Ecological concerns are an important issue today. We see them highlighted in magazines and newspapers and on our TV screens. How important then is ecology? What should be the Christian response?

The word “ecology” comes from the Greek word “oikos” which means “the house” or “household”. This in ecology refers to the idea that the earth is a household inhabited by a family that includes people, animals, fish, birds, plants, etc. It means that we are so closely inter-related that if any one species is wiped out, it affects the rest of the world.

The modern ecological studies have shown how closely inter-related are the organisms and all other components of the natural world. This has led to the “Gaia Hypothesis” based on the name of Gaia, the Greek goddess Earth. The Gaia Hypothesis was defined by James Lovelock, a scientist at NASA, as “The temperature, oxidation state, acidity and certain aspects of rocks and waters are at any time kept constant, and this homneostrasis is maintained by active feedback processes operated automatically and unconsciously by the biota.”(1987:19). This controversial statement implies that the Earth as a whole is “alive” which Lovelock admits is “at the outer bounds of scientific credibility”(1987:3) but it shows the inter-relationship that God has created. Therefore from a Christian perspective we need to examine this theory as it is gaining credence among ecologists.

Earlier Christians were blamed for the ecological disasters as they misinterpreted the Creation Ordinances of Genesis 1: 28 to “subdue the earth” and instead of caring for it have raped it.

It is important to note this as many Christians still hold these views. John Stott tells a story of the naturalist Gavin Maxwell who brought two lovely otter cubs from Nigeria and kept them in a loch in Scotland. A Minister of the Church of Scotland, walking along the foreshore with a shotgun, found them at play by the tide’s edge and shot them. One was killed outright and the other died of her wounds in the water. When asked what harm they did to him, the minister expressed regret but reminded a journalist “The Lord gave man control over the beasts of the field” (1984:116).
However, more recently ecologists are blaming the Darwinists and Evolutionists, as the theory of evolution is based on the premises of the “survival of the fittest” while ecological studies show the opposite – that even if one small species becomes extinct it affects all of us.

Christian Views to Ecological Concerns.
Christians have usually taken 3 views on Creation and Ecology:

The Man-Centred View:
This states that God created humans to be dominant over the Creation as it is made for mankind to enjoy it. This is based on a misinterpretation of Genesis 1:28 that God commanded humans to “rule over” nature and “subdue” it and so humans can control the earth for their own benefit and overcome nature.

The Futuristic View:
This is based on an understanding of Rev. 21: 1-7 and states that since God is going to make “a new heaven and a new earth” we need not bother about preserving the environment as it is going to be destroyed anyway.

The Stewardship View:
The holders of this view believe that God has called humans to be his Stewards (or managers) of His Creation to care for it for Him. It is part of what it means to be made in the image of God.
Which view do you hold?
I feel one of the problems why most evangelicals are not involved in ecological issues is because they are confused of our future destiny and believe that man’s final destiny is to sit on a cloud and play a harp ― a picture loved by cartoonists. Is that all that our salvation leads to? The Biblical emphasis is on the “Kingdom of God” and reigning with Christ. The “Kingdom of God’ is the main emphasis in the Gospels. The Lord Jesus began His preaching with the statement, “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” He taught us to pray “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.” The theme of the coming of God’s Kingdom was central to his Mission. His teaching was designed to show men how to enter the Kingdom of God . The mission of God is bringing the Kingdom of God on Earth. From Genesis to revelation we see a restoration of what was destroyed at the Fall. Our final destiny is to rule with Him in this Kingdom, not just in the Millennium. After the Millennium and after the White Throne Judgment when the Antichrist, the False Prophet, Satan, Death and Hell are cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 22:14), then the New Heaven and the New Earth will come. New Jerusalem comes down from heaven and we will live there with God and Christ and reign with him. That is humanity’s final destiny!!

As L. T. Jeyachandran succinctly points out:

One of the several reasons for the unbiblical dichotomy is that orthodox evangelical theology of redemption (in Christ) is not anchored in an equally strong theology of creation. Our pragmatic understanding of Biblical revelation unfortunately begins with Genesis 3 (The Fall) and ends with Revelation 20. (The Judgment). We leave out four very important chapters of God’s Word ― Genesis 1, 2 dealing with the present creation and Revelation 21, 22 that describe renewed creation. These are the book-ends that contain the drama of redemption and anchor it in material reality. While we justifiably defend the fact of creation of the material world by God against the onslaught of evolutionists, we abandon our understanding of the material creation at the end of Genesis 2 and speak of the spiritual life without any reference to material reality.
(“Spirituality & Materiality”, engage magazine, July-Sept 2010, 16)
Therefore if we fail to have a holistic understanding of God’s redemption and the Kingdom of God, we cannot really understand God’s ultimate plans for us. Thus we are meant to care for God’s creation which will be partners with us in the new (or renewed) creation.

