“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 Genesis 1:28And God blessed them, and God said to them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.
American King James Version×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” (Genesis 1:31 Genesis 1:31And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
American King James Version×), 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?
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 Matthew 25:14-28 14 For the kingdom of heaven is as a man traveling into a far country, who called his own servants, and delivered to them his goods.
15 And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one; to every man according to his several ability; and straightway took his journey.
16 Then he that had received the five talents went and traded with the same, and made them other five talents.
17 And likewise he that had received two, he also gained other two.
18 But he that had received one went and dig in the earth, and hid his lord’s money.
19 After a long time the lord of those servants comes, and reckons with them.
20 And so he that had received five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, you delivered to me five talents: behold, I have gained beside them five talents more.
21 His lord said to him, Well done, you good and faithful servant: you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things: enter you into the joy of your lord.
22 He also that had received two talents came and said, Lord, you delivered to me two talents: behold, I have gained two other talents beside them.
23 His lord said to him, Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things: enter you into the joy of your lord.
24 Then he which had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew you that you are an hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not strewed:
25 And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the earth: see, there you have that is yours.
26 His lord answered and said to him, You wicked and slothful servant, you knew that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I have not strewed:
27 You ought therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I should have received my own with usury.
28 Take therefore the talent from him, and give it to him which has ten talents.
American King James Version×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 Hosea 14:6His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon.
American King James Version×and Matthew 6:28-29 Matthew 6:28-29 28 And why take you thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: 29 And yet I say to you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
American King James Version×. 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 Hosea 4:1-3 1 Hear the word of the LORD, you children of Israel: for the LORD has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land, because there is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land.
2 By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, and blood touches blood.
3 Therefore shall the land mourn, and every one that dwells therein shall languish, with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven; yes, the fishes of the sea also shall be taken away.
American King James Version×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 Joshua 17:14-15 14 And the children of Joseph spoke to Joshua, saying, Why have you given me but one lot and one portion to inherit, seeing I am a great people, for as much as the LORD has blessed me till now?
15 And Joshua answered them, If you be a great people, then get you up to the wood country, and cut down for yourself there in the land of the Perizzites and of the giants, if mount Ephraim be too narrow for you.
American King James Version×. 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 Deuteronomy 22:8When you build a new house, then you shall make a battlement for your roof, that you bring not blood on your house, if any man fall from there.
American King James Version×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 Deuteronomy 20:19-20 19 When you shall besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it, you shall not destroy the trees thereof by forcing an ax against them: for you may eat of them, and you shall not cut them down (for the tree of the field is man’s life) to employ them in the siege:
20 Only the trees which you know that they be not trees for meat, you shall destroy and cut them down; and you shall build bulwarks against the city that makes war with you, until it be subdued.
American King James Version×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 Genesis 9:12-15 12 And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations:
13 I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth.
14 And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud:
15 And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh.
American King James Version×?
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 Matthew 12:11-12 11 And he said to them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out?
12 How much then is a man better than a sheep? Why it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days.
American King James Version×and Luke 12:6-7 Luke 12:6-7 6 Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? 7 But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: you are of more value than many sparrows.
American King James Version×.
COMMENT: God ordained animal sacrifices.
5. What attitude are we to have toward animals? What do the following scriptures teach: Exodus 20:10 Exodus 20:10But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD your God: in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates:
American King James Version×, Deuteronomy 22:4 Deuteronomy 22:4You shall not see your brother’s ass or his ox fall down by the way, and hide yourself from them: you shall surely help him to lift them up again.
American King James Version×, 10, Proverbs 12:10 Proverbs 12:10A righteous man regards the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.
American King James Version×, and Romans 1:25 Romans 1:25Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
American King James Version×?
6. Read Deuteronomy 7:22 Deuteronomy 7:22And the LORD your God will put out those nations before you by little and little: you may not consume them at once, lest the beasts of the field increase on you.
American King James Version×. 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 Deuteronomy 22:6-7 6 If a bird’s nest chance to be before you in the way in any tree, or on the ground, whether they be young ones, or eggs, and the dam sitting on the young, or on the eggs, you shall not take the dam with the young:
7 But you shall in any wise let the dam go, and take the young to you; that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days.
American King James Version×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 Job 12:7-9 7 But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach you; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell you:
8 Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach you: and the fishes of the sea shall declare to you.
9 Who knows not in all these that the hand of the LORD has worked this?
American King James Version×, Proverbs 6:6 Proverbs 6:6Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise:
American King James Version×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 2 Corinthians 4:4In whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine to them.
American King James Version×), 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.