. He is passionate about knowing God’s Word and living life to the fullest.

Sources used

1. World Health Organization. “7 Million Premature Deaths Annually Linked to Air Pollution.” WHO. World Health Organization. 25 Mar. 2014. Web. 10 Nov. 2014. .
2. “Deficit in Nation’s Aquifers Accelerating.” USGS Newsroom. United States Geological Survey. 20 May 2013. Web. 6 Nov. 2014. .
3. ESV, Job 40: 15-24

Additional Resources

-Van Dyke, Fred, David C. Mahan, Joseph K. Sheldon, Raymond H. Brand. Redeeming Creation. United States of America: Intervarsity Press, 1996.
-Moo, Jonathan A., Robert S. White. Let Creation Rejoice. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014.
-Action Institute. Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition. United States of America: Action Institute, 2007.

Question: What is a Biblical response to environmental issues we see today? (pollution, smog, drought, etc.)
Share your thoughts below!

3 thoughts on “Christians and Environmentalism

  1. Brice, you nailed it! I grow weary of Christians who take ether extreme of worshiping creation at the expense of people or economic wealth at the expense of nature. God alone deserves worship. We ought to treat people, economics, and nature with admiration for the Creator.

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