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How do we take care of the earth?

Posted by Chance on October 21, 2006

Let’s take a look at Genesis 1:28-30.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

I bring up this verse because I want to look at mankind’s role in taking care of the earth, and understanding this role is important in light of environmental issues such as global warming and energy sources. When talking to various Christians, two main viewpoints come about.

1. God has provided on this earth exactly what we need. God has told us to fill the earth and subdue it, and He does so without qualification. Also, I trust that the earth will have enough resources to last us until the coming of Christ.

2. We are supposed to be more wise in our use of natural resources and ensure that what we do to the earth will not strongly impact future generations in a negative way. While God does not explicitly command us to conserve energy, one would expect that God expects us to use wisdom in our care of the earth, in the same way that He expects us to wisely manage our finances or our property.

I can understand both points of view, and I do not really know where I am. I can see the virtues in both. The first places trust that God will give us exactly what we need, but the second viewpoint – which does not negate God’s providence in any way stresses wisdom in management of the earth.

I don’t have that much to say on the topic; I just wanted to present these two different viewpoints that I have seen in Christianity. I do not have any articles to link to, these are just the viewpoints I have gathered just by talking to people.

I do want to make a couple of points however.

1) Humans are not parasites. Some of the more extreme environmentalists – not the norm – would be happy if most of the population was wiped out, due to consumption of natural resources. I will say that I do not believe overpopulation is a problem. Granted, one should not have more kids than they can feed, but God says “be fruitful and multiply” and He does so without qualification. Yes, the “subdue the earth” is without qualification as well, but we subdue the earth for resources, and one can argue that these resources are limited, so we do not subdue it as much. The point is, “subdue the earth” is open to more interpretation; “be fruitful and multiply” is less so. Anyway, humans should never, ever be seen as a liability, and I believe that any measure to discourage population growth encourages this viewpoint.

2) The earth is here for us, we are not here for the earth. Again, this does not give license to reckless disregard for the earth, but I do think we should have our priorities correct. In my view, Genesis 1 seems to favor the viewpoint that the earth is here for us. It has an overall tone that man (I use man in the broad sense, not a specific gender) has dominion over everything else. Again, this viewpoint can easily encompass varying environmental views, I am just saying we should have our priorities straight.

Just a few thoughts.

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21 Responses to “How do we take care of the earth?”

  1. Michael Westmoreland-White said

    While I agree that humans are not parasites, I disagree that the earth is here for humans. Both humans and the rest of creation are here to glorify God. When we harm creation, we dishonor the Creator. In fact, when we wipe out species, etc., we usurp God’s rights as Creator and make ourselves into gods.

    The view that the earth is just here for us and so we will have enough resources until Jesus comes again and the earth is destroyed sees salvation in solely human terms and the rest as staging or window dressing for salvation.

    That view is ultimately gnostic and condemned as heresy centuries ago.

    Salvation is cosmic. All creation groans in travail awaiting the redemption of humans as the sign of its own redemption according to the apostle Paul.

    Evangelical disregard for creation is heresy.

  2. Neil said

    Being responsible stewards of the earth is part of being a Christian. But that doesn’t mean we have join Greenpeace or jump on every environmental trend. We always need to use discernment.

    What I find ironic are the atheistic earth-worshipers. If there is no God and Darwinian evolution is true, why not rape and pillage the earth? No one criticizes the locusts when they devour things. They are just doing their job.

  3. Chance said

    “I disagree that the earth is here for humans. Both humans and the rest of creation are here to glorify God. When we harm creation, we dishonor the Creator. In fact, when we wipe out species, etc., we usurp God’s rights as Creator and make ourselves into gods.”

    That makes sense. If anything, we would probably agree that the earth is not more important than mankind. I could elaborate more on the comment, but maybe another time.

    “…That view is ultimately gnostic and condemned as heresy centuries ago”

    I think I would disagree. I think there is a little more flexibility concerning people’s opinions on the environment in Christian orthodoxy. In my understanding, gnostics view all matter as evil. I could see maybe where one could jump from viewpoint #1 to Gnosticism, but I think it is quite a leap.

    I think the reason Gnosticism is considered so heretical is because it affects one’s viewpoint of the human/God duality of Jesus Christ. As long as someone keeps views on Christ intact, even though they may have an improper view of the environment, I don’t think they are really a heretic. I think orthodoxy issues should focus mainly on God, not more secondary issues like the environment.

  4. japhy said

    In Matthew 25:14-30, what do we see is the reaction of the master to the man who has buried what he was given? How much worse would be the reaction had the man wasted what little he was given?

    In Genesis 2:15, we read The LORD God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it. God even thought this job was so important as to create a partner for Adam.

    Certainly some uber-conservative Christians feel the need to twist Scripture to support a gas-guzzling, forest-clearing, air-polluting lifestyle. One such person is Ann Coulter: “God gave us the earth. We have dominion over the plants, the animals, the trees. God said, ‘Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It’s yours.'” — Hannity & Colmes, 6/20/01 Is this how we treat a gift from God? Should we act the same way with our bodies?

    You can love the earth without deifying it and you can respect creation without cloistering yourself from it.

  5. The Prophet said

    Good post, Chance.

    There are two mentalities regarding the earth, and I think most everyone is a mixture of the two.

    There are gardeners and consumers.

    Gardeners believe it is their job to plant, to invest themselves in the earth in order to bring a return.

    Consumers believe that the earth’s resources are sufficient without investing anything into it.

    I have a hard time with this one as well, as far as where I stand. I believe that every responsible Christian will take care of the earth, because no one knows the time or day when it will cease to exist.

    With that being said, I trust that God will take care of His people. We see these movies and TV shows about total destruction upon the earth possibly wiping out all of mankind. I don’t believe God will do that. The principle of His promise to Noah wasn’t just that He wouldn’t send a flood, but that He wouldn’t do anything to completely destroy mankind.

    Good post, Chance.

  6. Chuck Norris said

    PEOPLE WHO DESTROY THE EARTH MAKE ME SO MAD!!! AAAARRRGGGHHHH!!!! I WANT TO RIP SOMEONE’S HEAD OFF!!!!

  7. Chance said

    Chuck…please, come down…you know I hate it when you get angry…please, Chuck, put the nunchucks down…CHUCK!!!!

  8. Dan Trabue said

    Good questions, Chance. A comment:

    “I will say that I do not believe overpopulation is a problem.”

    Clearly it either is or can be. Whether or not you believe it’s at 7 billion (the population we’re approaching) or 70 billion, at some point a finite Earth can no longer accomodate an ever-enlarging population. Any rational person would have to recognize at least the potential problems of over-population.

    Fair enough so far?

    Now I am among those that think that our current population is large enough to be a problem. I’ll explain in just a minute, but first an analogy:

    What do you think of a family that keeps having children way beyond what they can afford? They don’t die off because they’re able to borrow money or go on welfare or steal a bit here and there, but they’re, in fact, barely managing.

    What if the father says, “Well, I can afford all ten children, if I only feed three of them. The others can beg and borrow to get by…”

    Is that family being responsible?

    The argument has been made that we’ve peaked on population as far as what the earth can support. We’ve been able to maintain because we’ve been using petro-based fertilizers to artificially boost fertility.

    With the peak of oil pending (and again, it IS pending, whether you think that peak is now or 100 years from now, it is a finite resource that is peaking), we’ll no longer be able to use petrofertilizers to boost agricultural production. Then what?

    A link to info about petroleum’s role in our food system (you will have to scroll down to find the info on agriculture):

    http://dieoff.org/page171.htm

  9. Dan Trabue said

    The time has come for judging the dead,
    and for rewarding your servants the prophets
    and your saints and those who reverence your name,
    both small and great—
    and for destroying those who destroy the earth.

    -Revelation 11:18

  10. Chance said

    To clarify, those who I have met who hold viewpoint 1 are still concerned about environmental issues and think we should take care of the earth. For instance, one person I know cares about pollution and also very much about endangered species, and thinks like oil spills in the ocean make them upset…but concerning the issues of fossil fuels and global warming…they tend to think that as long as we aren’t completely wasteful, that the earth will survive until the end of the current age.

  11. Chance said

    Hey Dan, you make a good point concerning overpopulation. Here is my stance. It should be up to individual families to determine how many children to have (not that you are saying the opposite really). A couple should not have more children than they can afford, I do agree. However, say there is a family that can easily support all the children they have. Should I tell that couple that they should stop having kids because the earth is being overpopulated? Yes, those children will consume more limited resources, but I don’t think they are going against God’s will when they choose to have more children. I think God delights in the production of human beings because He wants to have fellowship with each.

    In fact, I think here in the states perhaps bigger families learn to consume less. Let’s say a family has an only child. The generalization is that the child will be able to have more since the parents can afford it. Let’s look at a family with, say, five children. Unless the family is insanely wealthy, those children know all about cutting back. Dining at a restaurant, going to the movies, carpooling…granted, not all of these have to do with consumption of actual materials, but 5 kids sharing more things, I think, would ingraine in them a sense of wanting to consume less. Kids who get it all tend to consume more, kids who have to share with multiple siblings, not so much. Granted, the consumption overall may be more, but ultimately, it can lead to a change in philosophy in people.

  12. Chuck Norris said

    I don’t need Nunchucks. The power of one of my kicks has the devastation of two atom bombs.

