Science in Christian Perspective
Christian-It's Your Environment Too
D. WAYNE LINN
Department of Biology
Southern Oregon College
Ashland, Oregon 97520
From: JASA 25 (March 1973): 13-16.
How should the Christian and the Christian community relate to the current and impending environmental crisis and the environmental movement? Scripturally, three points of emphasis should guide each of us in answering that question.
1. The disrespect for and degradation of the environment is a direct manifestation of man's sin, man's rejection of or separation from God; which creates disharmony with God, hence disharmony with nature (our environment) a product of God (Psalms 24:1 and Genesis 3).
2. Man is commanded by God to have dominion over and be a responsible steward of God's creation, which, of course, must include the presence and functioning of both living and nonliving components of nature (our environment) (Genesis 1:1, 29, 30, 28b, 31a and 2:15).
3. In the New Testament we are told that our bodies are the Temples of God (I Corinthians 3.16, 17); hence we must protect and take care of that possession of God. Many scriptures command us not to subject ourselves to moral pollution and the danger of certain other harmful things entering our bodies (Temples of God). We should be equally concerned about what the body enters, moves, and lives in; hence we need to! maintain a quality external environment, as well as a quality internal environment, if we are to "present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God" (Romans 12:1). Since these scriptural admonishments, plus many others, compel the Christian to get involved in the battle for a quality environment, several suggestions of action are given. As evangelical Christians and concerned citizens of society, we cannot ignore this social issue, in which God even promises rewards, if we do our part (II Chronicles 7:14).
Why Get Involved?
Why should a Christian get involved in the current crusade for a quality environment? Is there a Christian perspective on the environmental crisis? Can we apply a Christian-based purpose or purposes to our participation in the environmental movement, in addition to the well-founded reasons established by other influential elements of our society? As Christians, are we obligated, for some reason or reasons, in addition to being well-informed, concerned citizens of society, to get on the environmental bandwagon? Is there any unique reason or reasons that would compel the Christian and Christian community to participate actively in this issue of common concern? Or can we justifiably get involved or ignore the movement according to our own personal dictates rather than because we are Christians? All of these questions say the same thing, only in different ways. How should the Christian and Christian community relate to the environmental movement?
We all recognize that it is abundantly predicted in Scripture (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21, Ezekiel 36-39, Daniel 11 and 12 and the book of Revelation, among others) that there will be an end time, an end of the age as suggested in, among many others, Matt. 28:20l, II Tim. 3:1, Matt. 13:40, and II Peter 3:7. According to Scripture then, the eventual destruction of the world and man is inevitable. Certainly some of the environmental events of today make the seemingly symbolic language of eschatology (doctrine of end times) appear almost realistic now. Consequently we could easily view the increasingly accelerated deterioration of the environment as part of the process of end times. Therefore, why worry or fight it? Such an attitude of indifference ("so what", "I told you so") should not characterize Christians at this critical moment in history, when all others cry out for clear-cut guidelines and goals. If our witness for Christ and His claims is to be effective, we had better get into the environmental fight or else we'll justifiably earn a stigma for our generation of Christians that condemns us for deliberate inactivity and indifference toward a serious social need that involves all human beings through the quality of the environment in which we live and have our being. In the long run, according to God's time table, our efforts may not save the existing world, but we can still save souls for an eternity, which is supposed to be our primary responsibility as confessing Christians (Matt. 28:19, 20, Acts 1:8).
Secondly, we must avoid being sensitive and defensive about Genesis 1:26-28. Because individuals in the non-Christian world, which comprises over three billion people, chose to appropriate these verses, construe the translation or interpretation of them to meet their purposes, and then apply them to the total worldwide environmental situation does not mean that the entire cause of the crisis need be blamed on our Judeo-Christian heritage. In modern jargon, such an approach is a copout by those who haven't guts enough to recognize and admit their part in a worldwide problem, not necessarily confined to the erroneously labelled Christian nations of the western world. Cod deals with and saves individuals, not nations. Of course, we recognize the basic cause of the crisis can be explained with the uniquely Christian concept of sin, but the crisis has developed because we have failed as Christians and not because Christianity has succeeded, as charged by many writers. We have failed to evangelize the world as commanded, hence the majority of people are out of harmony with God, which contributes to disharmony with nature, and the environment is abused a result.
