Every once in a while I take a jab at environmentalists. When I do, is the extremists that I have in my sights, not those who conscientiously try to care for the wonderful planet that God gave us for this material phase of our existence. Since environmentalism means different things to different people, it would be good to explore the subject further and differentiate the secular from the spiritual.
There is a broad spectrum of concern for the environment. Here are a few shades listed with increasing intensity:
The casual environmentalist doesn’t throw his plastic bottle out of his car window because he doesn’t want to trash the roadways. He recycles his garbage perhaps out of subtle social pressure. He’s not that concerned about his personal impact on the planet but will clean up after himself if it is convenient.
The dedicated environmentalist takes his “carbon footprint” seriously. He may drive a fuel-efficient car, install solar panels, oppose nuclear power plants, etc. He may protest the processing of animals for food or use in pharmaceutical testing.
The secular environmentalist does not believe in a Creator; rather, he is pragmatic. He thinks, “This planet is the only place we have to live; it has finite resources. We must protect it at all costs.” This person can be quite vociferous and partisan in his opposition to others.
The environmental extremist takes his zealotry to the next level. He may equate the value of animals with people (or even elevate them over humans). This is the PETA extremist who hollers, “Murder!” when an animal is killed, who protests the zoo because animals have a “right” to be free, who spray paints someone’s fur coat because they object to using animals to clothe the human body, who harasses fishing or whaling vessels to interfere with their activities.
The political environmentalist bases his entire worldview on the physical planet. I was first introduced to the “Green Party” almost 30 years ago while living in England. I was fascinated by a party which could creatively tie any and all political issues to something environmental. I am in favor of reasonable efforts to keep the planet clean; I wouldn’t want to breathe the air in Beijing or Mexico City. But I am wary of an environmental fascism that seeks to dictate the lives of others by arbitrary standards designed only to advance a political agenda.
Not everyone with environmental concerns fall into one of the above categories; I am only trying to differentiate various grades of concern for planet Earth and the differing origins of their values.
But what moral and/or spiritual emphasis is placed on care for the environment in Scripture? Very little, as far as I can tell. We might extrapolate to some degree respect for the planet because it is the creation of God, but we must be careful how far we take that concept. It is easy for one’s “concern” to become a mandate where God has not spoken.
God limited the use of fruit-bearing trees for siege warfare (Dt 20:20), but that seems a more pragmatic issue of food availability than respect for God’s creation. Animals were also to be relieved of their burdens on the Sabbath (Dt 5:14), but that appears to ensure that their human handlers are not working. Jews were to rescue their neighbor’s ox or donkey that had fallen (Dt 22:4), but this has less to do with the animal and more to do with neighborly relations.
Every seventh year and the year of Jubilee “there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the Lord. You shall neither sow your field nor prune your vineyard” (Lev 25:4; cf. 25:1-22). Again, this is more of a practical issue of not over-farming the land and possibly a renewal of faith in God as the ultimate provider.
God gave us a planet filled with renewable natural resources that are to be used for our benefit. In Scripture trees were for food, fire and to build houses, furniture, carts and other helpful implements (yokes, hoes, mallets, fencing, etc.). Wells tapped underground springs that provided drinking water in addition to the rainfall which nourished the fields. Animals were for food, work and transportation. Crops provide nutrients that keep us healthy and alive. The atmosphere is a perfect blend of gases that enable the life process to exist. We are only beginning to learn how complex oceans are in maintaining planetary balance.
We should stand in awe of nature because of what it says about God’s phenomenal care and provision for mankind (compare to the secularists’ hoohah over the landing of yet another Mars rover – more pictures of lifeless rocks and dirt). We should revel in the aesthetic beauty of mountains, forests, deserts, rivers, lakes, oceans, storms, snow, ice, glaciers, coral reefs, etc. God has created a masterpiece environment for successive generations of humans.
But let us take care that we do not deify the creation. Such is a pagan error and robs God of the glory and wonder He deserves as the Creator (Rom 1:20-23). And Christians must also take care not to become contentious when others deviate from their definition of “environmentalism.” To modify Paul’s observation: “The kingdom of God is not food and drink and recycling, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
While we should act responsibly (however defined) toward this wonderful world, it is also true that it will stand as long as God determines it has a place in His purposes. While we should not recklessly trash our beautiful home or mindlessly squander its necessary resources, neither should we fear the doomsday predictions of radical environmentalists. The God who created the universe out of nothing has no problem dealing with wandering planetary bodies or mismanaged resources. He reserves the right to bring the world to an end on His own terms (2 Pet 3:7-12).
My disdain for godless, radical environmentalists is manifested in oft-sarcastic criticism. For when men turn away from God, it is not ultimately the physical planet that suffers but the inhabitants who fall victim to a fascist mentality. When mankind is made to suffer because of extremist concern for the environment, we have gotten things terribly backward.