Christians should be the best environmentalists on the planet, because we uniquely understand what the environment is, what has gone wrong with it, what is being done to fix it, and what our role is in relation to it. Sadly, because of bad theology, over-reaction against environmental excess and pantheism, the influence of our consumeristic and greedy culture, ignorance of the problem, and “neglect by association,” the evangelical church has not done well on this issue in recent years. While I don’t want any environmental, social, or political agenda to become the main business of the church, the gospel is relevant to all of life, and the church has a responsibility to fight injustice and darkness wherever they exist.
Here are 20 reasons why Christians should care about the environment:
1) Just dominion over creation is part of God’s original purpose for his image bearers (Genesis 1:26-29), and the commandment is reiterated to Noah and his sons after the fall (Genesis 9:1-7), indicating it has not been eradicated by sin. This is a very significant charge to be given by our Creator at the time of our creation! As Christians, we have the responsibility of thinking through all that this commandment entails, especially in light of modern scientific and technological advances.
2) God reveals His glory, beauty, and creativity to human beings through creation (Romans 1:20, Psalm 19:1-6). This “general revelation” knowledge truly reveals God’s nature to all human beings across the planet, at all times in history. That alone should make us value the beauty of nature!
“Day to day pour forth speech; night to night reveal knowledge.” -Psalm 19:2 (ESV)
“The world is a theater for the glory of God.” -John Calvin
3) God’s meticulous care for his creation (feeding animals, supplying rain, forming clouds, etc.) elicits praise from God’s people in the Psalms (Psalm 104, 145, 147).
For example, after speaking of God’s care for “the beasts of the field . . . the wild donkeys . . . the birds of the air . . . the cattle . . . the birds . . . the stork . . . the wild goats . . . the coneys . . . the beasts of the forest . . . the lions . . . creatures (of the sea) . . . the leviathin which you formed to frolic,” Psalm 104 bursts into praise:
“How many are your works, O LORD! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. . . . All these all look to you to give them their food at the proper time. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things” (24, 27-8).
4) God Himself views his completed creation as “very good” (Genesis 1:31), a statement repeated throughout the creation account. If God values His work, shouldn’t we?
5) Animals are beautiful and noble, demonstrating God’s creativity, goodness, kindness, and sense of humor. Nearly every time I go to the zoo or watch a nature documentary, I am moved to worship.
6) God feels compassion for the cattle of the Ninevah, as well as the people, when threatening judgment (Jonah 4:11).
7) Proverbs 12:10, “a righteous man cares for the needs of his animal, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.”
8) God makes provision for the survival of animals during Noah’s flood and even enters into covenant with them (Genesis 6:8-17). Rainbows should recall to our minds this “everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth” (16). The fact that God works to protect animal species and covenants with them demonstrates that He values them, and thus so should we.
9) When God created a perfect paradise for Adam to enjoy, of all the settings God could have created, he chose a garden (Genesis 2:8). God filled it with different kinds of beautiful trees (“The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food” [2:9]) and a river (2:10). I’ll bet Adam enjoyed climbing the trees, swimming in the river – maybe even chasing the animals around a bit!
10) Poor stewardship over creation damages our witness to our non-Christian friends who care about the environment. In light of the huge number of young people concerned about the environment in our culture today, this is a significant consideration.
11) God is working to recreate and restore not just individual people, but the entire fallen creation. Just as sin was cosmic in scope, causing the very ground to be “cursed” (Genesis 3:17), so redemption is cosmic in scope, causing the entire creation to “groan” in anticipation (Romans 8:19-22) for Jesus’ return, when he will make “all things new” (Revelation 21:5). Since God has not abandoned his creation with a “let it burn” defeatism, neither should we!
12) Human life and flourishing is dependent upon animal and plant life for food, oxygen, vitamins, clothing, environmental stability, and many other basic needs. For example, without insects (as disgusting as we sometimes find them), human beings would be dead in a matter of months.
13) The sheer diversity of animal species on our planet speaks to their value. If God had simply made a few animals, we might deem them unimportant. But God has filled this earth with so many diverse creatures that scientists find it far easier to estimate the number of stars in our galaxy than the number of species on our planet. To give you some perspective: while many years ago humans estimated that there were approximately 1 million different species of animals on our planet, many scientists today estimate that the number of unknown insect species alone is about 30 million! (That does not include known insects or other kinds of animals.) If these creatures are of no value, why did God go to the trouble of making them all?
14) A lifestyle of environmental responsibility corresponds well to the Christian virtues of contentment and simplicity of living.
“Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread.” -Proverbs 30:8
15) Most larger animals have acute nervous systems and are very sensitive to pain. While we should prioritize human needs over animal needs, it does not follow that we can treat them however we want. We violate our creational purpose of just dominion when we unnecessarily inflict suffering on animals for greater economic gain. For example, many farm animals such as chickens and cows are kept in cages their entire lives, forced to overeat, genetically altered by being given excessive vitamins, kept alive for long periods of time while suffering terribly, and cruelly killed. Their inferior intelligence often makes these animals totally helpless against human cruelty. Should we not have compassion on animals which are being systematically abused in this way? Think of the un-man torturing frogs in Perelandra!
16) God made provisions for the well-being of animals in the law (e.g., Deuteronomy 22:6-7).
17) The church has a long tradition of respect for God’s creation, as evidenced by a few quotes:
“The little birds are singing of God; the beasts cry unto Him; the elements are in awe of Him; the mountains echo His name; the waves and streams cast their glances at Him; the herbs and flowers praise Him.” -John Calvin
“There is no creature so small and abject, but it reflects the goodness of God.” -Thomas a Kempis
“The initial step for a soul to come to knowledge of God is contemplation of nature.” -Irenaeus
“These creatures minister to our needs every day; without them we could not live; and through them the human race greatly offends the Creator. We fail every day to appreciate so great a blessing by not praising as we should the Creator and Dispenser of all these things.” -Francis of Assisi
“We can gather that all these creatures of the world lead the mind of the contemplative and wise man to the eternal God. For these creatures are shadows, echoes and pictures . . . and vestiges proposed to us and signs given so that we can see God.” -St. Bonaventure
“The heavens declare the glory of God not by speaking in voice audible to the sensible ears, but by manifesting to us through their own greatness, the power of the Creator, and when we remark on their beauty, we give glory to their Maker as the best of all Artificers.” -John of Damascus
“Listen to the sermon preached to you by the flowers, the trees, the shrubs, the sky, and the whole world. Notice how they preach to you a sermon full of love, of praises of God, and how they invite you to glorify the sublimity of that sovereign Artist who has given them being.” -Paul of the Cross
18) Far from hurting the economy, environmental concern can stimulate the economy, when expressed properly. It is disregard for the environment which is actually much more damaging in the long-term. We are creating problems for our grand-children by using up resources so quickly, and we are also bequeathing a less beautiful, more unstable world to them.
19) Proper environmental care leads to greater efficiency in food production and greater accessibility to clean water, two major human needs in many parts of the world. Likewise, poor environmental care will likely reduce long-term food production and access to clean water.
20) If you are still a bit hesitant, watch this series of clips from Planet Earth. Sometimes simply beholding the incredible beauty of God’s creation can help us begin to value it as we should.