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"Today is 'Earth Day,' began Mr. Green the social studies teacher, "so class today will be devoted to discussing its meaning, the reason for the Day, and what we can do about the environment. Who wants to start the discussion? Who has a comment?"
Benedict had read much of what scientists and politicians have written about the current and forecasted ecological problems. So, he immediately raised his hand and began waving it in an effort to get Mr. Green's attention. Happy to see someone wanting to say something, Mr. Green called on him saying, "Yes, what do you want to say?"
Speaking in an assertive, confident voice, Benedict said, "Christianity is responsible for our environmental and ecological crisis. Christianity teaches that man has the right to plunder the earth for his selfish interests. If the earth is going to remain a place where life can exist, we humans must renounce the Christian religion."
"You're right, Benedict, that some authorities blame Christianity for our current environmental problems," said Mr. Green matter-of-factly. Does anyone have a response to Benedict's claim? Are there any Christians here who care to refute Benedict?"
Is Benedict right concerning Christianity's teaching? Some have asserted that we must return to pre-Christian religions which venerated nature. If you were in Mr. Green's classroom that day, could you give an answer regarding what the Bible teaches about man's relationship to all the earth? This study guide is designed to help you understand what is God's instruction to man about the care of the earth and his place in it.
In the Beginning
When Jesus was asked a difficult question about laws regarding marriage and divorce, He answered by referring back to the beginning -- to when God created Adam and Eve -- to ascertain God's original intent. The apostle Paul did the same regarding the roles of men and women in the Church of God. So, let's go back to God's original instruction to the first man and woman about their relationship to the earth's environment.
GENESIS 2:15: "Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it."
1. What does "tend" mean?
2. Explain what "keep" means.
3. Do you think this verse gives man the right to pollute his environment or to plunder the earth? Why or why not?
People like Benedict would probably point to Genesis 1:28 as evidence that Christianity is to blame for the pollution of the planet.
GENESIS 1:28: "Then God blessed them [Adam and Eve], and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'"
4. What does the command to "subdue" the earth mean? Remember that God had just called His creation "very good" (Gen. 1:31), and that God is not the Author of discord. So, in this context, what could "subdue" mean? Does this command imply that God did not intend for the earth to remain in its "natural" state? If God did not so intend, does this conflict with your understanding of environmentalism?
COMMENT: God planted a garden (which included trees) in Eden and told Adam to work it and preserve it. Should humans have followed their Creator's example and planted gardens as the human population grew and spread over the earth?
5. To whom does the earth belong? Read Psalm 24:1 and answer.
6. If God retains ownership, what does it mean that mankind has "dominion" over the earthly creation? Explain the concept of "stewardship." Read Christ's parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-28 for a clearer understanding of what a good steward is. How does a faithful steward utilize the goods entrusted to him? Does he leave them undeveloped?
COMMENT: Man was given a special role in nature that no other being has. Mankind's position in nature is ordained by God, and God fitted humans for that position by creating people in His own image with superior capabilities, intelligence, and an aesthetic sense. Because of his position of dominance, man is responsible to God for how he rules.
7. People have an aesthetic sense. How do the things God has created affect that sense? Consider Hosea 14:6 and Matthew 6:28-29. God put Adam and Eve in a garden. What affect does being in a botanical garden have on you?
COMMENT: There are many similes and metaphors relating to beauty from God's earthly creation in the Song of Solomon. What a loss to humanity if we besmirch or destroy that which is sublime and beautiful in the earth! Furthermore, businesses have known for a long time that one's environment affects worker productivity and morale. Many Fortune 500 companies now have interior landscaping because they found attractive floral arrangements make for employee contentment and higher productivity (http://www.corporategreen.com/html/think_green.html).
Source for Environmental Ethics
COLOSSIANS 1:16: "For by Him [Jesus Christ] all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him."
1. What does this verse teach concerning whether the earth was made for mankind? Should we look at the earth and its resources from a human-centered or God-centered point of view?
2. If the earth and all that is in it -- including mankind -- was made by God and for God, and if He retains ownership, then where should we look for the values and ethics to properly manage the earth: people, animals, "nature," or God?
3. How does mankind's sins affect nature? Read Hosea 4:1-3 before answering. Contrast with descriptions of the earth during Christ's millennial rule (as in, for example, Isaiah 35). What do you conclude about humanity solving environmental problems while transgressing God's law?
Principles for Environmental Management
LEVITICUS 25:2-4: "'…When you come into the land which I give you, then the land shall keep a sabbath to the LORD. Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather its fruit; but in the seventh year 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.'"