Scriptural Basis for Involvement
Why should you get involved? There are several Scripturally based reasons why you should, both as a responsible citizen living in this world and as a Christian preparing for a better world. This paper touches briefly upon only two of the main underlying thoughts that recurred throughout the 1971 ASA Convention, "Man and the Environment," and then emphasizes a scriptural directive that uniquely should compel us as Christians to speak out and work for a quality environment. We hear enough about the seriousness of our current environmental situation and the dire portent of things to come, much of which is true and well documented, though we may question the manner in which the situation is presented. We do need to hear more about what we, as individual citizens and as Christians, need to do as far as our attitudes and actions are concerned, instead of waiting for some massive miraculous governmental involvement.
1. No one can deny that our current and impending environmental crisis is a manifestation of man's sin, man's rejection of or separation from God; which creates disharmony with God, hence disharmony with nature, a product of God (Psalms 24:1). As the Genesis 3 account reveals, the first God-conscious man in the Garden of Eden chose to disobey God; consequently, thereafter man was an egocentric creature alienated from God. Hence sin was born. As a creature separated from God, man is self-centered, selfish, and greedily in pursuit of self-gratification, all of which contributes to a lack of respect for the environment, God's handiwork. The ultimate solution, of course, is to get into harmony with God through the redemptive act of Jesus Christ (I Cor, 15). Through this step of faith (Eph. 2:8) comes the recognition of a Christian's responsibilities, including respect for God and the environment he provides; and hopefully, a concern to protect it.
An attitude of indifference should not characterize Christians at this critical moment in history.
2, Certainly man is directed by God to be a responsible steward and caretaker of the natural heritage (Genesis 1:29, 30, 28h, 31a; 2:15). A thorough study of Scripture reveals that nothing is man's, yet man treats the natural heritage as if nothing is God's. Since the Bible tells us in Genesis 1:1: "In the beginning God created ..." and continues to relate the events of creation, then man must recognize that what is here, including the functioning of nature, is a manifestation of God the Creator. Consequently, man cannot continue to ignore or violate the laws of nature (as laws designed by God for the functioning of his creation) by abusing the environment without facing some serious consequences. Man has lost sight of this relationship of God's role as Creator and man's responsibility as steward, hence another contributing factor toward environmental degradation. An intermediate solution is for the Christian community to incorporate this relationship in its entirety into its philosophy and then translate it into meaningfulness for the non-Christian community. Then all of us must recognize and appreciate our environment in this relationship as part of our respect for and worship of the Creator, which in turn should motivate us to protect and preserve the environment as part of our stewardship.
These previous two points are well established and well defined Old Covenant understandings for the Christian, but what is our New Covenant responsibility in relation to the environment? How does the New Testament relate man to the environment?
Christianity has always been in an environmental battle, whether we realize it or not. Christianity's basic objective is to make the individual right with God by cleansing the soul of man through the blood of Jesus Christ (Titus 2:11-14, 3:5-7). Redemption is nothing more than saving the entire man for eternity (I Thess. 5:23, I John 5:13); this producing a cleansed internal environment acceptable to Cod (II Tim. 2:21).
But what about the external environment in which that man moves, lives, and has his being? Are we not told in I Cor, 3:16, 17: "Do you not know that you are God's Temple, and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's Temple, God will destroy him, for God's Temple is holy, and that Temple you are." Christians accept the fact that we are created and sustained by God (Genesis 1:27, 2:7), and we accept the same claim for nature, which is actually our environment (our surroundings, which includes both living and nonliving components). Since we believe that the environment is of God as man is, doesn't it also need cleansing or saving, as much as the man who lives in the environment needs cleansing or saving? In Numbers 35:33a and 34a it states that "You shall not thus pollute the land in which you live . . . You shall not defile
the land in which you live Let's look at this holy Temple, which we are, and the environment in which it exists; and in turn analyze how we use, abuse, or misuse this holy Temple by the way we treat our environment or let our environment treat us.
