Environmentalism- Facilitator's Guide
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This Facilitator’s Guide is intended to assist the facilitator in leading the discussion of a group on the following topic. It is not meant to give an exhaustive review of the question, but rather give pointers from the Bible. To that end we have inserted a few comments and Bible verses that are relevant to the discussion – this may help get the discussion started. For a more comprehensive study of this topic see the related online resources at the end of this guide.
"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?
· Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary defines “tend” as "to listen, to pay attention, and to apply oneself as a servant or a manager of operations."
· Genesis 2:15 infers that mankind's role is that of a bondsman or servant when it comes to caring for the earth.
2. Explain what "keep" means.
· Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary defines “keep” as "to take notice of by appropriate conduct, to fulfill, and to faithfully watch over and defend."
· In Exodus 19:5 – in this verse, God tells the Israelites that He wants them to carefully watch, protect, and preserve His covenant with them. Likewise, the instruction in Genesis 2:15 is to protect and preserve God's creation because it is special and created by God.
· The word "keep" in Genesis 2:15 infers that another role of mankind is that of faithful protector or watchman of God's creation. When the meanings of "tend" and "keep" are combined in the context of Genesis 2:15, it should be noted that when God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, he wanted mankind to manage and care for His creation, as well as watch over and protect it.
· This instruction from God was not self-serving or solely for the sake of His creation. Rather, He understood that mankind would benefit from tending and keeping the Garden of Eden and the earth. Note Proverbs 27:18: "Whoever keeps the fig tree shall eat its fruit; so he who waits on his master shall be honored." (MKJV)
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.'"
· Genesis 1:28 contains absolutely no language that instructs mankind to pollute or plunder the earth. What is contained in this verse is a command for mankind to fill (or replenish, KJV) the earth, along with an explanation of the resources God has provided to sustain mankind.
· It could be argued that the instruction for mankind to multiply and use the earth's resources found in Genesis 1:28 is going to be carried out by most of humanity, regardless of adherence to Christianity or any religion at all. Therefore, it is incorrect to blame acts of pollution and plundering on Christianity, especially in light of the true meaning of Genesis 1:28.
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?
· In this context, the word subdue would mean "bring into subjection" or "bring into bondage." When this designation is combined with the appointment of mankind as the caretaker of earth in Genesis 2:15, a reciprocal relationship is created.
· Did God intend for the earth to remain in its "natural" state? God created the plant kingdom to be able to grow and produce. Without the human and animal element included in Genesis, the earth would eventually become filled with plant life. This, however, was not God's desire. He commanded man to fill the earth.
· Should humans have followed God's example and planted gardens as they spread over the earth? The Creator God provided an excellent learning situation in The Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were shown that the earth could sustain their physical needs if they cared for it. Even after their sin of disobeying God, Adam and Eve were told in Genesis 3:17-19 that the earth would still support them, but with more toil and pain. As mankind did spread across the earth, gardening and hunting had to follow for survival.
5. To whom does the earth belong? Read Psalm 24:1 and answer.
· Psalm 24:1 – "The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him."
· Job 1:21, Job states that we enter and leave life with nothing. Everything else is from God.
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.
· We are not owners, but managers of the earth. The parable in Matthew 25 deals with how well we manage what we are given by God. A good manager will invest, cultivate, grow, or expand with what he or she is given (without being wasteful or destructive). A manager who is hired and does not produce is considered lazy (see Proverbs 10:4).
· What does 'aesthetic’ mean?
· Man was given a special role to be able to cultivate using the resources from the earth. Even so, God has built into his animal creation the instinct to construct homes and feed themselves using the earth's resources.
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).
· A close look at God's creation can create a sense of awe, from the molecular level to the cosmic level. A complexity in design can be quickly realized. People have different aesthetic tastes, but they generally include an enjoyment of some form of nature.
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?
· This verse demonstrates a God-centered approach. Mankind did not and cannot create all that is in heaven and on earth. An individual may adopt a human-centered approach, but the rest of the universe is not human-centered.
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?
· The entirety of people, animals, and nature is temporary. Even the earth itself is temporary and will pass (Rev 21:1- "...And I saw a new heaven and a new earth. For the first heaven and the first earth had passed away..."). The only constant is the Creator God. We should look to Him for the values and ethics to properly manage the earth.
· Also, there is no possible way to receive advice from the earth or animals, which cannot communicate with us. Some humans will claim to be able to present thoughts from these entities, but they are only presenting their own humanistic ideas.
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?
· At some point, mankind's sins can be so severe that nature is affected. The first way is a direct intervention from God, such as is found in Hosea 4:1-3. The people of the land of Israel had turned their back on God. As a result, the land and sea were cursed.
· We see this will happen in the future, even in Christ's millennial reign:
· Zechariah 14:17 And it shall be, whoever will not come up from all the families of the earth to Jerusalem to worship the King, Lord of Hosts, even on them shall be no rain.
· A second way mankind's sins can affect nature is simply the physical results of not caring for the earth. This can include severe over-hunting, over fishing or pollution. This can also create the same results found in Hosea 4.
· Whether an adverse effect on nature is caused by natural results of sin or divine intervention can only be known by God. It is up to us to avoid the sins that may create the adverse effect from either.
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?
· The answer comes in verses 6 and 7: "And the Sabbath of the land shall be food for you, for you and for your servant, and for your slave woman and for your hired servant, and for your stranger who stays with you, and for your cattle, and for the beast that is in your land, shall all the increase of it be for food."
