What does the Bible teach about ecology and conservation? The starting point is that God created the world. Knowing God should make us feel specially close to and appreciative of nature. To know the artist is to appreciate the work of art more deeply. The old hymn (which may be regarded as rather sentimental by many modern Christians) nevertheless sums up this idea:
“Heaven above is softer blue,
Earth around is sweeter green;
Something lives in ev’ry hue
Christless eyes have never seen;
Birds with gladder songs o’erflow,
Flow’rs with deeper beauties shine,
Since I know, as now I know,
I am his and he is mine.”
Man was created to rule or to have dominion over creation. But as with all human rule, delegated by God, it does not mean domination and exploitation.
We need to understand that many conservationists are very critical of the failure of Christianity in this area. For example, Jonathon Porritt, wrote, ‘It is precisely the confusion between “dominion” and “domination” that has provided Christianity with a licence for participating, often with uncommon enthusiasm, in the wholesale exploitation of the Earth, eliminating a sense of reverence for God’s creation …’
The Bible clearly intended us to care for creation. Man was set in the garden of Eden ‘to work it and take care of it’. We are stewards, not owners, of creation. Hence we should treat it with reverence as God’s possession entrusted to our care. For example, the law ordained that every seventh year was a sabbatical year when the land must be allowed to lie fallow and recover from the years of use.
Furthermore, God originally placed man in a beautiful parkland. ‘Eden’ means ‘delight’ or ‘bliss’. This shows God intended us to appreciate the beauty of creation. Man is not made for an ugly environment, yet many people in the world, not least in inner cities, are deprived of such beauty around them.
The dignity which God invested in creation is well illustrated in his Covenant made after the Flood. It was not just made with Noah and his descendants, but with every living creature… on earth, in fact, with ‘all life on earth’ (Genesis 9 vs 8-17). Such is the importance of nature to God that he made a covenant with it. Every time we see the rainbow we should be reminded of that.
But things were spoilt through the Fall of Man. Instead of fulfilling work tending a beautiful garden or park, man now had to be involved in ‘painful toil’ to work the garden which was cursed with thorns and thistles.
So through sin, man’s relationship with God, with his fellow humans and with nature was spoilt. Redeemed mankind ought, therefore, to be exemplary in relating to nature. Christians ought to be conservationists.
Paul tells us that the whole creation is subjected to frustration and is groaning as it waits for liberation from bondage and decay. This will happen when the ultimate experience of human redemption takes place: when Christ appears. (Romans 8 vs 18-25).
In the end creation is so important that the cosmic catastrophe of the end times (2 Peter 3 vs 10-12) will lead to the transformation of nature (Romans 8 vs 19-21). There will be a new heaven and a new earth (2 Peter 3 v 13; Revelation 21 v 1).
The beauties of this earth will not be exchanged for some purely ‘spiritual’ existence for the saints. We shall enjoy a transformed and renewed creation.
All of this biblical teaching shows we Christians should be in the forefront of the Green Revolution. This is primarily because it is God’s world which he invests with great dignity. And he calls us to care for it with reverence. Biblical Christianity is Green.
© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction