The first words in the Bible, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” explain that God created the universe and everything in it (Genesis 1:1). Not only did he create everything, God also gave humans dominion and stewardship over the earth. Genesis 1:28 says, “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Our responsibility for God’s creation often gets worked into Sunday morning sermons and bible studies. It is both reassuring and humbling to think that God would entrust something so vast to our care. Countless worship songs have been written on the matter and endless Christian catch phrases focus on being thankful for the beauty of creation. It is surprising then that conservation has become a controversial issue for many in the church today.
It is both reassuring and humbling to think that God would entrust something so vast [like his creation] to our care.
Some think that conservation is simply green living and is just another word for ‘environmentalism.’ The two are actually a bit different. Environmentalism is a broad term for an entire movement that aims to protect the natural environment from harmful human activity. Conservation is a sort of sub-category to environmentalism and is mainly concerned with ecosystems, vegetation and wildlife—making sure that these areas are protected, preserved and restored. An example of conservation is rallying to prevent laying a giant oil pipe through a wildlife reserve. Christians interpret the idea of conserving the earth in different ways—some think that conserving God’s creation is a part of loving God and loving your neighbor, while others think that spending time worrying about conservation is unnecessary and may even hinder the spread of the gospel.
Respecting God’s Gift of Dominion
For some, respecting God’s creation is viewed as one of the fundamental beliefs of Christianity. It is considered an act of worship, a privilege of God’s children and an honorable responsibility. Most believers would agree that since God took the time to make us individually, with purpose and detail, we should treat God’s other creatures with similar care. Humans, animals and nature are all God’s creations made to work together.
Through conservation we are good stewards of God’s resources. As it says in Genesis 1:28 mentioned earlier, God gave us dominion (also defined as “exercise of control” or “authority”) over creation. By giving this responsibility to the male and the female, God certainly expects us to care for his creation. Note that we aren’t given ownership, only dominion—the way you might borrow a friend’s car and take care to return it in good condition. In Genesis 2:15 it says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” To “keep it” suggests a duty to care for the earth and conserve the natural way God designed it to operate—just like Adam and Eve did in the garden. Creation works together like an orchestra—all the different members play a part in sustaining a beautiful and diverse harmony.
Other Christians disagree with this interpretation and see dominion as God giving humanity all of creation for their own use. The way in which humans use his creation is up to them. For example, if humans need water to drink and water their plants, then worrying about preserving the fish in the pond seems to harm people more than help them. With God giving humans dominion, that means he allows them to make the hard decisions about when and how to use his resources.
Preservation for Future Generations
Psalms 112:1-2 says, “Praise the Lord! Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments! His offspring will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed.” This verse, like many other verses in the Bible, speak of future generations receiving God’s blessing by obeying God’s commandments. There is no doubt in scripture that the way one generation lives affects the next—for example, in 1 and 2 Kings the Israelite Kings’ poor leadership and the citizens’ sin bring about the downfall of their nation. In the same way, Christian conservationists believe that Christians should conserve today’s ecosystems and resources in order to avoid disaster for future generations.
Just as exercise and a balanced diet will produce desirable results in the human body, conservation is something that offers a tangible blessing. One example of conservation affecting future generations is the parameters put on fishing, like requiring licenses and enforcing specific seasons. By making sure that fish do not become extinct, rivers are able to sustain their ecosystem and remain beautiful and vibrant for future generations. Instead of only selfishly thinking of how you want to fish whenever you want, requiring licenses allows future generations to enjoy the river and enjoy a hobby of fishing for years to come. By being a good steward of God’s resources, without reaping all the benefits immediately, Christians can bless future generations.
On the other hand, some Christians believe we will find a solution to avert any disaster or serious situation that might come from neglecting conservation. Technologies like battery-powered vehicles, solar power and other methods of sustainable resources continue to advance and are helping to reverse some of the effects of our past environmental impact. It seems like only a matter of time before someone will create an alternative to the natural resources we’ve always relied on. If this is true, we don’t need to spend so much time worrying about preserving things, because future technology will fix all our problems. However, many still feel we shouldn’t always expect to be able to fix an outcome, but should be proactive to prevent damage to the earth and ourselves in the first place. Since we’re not collecting water from Mars, or iron ore from Neptune, even our filtration systems and alternative energy solutions rely on nature. Though we can create everyday substitutes to displace us from nature, there is no way for humans to create a replacement for God’s creation.
Some think that conserving God’s creation is a part of loving God and loving your neighbor, while others think that spending time worrying about conservation is unnecessary and may even hinder the spread of the gospel.