· These verses describe an "if, then" relationship. If mankind follows God's command to observe a sabbath land rest, then mankind will be blessed with an increase of food. There are no specific penalties provided for what happens if this command is not obeyed. However, modern research has supported the idea of land resting, and has demonstrated that most soil that is not rested becomes nutrient-deficient and requires artificial methods of fertilizing.
2. Why do you think people would not obey this command?
· If a farmer views land as his or her property, rather than belonging to God, a short-term approach of greed may be adopted. The farmer wants to get as much out of the land as soon as possible, rather than considering the sustainability of the land.
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?
· Toxic industrial waste can certainly be more harmful than human wastes in some cases. Therefore, it would be unwise to release these wastes where they would end up where an individual lives. If the wastes are knowingly released where it would only harm others, that would violate God's command to "love your neighbor as yourself." (Matt 22:39)
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.)
· Observance of this command would likely bring many benefits we cannot even imagine, both physical and spiritual. This example of the experiment in Tokyo demonstrated that even a partial observance of resting from work for a small part of a city for one day brought tangible results.
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.)
· There is no command in the Bible from God not to responsibly clear land for habitation. In Joshua 17, Joshua commands the crowded children of Israel to clear land to be able to spread out. This was not a command to destroy nature for destruction's sake.
6. What does Deuteronomy 20:19-20 teach concerning wanton tree destruction?
· Even when the children of Israel were attacking an enemy in a foreign land, they were to follow certain commands concerning how they would treat the earth. These verses present an idea that while the children of Israel may be in the country of an enemy, the land there has done nothing wrong. The battle will eventually pass, and afterward there needs to be a habitable environment.
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?
· Genesis 1:20-25 shows that God dedicated two days for the creation of sea and land animals. The sea creatures, winged birds, livestock, reptiles, and wild animals were commanded to be fruitful and multiply across the earth and seas. God blessed the animals and saw that all that He created was good.
· Genesis 1: 20-25: And God said, "Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky." So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth." And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day. And God said, "Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind." And it was so."God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good."
· God saw that His animal creations were good, and reflected the great deal of thought He put into making them.
2. What job did God give Noah to do? With whom did God make a covenant in Genesis 9:12-15?
· God found wickedness on the earth and the Lord was grieved that He had made man.
· Genesis 6:5-6 "The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain."
· The Lord found righteousness in Noah's generation and so God commanded Noah to build an ark to withstand the flood waters that were to come upon the earth. Noah and his family built an ark and collected two of every clean and unclean bird, animal, and creatures that move along the ground to be housed in the ark.
· After the flood God made a covenant between man, as well as every living creature on the earth.
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?
· God has a plan for mankind to be heirs with Jesus Christ when the Kingdom of God is established. Read Romans 8:17. God has created man in the image of Himself. None of the creatures on earth was created in the image of God. Man alone has cognitive capabilities that allow him to build character in order for him to grow in the knowledge and truth of God. No animals are able to receive the Holy Spirit and receive sonship at Christ's return.
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.
God has created man to rule over the earth and all the creatures upon it. God states in Matthew 12 and Luke 12 that man is worth more than sheep or sparrows.
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?
· We should treat animals with respect because they are created by God.
· Exodus 20:10 states that all members of the household, servants, and animals should rest on the Sabbath.
· Deuteronomy 22:4 tells us that we should help an animal if they are in pain or injured.
· Proverbs 12:10 says, "A righteous man regards the life of his animal, But the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel." A wicked man who is quick to anger will likely be unmerciful to his animal, just as he is to his fellow man.
· Romans 1:25 shows us that we should not put anything above God, including the animals He created. The worship of animals described in this verse is by extension a violation of the second commandment.
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?
· This verse demonstrates in a small way that animals need to be left with the ability to sustain life. Hunting an animal species to the point of extinction, or where others could easily cause extinction would not be in harmony with the principle exhibited in this passage.
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.
· The animals in God's creation can provide us with inspiration and reveal His supreme intelligence. In Romans 1:20, we read "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse..."
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?
· We should seek the advice of our Creator who placed us in a position to subdue and care for His creation. Man-made governments will bend and twist ethics for self-serving purposes such as economic, military, and political dominance. Without a God-centered approach to determining how to treat our earthly environment, we can have good intentions, yet fall short because we are not following His principles. We must remember the admonition given in Jeremiah 17:9- "The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?" We must seek God's will and not our own.
2. Does God approve of an attitude of indifference to how human activity affects His creation? Upon what do you base your answer?
· Jesus Christ provided an excellent example when he was on earth almost 2000 years ago, soon before He faced death. As He stood outside of Jerusalem in Luke 19, He wept over the stubbornness and sin of the city, and the suffering it would go through as a result.
· Today, we see that the mistreatment of God's creation, and mankind ignoring much of our Creator's laws and eternal principles. This disregard for God's way will bring even more suffering to mankind in the future. We should share the grief Jesus felt as He stood outside Jerusalem.
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.
· The care and concern for God's creation should be part of a larger effort to follow our elder Brother, Jesus Christ, rather than a religion in itself. If care for the environment consumes our thoughts and priorities above all else and becomes the center of our life, we then violate the first commandment to put no other gods before God.
· We are provided many principles from God's Word:
· Care for and manage the earth. Do not diminish the earth's sustainability.
· Do not release wastes that will harm people where they dwell.
· Treat animals with care - do not hunt to extinction.
· Observe God's Sabbath in relation to farming the land, industrial production, and resting our work animals.
These are wonderful principles that the entire earth would benefit from if observed.