Causes for Ecological Problems:
The four main causes of ecological problems are:

i. Population Growth: Population has grown rapidly in the last century. In AD 1800 there were only about 1,000 million people on earth. By AD 1900 this had doubled to 2,000 million. However, by 1980 it had again doubled to 4,000 million and by 2000 AD it had crossed 6,000 million. With one fifth of these destitute and in the developing countries it is being anxiously asked whether food can be found for all. The highest populated countries are China and India and it is expected that India will soon pass China in its population. The one billionth child in India was born in 2000.

ii. Resource Depletion: Due to the growth of modern technology there has been a rapid and indiscriminate use of natural resources such as fossil fuels (petroleum products), coal, minerals, potable underground water, etc., that cannot be replaced or recycled. Some people believe that the world supply of oil or fossil fuels will end by 2020 AD. Due to the rising prices by the OPEC every country is drilling for oil in the land and the sea, which is leading to faster depletion of world recourses. This also leads to pollution in different forms.

iii. Runaway Technology: The modern technological revolution has led to extreme greed for fuel and has in fact created the recent energy crisis. It is like a monster that, if it gets out of control, can destroy its creator. This can upset the delicate balance of nature. This leads to problems like pollution of rivers and underground water supplies, acid rain, air pollution, soil pollution, etc.
(Stott, John: “Our Human Environment”: 1984: 109 – 110)

iv. Economic Exploitation: I have added the last to the excellent analysis given by John Stott, as above. The greed of the Developed Nations is one of the major causes for the cutting down of the rain forests, killing of whales and over tapping of natural resources in the Third World to meet the needs and greeds of the so-called “First World”. It has been shown that only one-third of the world uses two-thirds of the World’s resources because they have the money as the developed nations.

The Christian Response:
What then should be the Christian response? Geisler gives the following six points as a Christian basis for Ecology:

i. The World is a Creation of God: Unlike the Pantheists who believe that the World is a permanent emanation or the Evolutionists who believe it started with a Big Bang and emerged out of matter (ex materia), the Christians believe in the temporal creation of the world by God with a beginning (“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” – Gen. 1:1) ex nihilo (out of nothing). This creation of the world by God has two important implications for Christian Ecology: divine ownership and human stewardship.

ii. The World is a Possession of God: “The earth is the LORD’s and everything in it” (Ps. 24:1). God made it and he owns it. God declares in Ps. 50: 10-11, “For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the air, and all that moves in the field is mine.” He tells Job,“Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine” (Job 44: 11).

iii. The World is a Reflection of God: Unlike what the Hindu or the Greek thought, the Bible affirms the essential goodness of material creation, which is not an evil to be rejected but something good to be enjoyed. After every day of creation it is recorded “God saw it was good” (Gen. 1: 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25) and on the final day “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (italics mine) (Gen. 1: 31). Therefore it is not a manifestation of evil but a reflection of the glory of God as Ps 19:1 states,

“The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims His handiwork.” Paul points out, “Ever since the creation of the world His invisible nature, namely, His eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.”

iv. The World is Sustained and Operated by God: The Bible points out that God is not only the originating cause of the world, but he is also the sustaining reason for it. The Psalmist wrote, “Thou makes springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills, they give drink to every beast of the field; the wild asses quench their thirst. By them the birds of the air have their habitation; they sing among the branches. From thy lofty abode thou waters the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of thy work. Thou dost cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth” (Ps. 104: 10-14). In fact Christ is “sustaining all things by His powerful word” (Heb. 1:3) and “in Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities — all things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1: 16-17).

v. The World is under a Covenant with God: When Noah emerged from the Ark after God had destroyed the world by water, God made a covenant with “every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth” (Gen. 9: 12, 16). Since every creature is under a covenant with God, we have an obligation to preserve them and treat animals with respect. Thus we should not only preserve every living thing that God has created but also provide for them and protect them.

vi. Mankind is the Keeper of the Environment: God is the Creator and owner of the world but man is the keeper or manager to care for it on God’s behalf. When God created humans in his image, he commanded them: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Gen. 1:28) and “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it” (Gen. 2: 15). There are therefore 3 basic obligations to our environment in these verses: to multiply and fill it (the obligation of propagation); to subdue it and rule over it (the duty of dominion and care) and to work in it and take care of it (the command to be the keeper). (Adapted from Geisler, Norman L.: “Ecology”: 1989: 302-306).

Our Response:
The question is how can we be involved as individual Christians? I would suggest the following ways:

  • Plant trees in our areas and nurture them. Trees planted by the municipality near our houses

should be watered and protected from cattle till they are big enough. An urban Church Youth

Group that I spoke to on Ecology were encouraged to plant trees near their new church.

  1. Start water harvesting in your home and encourage others in your area.
  2. Use bio-degradable substances and avoid use of plastic bags, etc. This means buying a cloth shopping bag and taking it with you to the market.
  3. Take care of nature and prevent misuse if possible.
  4. Join A Rocha, a Christian agency involved in ecological concerns

May God help us to be good stewards of his Creation.
(For a more detailed treatment of this issue read my booklet God’s World or Ours? published by Centre for Contemporary Christianity, # 47, 10th Cross, Hoysala Nagar, Bangalore 569016 priced at Rs. 30/- )

Dr Peter S. C. Pothan is the Academic Consultant for the Global School of Open Learning, SABC Campus, Bangalore. He lives in Bangalore with his wife and family.

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