1. What benefit is there to agricultural land resting? Does this verse imply man can ruin the land? Does this verse imply man should be concerned about sustaining the land? Can you think of any other implications for land management that this verse makes?
2. Why do you think people would not obey this command?
DEUTERONOMY 23:12-14: "'Also you shall have a place outside the camp, where you may go out; and you shall have an implement among your equipment, and when you sit down outside, you shall dig with it and turn and cover your refuse.'"
3. God tells us to bury our wastes away from homes. How would this apply to production of toxic industrial waste? Would it be wise to build homes downwind of smokestacks emitting poisonous gases? Would God's law permit passing harmful liquid wastes into lakes and rivers?
EXODUS 35:2-3: "Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh day shall be a holy day for you, a Sabbath of rest to the LORD. Whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. You shall kindle no fire throughout your dwellings on the Sabbath day."
4. How would universal obedience to this command improve the environment?
COMMENT: From the context, the kindling of fire has to do with one's occupation, that is, industrial fires. Burning is one of the major sources of air pollution. In Tokyo, Japan in 1970, automobiles were not allowed in certain parts of the city one day a week as an experiment. Carbon monoxide (an air pollutant) was significantly reduced. ("Tokyo Curbs the Car, Beats the Smog," Washington Post, Aug. 3, 1970, p. A1.)
5. Read Joshua 17:14-15. May man clear land to live on or should he learn to live with the way he finds the land?
COMMENT: A principle we can derive from Deuteronomy 22:8 as well as 1 Corinthians 8 is that we need to take responsibility not only for our actions, but also for the effect those actions have on others. We need to consider what effect our activity has on the earth in order that we can fulfill God's command to "keep" the earth. David Attenborough said, "It is a mistake to believe conservation is the opposite of development. That is a wildly simplified and misleading generalization. The fact is that unless we conserve, there is going to be nothing to develop." (A quote from "Night on the Living Stream" which was produced for The Living World exhibits at the St. Louis Zoo.)
6. What does Deuteronomy 20:19-20 teach concerning wanton tree destruction?
Mankind and Animals
PSALM 104:10-13: "He sends the springs into the valleys; They flow among the hills. They give drink to every beast of the field; The wild donkeys quench their thirst. By them the birds of the heavens have their home…. He waters the hills from His upper chambers; The earth is satisfied with the fruit of Your works."
1. Do you think God values all His creation or only humanity? Why do you think so? Is there value to the creation independent of its usefulness to mankind?
2. What job did God give Noah to do? With whom did God make a covenant in Genesis 9:12-15?
PSALM 8:6-8: "You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, All sheep and oxen-- Even the beasts of the field, The birds of the air, And the fish of the sea That pass through the paths of the seas."
3. Was man put in a position of preeminence?
4. According to Jesus Christ, are humans of greater worth than animals? Read Matthew 12:11-12 and Luke 12:6-7.
COMMENT: God ordained animal sacrifices.
5. What attitude are we to have toward animals? What do the following scriptures teach: Exodus 20:10, Deuteronomy 22:4, 10, Proverbs 12:10, and Romans 1:25?
6. Read Deuteronomy 7:22. Would God approve of the elimination of wild animals on land near people's homes and fields?
7. What conditions does God put on hunting animals? Read Deuteronomy 22:6-7 before answering. Is hunting animals to extinction a transgression of God's law?
8. Other than for food, work, and pets, what value do animals provide mankind? Consider Job 12:7-9, Proverbs 6:6 and 30:24-28, and then answer.
COMMENT: John Michael Beers mentions (in his article "Have Dominion Over All These," Religion and Liberty, vol. 7, no. 2, March and April 1997) an apparent success story in environmental stewardship. The International Paper Company has specialists in wildlife preservation overseeing development of its forests. Their forest management has provided a better environment for animals such as deer, turkeys, rabbits, and quail than unmanaged forest.
As long as Satan is the god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4), true Christianity will be counter-culture. This principle applies to man's relation to his earthly environment. The challenge for man as stewards of God's earthly creation is to develop and use the earth's resources for mankind's benefit while maintaining a livable planet for all life. This requires knowledge of God's law and a humble, prayerful seeking of God's mind and Spirit, not a pantheistic adoration of the creation.
1. Who should determine what is ethical and unethical treatment of the environment?
2. Does God approve of an attitude of indifference to how human activity affects His creation? Upon what do you base your answer?
3. Describe a Christian's approach to the environment and how it differs from those who virtually worship the environment and from those who disregard it altogether.