    Check the link.
    http://gabbathauniversity.blogspot.com/1990/01/chuck-says.html

  13. Michael Westmoreland-White said

    There is so much bad theology (especially bad views of creation and bad eschatology), bad science, and ostrich-like head sticking in the sand, that I give up. I’ll write on eco-issues on my blog, but I have no idea where to begin in correcting this mess. It goes to confirm the charge that is made by most evangelicals outside the U.S. that the VAST majority of American evangelicals are really gnostics. It’s not a leap. It’s fact.

  14. Dan Trabue said

    “you make a good point concerning overpopulation. Here is my stance. It should be up to individual families to determine how many children to have…”

    But, Chance, just as some families choose to have more than they can sustain, our world is having more children than it can sustain.

    And even if you don’t believe that right now (although if you ask anyone in agriculture what’s going to happen when the fossil fuels are no longer there and affordable, they’ll tell you what dire straits we are in), there IS a point where it will be obvious to all that we’re living unsustainably. That point could likely be mass starvation, war and economic collapse.

    I’m saying it’s more responsible treatment of God’s creation -including God’s people – to act responsibly BEFORE a crash occurs, rather than after.

  15. Chance said

    Thanks everyone for your comments. I think this is a good discussion here.

    Michael, I understand your frustration with evangelicals in general, but I hope this post isn’t a source of some of that frustration. The idea was just to present two points of view out there and examine the merits of both. I think there is a difference between the greedy person who doesn’t give a crap about the earth, and the person who honestly thinks sustainability is not so much of an issue based on spiritual reasons.

    Dan,
    Let’s say that overpopulation is a problem. What should we do about it? I can see no legitimate moral option to curb population growth. Even those who hate the idea of welfare moms popping out more kids agree that childbearing is a fundamental right (well, I do anyway) and just kind of resign ourselves to that.

    And strangely enough, those who tend to be materialistic are those who tend to have fewer kids (note the converse is not necessarily true). The point is, those who share values more common to some of your own (less consumption, less materialism) are the ones more likely to have children. Someone who chooses to have 5 children would have had, at some point, to decide that having more children is more important than material gain.

  16. Dan Trabue said

    “The point is, those who share values more common to some of your own (less consumption, less materialism) are the ones more likely to have children.”

    Your source? My comrades tend to have two or less children (with few exceptions) and some have adopted. In the US, I’d find this hard to believe.

    But you bring up a good point: Assuming that population is/will be a problem, what do we do about it?

    We probably both agree we don’t want gov’t setting quotas, we certainly agree we don’t want imposed abortions, but if we leave it at free will and free will leads to overpopulation which will lead to all sorts of nasty results, what then?

    I would propose that we educate, we begin to live – ourselves – in a way that is sustainable and we begin to advocate the same. What policies we DO have, should reinforce fewer, not more, children. Adoption, not abortion.

    In the book, “Ishmael,” which is a philosophical novel about How To Save the World, the question is asked, “so, you know we all are living in a way that is ultimately unsustainable, that will ultimately lead to great tragedy…WHY is no one excited/horrified about this problem?”

    We must not be doom and gloomers but we must begin to educate ourselves – at a minimum – and look at what sort of policy changes we could make that don’t involve totalitarianism. We’ll have to deal with this sooner or later, I’d prefer sooner.

  17. Chance said

    “”The point is, those who share values more common to some of your own (less consumption, less materialism) are the ones more likely to have children.””

    Oops, I think I meant to say the opposite. Those who have multiple children are probably less materialistic. Those who have fewer children are not necessarily materialistic.

  18. Dan Trabue said

    Again, I’d ask for your source. Or is that just a hunch?

  19. Chance said

    Just a theory. When someone chooses to have more children, they have to make more financial sacrifices. Again, just to clarify, that is not to say that those who have fewer kids are more materialistic or anything like that.

  20. Wasp Jerky said

    A couple of points no one mentioned:

    1) Christians are to love their neighbor. Part of that means living responsibly. People in the United States use far more than their share of the earth’s resources. Air and water pollution means the increase of diseases, including cancer. I could go on, but the point is that not taking care of the earth has direct consequences that are harmful to people and their communities.

    2) You keep saying, Chance, that the earth will survive until the end of the current age. That seems a bit like saying that we’ll have enough gas in the car until we run out of gas. Having grown up in a fundamentalist church, it seems to me that it’s very easy for Christians to let self-fulfilling prophesy rule their lives. Thus, war in the Middle East is good because it means Christ will be returning. Or pollution is good because its part of God’s ultimate design. And so on. That seems to be both bad theology and a dangerous, selfish way to live.

  21. Chance said

    “You keep saying, Chance, that the earth will survive until the end of the current age.”

    Actually, I don’t remember saying that. I presented that viewpoint as well as the opposing one, just to see what people think. I just said I saw the merits in both.

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