Christians unconcerned with conservation may argue that since Christ is coming back we do not need to be concerned for future generations. They know that when Christ comes at the end of all things, there will be a new heaven and a new earth. If God is going to make a new earth, why worry about conserving the present one? Also, because Christians hold to the promise that Christ is returning, it’s easy for them to assume that Christ will return before the earth becomes uninhabitable.
Loving Your Neighbor Means Good Health
Jesus said in Luke 10:27 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Many Christians see conservation as an expression of loving your neighbors because the deterioration of ecosystems and natural environments often directly affects the people living in close proximity to those areas. Oil spills can damage the livelihood of generations of fisherman. Production plants who don’t keep in check the toxic chemicals they emit can effect the ozone and allow more harmful ultraviolet rays to seep into the atmosphere. This causes an increased risk of skin cancer, asthma or allergies for those among the nearby communities.
Another reason that some Christians think conservation is loving to one’s neighbor is because caring for the environment could actually help future health discoveries. One example of this is the Amazon rainforest. Some people think that since it is so large, it doesn’t hurt to do logging and other forest clearing for human use. However, because the Amazon is so vast, there are plants and species living there that scientists haven’t even discovered. Already, humans use many plants as natural remedies for sickness, like ginger for a stomach ache. Destroying parts of the Amazon is potentially destroying undiscovered natural remedies and medicines for people.
A lot of Christians who like the idea of conservation initially may disregard it because of radical conservationists. Earlier this year in Sydney, Australia, a group had to be disbanded by riot police over a protest to preserve 80-year-old trees outside of a library. The Bible makes it clear that our actions should be honoring to God. Taking a love for creation to the extreme of rioting quickly becomes dishonoring. Since there are radical individuals, a lot of conservationists get unmerited negative attention. This is similar to the way some people claim to follow Christ but live a life that goes against his examples. Ironically, some Christians find it difficult be a conservationist while separating themselves from protesters or select politicians. Rather than causing problems, Christians concerned with conservation view their care for the environment as a way to serve God and serve their neighbor.
For some Christians, conservation seems like a lack of faith. The Bible teaches that God loves us and will provide. In verses like Romans 8:28-39 and Matthew 19:26 we learn that when we have faith in him, all things are possible. For some, it feels like conservation is a lifestyle that doubts the power of God by assuming that he will not provide more resources. In Acts 14:16-17 Paul preaches about God’s provision, “In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” Other Christians argue that through “dominion” he has already given us all we could ever need and he is trusting us to use what he’s already given wisely. Luke 16:10 says, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” (NIV) If we are to ruin what we’ve already been given, can we be expect to receive more?
It is not that people do not care about the conditions of living environments; instead some feel that we must touch the lives of the people spiritually in those environments first.
In Matthew 28:18-20 it says “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” This is often called the great commission. For some, it is simply not the job of everyone to care for the planet. Some feel we should take responsibility for our own actions but to go any further, like to fight for the health of other communities or ecosystems across the globe is a waste of time. The average person is lucky to make it to their 80th birthday. We have limited time on this earth so we must take the time to live to the fullest for God.
Sharing the gospel is a priority for Christians and for some, to spend time preserving forests, purifying polluted water and planting vegetation seems like it gets in the way of witnessing to people. However, this idea may act more as an excuse than an evangelistic mindset. It is not that people do not care about the conditions of living environments; instead some feel that we must touch the lives of the people spiritually in those environments first. So while they are not actively against conservation, they simply feel evangelism is their top priority. If there is time left over to focus on the environment, then it is okay to work in that area.
Loving God and loving your neighbor does not need to be polarized on one side of the debate or the other. Building a fresh water well, preserving a natural habitat or planting trees to improve air quality can serve a need. These are some great ways to show the love of God to a whole community of people whether it’s for a small village, an urban garden or a suburban neighborhood. In Matthew 25:35-46 the Bible says that when we help others, it is as though we are doing it to God. There are also situations when people do not need or want help with their natural habitat. They are simply hungry for God, and need Jesus first before other work should be done.
For as many people as there are rallying to stop overfishing in an area, there are going to be the same amount or even more that disagree entirely. Some simply feel powerless against the free will of others when there is strong opposition. While not everyone feels defeated before the battle is fought, some simply don’t see a need to get involved or develop an opinion at all. They feel the issues of environmentalism and conservation have nothing to do with their life.
Perhaps a reason there is such apathy towards conservation is that some people are just confused. Conservation is tied to strong opinions and it’s often hard to decipher both sides. Some may dislike the idea just because it seems pointless. Others may dislike it because of what has been associated with it. Some may love everything about it and some may just be tired of hearing about it. No matter the belief, it is clear that the topic of conservation is important. As Christians, even if we’re not sure what we believe on the matter, we should keep our hearts open to see every side of the subject. Our responsibility is to figure out what we believe the Bible teaches and do our best to honor God.