We as Christians are greatly concerned about moral pollution, and rightly so. Material in magazines, books, movies, TV, situation ethics and other sources enter our body through our senses and pollute the mind, thus affecting this Temple of God. Paul tells us in I Cor. 6:18-20: "Shun immorality." In II Tim. 2:22 we are told "So shun youthful passions and aim at righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call upon the Lord from a pure heart."
What about some of the other forms of pollution (or contamination) that enter our bodies about which we are concerned? Think about the three most obvious ones that have been with man for a long time, and then reflect on how each of us (and the organized church) feels about the use of tobacco, or alcoholic beverages, or even gluttony? We are even Scripturally admonished to avoid excesses of the last two (Proverbs 23:19-21a). If we expect these things to harm this Temple, then why not other things like pollutants that enter our bodies through the air, water, food or other ways (radioactivity)? For the most part, we do not permit these pollutants (or contaminants) to enter our bodies (the Temple of God) intentionally or deliberately, but they can be equally as harmful as excesses of tobacco or alcohol or food. So if we are going to protect this Temple of God and ". . . present our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God , as commanded by Paul in Romans 12:1,
A thorough study of Scripture reveals that nothing is man's, yet man treats the natural heritage as if nothing is God's.
Christians must, by Scriptural dictate, get into the environmental battle, consciously and conscientiously. We must do all we can to protect the Temple of God from the very same harmful substances causing environmental pollution. We, as Christians, have a great concern about what enters the body, so we should be equally as concerned about what the body enters. The external environment of the Temple of God (your body) is as important as the internal environment of that same Temple. A body entering and existing in a polluted environment, intentional or not, is being subjected to desecrating substances as much as the body that permits undesirable material to enter the internal environment; 'whether it be the mind, the spirit, or the physical functioning body itself. Consequently, the New Testament teaches us that the body is the Temple of God and that it must be protected against internal and external contamination (pollution). Therefore, Christians are compelled to be involved in the quest for a quality environment for all people. Dr. Shersvood Wirt, editor of Decision Magazine and author of Social Conscience of the Evangelical, writes in that book,
Christians who think of themselves as stewards of the mysteries of grace are, by the same dispensation, stewards of the realities of earth. Their search for a "better country" in heaven does not justify their littering or spoiling this one while they are here-or allowing others to do so if it is possible to stop it.
How About You?
As a Christian: Are you really concerned about the environmental issue? About what kind of stewards we are? How we care for the Temple of God entrusted to us? And the environment in which that Temple exists?
If so, and if this paper presents a clarion call to action, what must each of us do? In general, there are eight categories of action, called the big E's of Environmental Quality, which must be pursued collectively in order to achieve a quality environment.
1. Enlighten by informing. Be concerned enough yourself to get informed and then help others become aware of the need to protect the environment. This step helps create concern, which, of course, is essential if any further steps are to he pursued.
2. Educate through the schools. Be insistent that environmental topics he considered in the curriculum at all levels so students gain an appreciation for the value of a quality environment. This step helps change attitudes, which, of course, is essential if any modifications in life style are to he achieved.
3. Enact legislation. Be persistent in encouraging governmental authorities to produce reasonable realis
tic regulations protecting the environment and us from
environmental abuse. This step serves to coerce environmental abusers into realizing that we recognize their contribution to the problem, which, of course, is essential if any prevention is to be achieved.
4. Enforce regulations. Be diligent enough to see that environmental users arc obeying the law rather than ignoring or abusing it; even if this step requires courtroom action and penalties. This step compels compliance, which, of course, is essential if any meaningful results are to be realized.
5. Entice anti-pollution investments. Be realistic enough to realize that financial encouragements through such provisions as tax relief stimulates participation in the campaign for a quality environment. This step helps develop cooperation from all environmental users, which, of course, is essential if meaningful progress is to be initiated.
