Christians believe that the world does not belong to men and women. It belongs to God. And God will hold humans accountable for the way they treat it.
The Bible begins with ancient stories in which God creates the world from nothing. From the very first it is clear that God has made human beings responsible for care of the planet. In the ancient stories, the first humans are told to subdue the earth’s wildness, and they are given the right to benefit from what is produced by the planet. There are duties and there are privileges. It is repeatedly stated in the Bible that despite temptation to exploit these privileges, God expects men and women to be good stewards.
Most Christians acknowledge that the environment is in an alarming state which threatens the future of human life.
Coal and oil have been burned in large quantities. Vast forests have been destroyed. Pollution has increased, damaging health. A rise in temperature across the world is physically changing our planet. People in the world’s poorest countries are already bearing a huge burden because of this and their suffering will increase. In time, it will affect everybody.
Many Christians have come to view the waste and plunder with which the world’s resources are being treated as one of the gravest sins of our time. The obedient trust between God and the humans, whom he charged with looking after his creation, has been broken. On a personal level, Christians seek to live in a simpler way. On a global level, there are campaigns to counter the causes of pollution and climate change. However, it is fair to say that Christians as a whole have come late to this cause.
The Bible holds out an alternative vision of how the world could be. It describes the potential for a delicate balance of all things animal, vegetable and mineral. Although the word did not exist at the time the Bible was written, this is what we might now call ecology. The word it uses to describe this is shalom (a Hebrew word which is still used as a greeting in some parts of the world). It could be translated as peace or wellbeing.
A small number of Christians who take a literal view of the Bible hold a different point of view. They believe that the promised return of Jesus will be followed by the creation of a new earth, as well as a new heaven. This leads them to believe that the destruction of the planet is of limited importance compared with the wonder of God’s plan for a perfect land that will last throughout eternity. This has made them less concerned about issues such as global warming.
However, since the time of Jesus, the physical world has always been valued as highly as the spiritual world in the way Christians treat life. The vast majority take seriously God’s command that the planet is an inheritance which should be passed with care and reverence from one generation to the next. This spurs many Christians to action in supporting environmental causes.
What the Bible says about it
An extract from the Bible:
God is bringing you into a good land … a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey … you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills. When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands … You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth.
Where to find it:
About these words:
Part of the Law of the Jewish people, many centuries before Jesus.
And they said…
The House of Catholic Bishops of the USA:
We are the first generation since Genesis with the power to threaten the created order.
Baron Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury and Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge:
Climate change is an issue that impels us to think about God’s justice and how we are to echo it in our world.
Pope John Paul II, 1920-2005:
The gravity of the ecological situation reveals how deep is the human moral crisis.
The North American Cree Indian declaration:
Only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned and the last fish has been caught will be realise that we cannot eat money.