How much should Christians care about the environment?
Fires, drought, rising sea levels... how much should Christians care?
With fires raging in the Amazon, drought overcoming many countries and rising sea levels threatening entire nations, it’s no wonder that the environment is one of the top concerns for young people.
But there is a bit of a divide among some Christians as to whether caring about the environment should be a concern for those who follow Jesus. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons we should, and shouldn’t, care about the environment, in order to determine how much we should care about our planet.
You should care because…
In Genesis 1, we read a beautiful account of God creating the world. He creates diverse plants and animals, and he sets up the natural functions that govern our world – day and night, land and sea, winter and summer.
So there’s one reason we should care about the environment: because God created it! Everything, from the smallest animal to the largest mountain, has value because God crafted it with his hands. As Psalm 24:1 reminds us, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”
Then, God creates humans, and one of our important roles is described in Genesis 1:26:
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.
Now, the ‘ruling’ described here doesn’t refer to an oppressive, exploitative rule, but a responsibility to care for and manage the world with wisdom and attentiveness – just like God rules over us.
Christians should care about the environment because God has given us the special responsibility of doing so!
When God created the world, he formed humans in special relationship with him. That means that above all other parts of creation, we matter to God most of all.
The natural world supports the ongoing survival of humanity by providing the food we eat, the air we breathe, the materials we use to build our shelters and fuel our development, and so much more. When we take care of the environment, we ensure the ongoing survival of humanity – God’s most precious creation.
You shouldn’t care too much because…
Having said all that… some Christians have fallen into the trap of becoming so concerned about the environment that this has led to problems.
One problem is an overwhelming pessimism and anxiety that our world is going to be totally ruined as a result of climate change and we won’t be able to recover.
In one sense, this may be true. If governments and large corporations don’t take action very soon, the effects of climate change on this planet may be irreversible.
But as Christians, we need to remember something really important: this earth is not the end game for us.
Yes, we are here now, and yes, we have a highly important mandate to care for what God has given us. But ultimately, there is a new creation coming!
In Revelation 21, John records his vision of this new creation arriving: “Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.”
John’s vision reminds us that when Jesus returns, this world will not exist anymore. That means that we must keep our worries about the environment in check, remembering that God is much bigger than this world, and our relationship with him will last beyond the lifetime of this planet.
Another problem Christians can fall into is disconnecting the need to engage in creation care from the fact that God created this world for people.
Yes, it is very important to care for our world, and for all the flora and fauna here. Each piece of God’s creation is valuable. But ultimately we must remember that for Christians, caring for the world should be part of our responsibility to love others, not distinct from that.
That means we need to advocate for environmental action that puts people first, that acknowledges the responsibility of those in richer countries to take action for the sake of those in poorer countries.
On a smaller scale, it means we need to be careful about how we speak to others about creation care. For example, in my city at the moment there is a big push to eliminate single-use plastic, including straws. This is an important step forward, but I’ve been reminded that some people with functional disorders that make it hard for them to chew or swallow rely on straws in order to nourish themselves.
Imagine how one of those people may feel if they saw a Facebook post saying something like “if you use plastic straws, you’re a turtle murderer”.
Yes, we need to care about the environment – a lot! But that should never come at the cost of loving others. Be careful in how you speak about creation care.
It is really important for Christians to care about the environment. But as in so many social issues, we approach the environment from a slightly different position than the rest of the world.
If you’re in Australia, you might like to consider getting involved in Common Grace, a Christian organisation. One of their focuses is helping Christians to engage in creation care and climate justice – two great areas that uphold our mandates to care for the world and love others.