6. Emphasize the wisdom of cleanness. Be consistent in showing that it is more economical and healthier for all of us to live in a clean environment rather than a polluted one. This step hits us in the pocketbook, which, of course, has a profound influence on our attitudes and actions, which are essential to stimulate a community endeavor toward correcting environmental problems. The statistics substantiating this
We as Christians have a great concern about what enters the body, so we should be equally as concerned about what the body enters.
step are astounding and validate the merit of it. There are numerous documented
examples, but the following two were taken from Controlling
Pollution, The Economics
of a Cleaner America, edited by Marshall I. Goldman and published in
1967 by Prentice-Hall,
Inc., as one of its Modem Economics Issues. Pittsburgh, Pa., spent $200 million
to clean up its air pollution and the first full year after completion of the
project $26 million was saved in medical, household, cleaning, replacement, and
similar types of expenses caused by pollution previously. Secondly,
in a polluted area spend $200 more per person on those kinds of expenses than
people in non-polluted areas, and they live shorter, less healthy lives.
7. Envision wisely by planning ahead. Be sensitive to and demand controls on developments by environmental users that tend to abuse the environment through inadequate planning and safeguards. In fact, our present pollution problem could be cut in half by just employing the technology we now have. This step of anticipation requires foresight, patience, perseverence and planning; which, of course, is essential to prevent problems and to provide proper protection for the environment because our environment and our lives are at stake, too.
8. Each of us get involved. Be an example by teaching and practicing what each of us recognizes as necessary things we can do to preserve the quality of the environment where we are. Many books are available on this step, but probably one of the more readable and helpful ones is Ever yman's Guide to Ecological Living by Greg Cailliet, Paulette Setzer, and Milton Love, sponsored by the Santa Barbara Underseas Foundation and published in 1971 by the Macmillan Company. This step gives us something positive to do to help conquer a social problem through individual cooperation and participation, which, of course, is as essential as stimulating the institutional machinery of our society into action.
Dr. Wirt in his book says,
The challenge to the evangelical is not to seek some esoteric panacea of his own, but to put his shoulder to the wheel and get into the struggle as a working member of the 20th century society. He has a contribution to make; in the name of the Lord, let him make it!
All of this effort should help us, as Christians, to develop concern, care, caution, and a can-doit attitude. We've got to do it (environmental degradation) in before it does us in, or else man will write the last chapter of Genesis sooner than necessary.
Genesis ... Last Chapter
In the end, There was Earth, and it was with form and beauty. And man dwelt upon the lands of the Earth, The meadows and trees, and he said, "Let us build cities" and covered the Earth with concrete and steel. And the meadows were gone. And man said, "It is good." On the second day, man looked upon the waters of the Earth, And man said, "Let us put our wastes in the waters That the dirt will be washed away."
And man did.
And the waters became polluted and foul in their smell. And man said, "It is good." On the third day, man looked upon the forests of the Earth And saw they were beautiful. And man said, "Let us cut the timber For our homes and grind the wood for our use."
And man did.
And the lands became barren and the trees were gone. And man said, ,'It is good." On the fourth day man saw that animals were in abundance and Ran in the fields and played in the sun. And man said, "Let us cage these animals for our sport."
And man did.
And there were no more animals on the face of the Earth. And man said, "It is good." On the fifth day man breathed the air of the Earth. And man said, "Let us dispose of our wastes into the air for the winds shall Blow them away."
And man did.
And the air became filled with the smoke and the fumes could Now blow away. And the air became heavy with dust and choked and burned. And man said, "It is good." On the sixth day man saw himself; and seeing the many languages And tongues, he feared and hated. And man said,
"Let us build great machines" and the Earth was fired with the rage of great wars. And man said, "It is good." On the seventh day man rested from his labors and the Earth was still for Man no longer dwelt upon the Earth.
And it was good.
(Courtesy of Kenneth Ross, Idaho Wildlife Review, May-June, 1967).
Eight categories of action: Enlighten, Educate, Enact, Enforce, Entice, Emphasize, Envision and Each get involved.
Such a cataclysmic early end can be avoided, or an early end of the
if we act aggressively and positively as evangelical Christians. Even
us of that in II Chronicles 7:14: "If my people who are called by my name
humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways,
then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal
(Note: All Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version.)