Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Gospel and the Environment, Part II

Having offered a brief critique of aspects of the green movement, I want to be clear that I am not chastising the entire movement. Rather, I have been chastised by it! These 2 posts are an attempt for me to communicate, and as a verbal processer, even better understand my own thinking on this journey from apathetic exploiter to steward.

I have not been moved by a simple desire to conform to the current culture, nor by the discovery of an 11th commandment, but by a deep conviction that the good-news that Jesus proclaimed offers real hope, even a better hope (than a simply pragmatic "let's do it because it's better for us in the long term" approach) to our relationship with the physical world.

This conviction starts with the reality that the ecological crisis we face today (even apart from global climate change) results almost exclusively from human ignorance and greedy exploitation. It is clear that our minds and ultimately our hearts have been the problem. In Pollution and the Death of Man, Francis Schaeffer succinctly states that in treating the land properly we have to make choices in 2 areas: time and money. I know that my heart is inclined to always try to do more in less time and with less money. Earth friendly practices usually require more than I am willing to give.

From a Biblical perspective, this directly results from The Fall and our broken relationship with our Creator. He created us and tasked us with the stewardship of the physical world. When Adam and Eve disobeyed the one command God had given them, they not only experienced brokenness in their relationship with their Maker, but also in every relationship, including their relationship to the physical world. Whether you take Genesis 1- 3 to be historical narrative or not, the themes conveyed are clear: We were made to walk in perfect communion with God, one another and the created world. Our self-centered disobedience broke that communion.

The good-news of Jesus is that he is restoring the relationships that have been broken by the fall. By dealing directly with the effects of our self-centered disobedience, he restores us to a right relationship with our Creator. In doing that, he unites all his followers into one body and brings them into right relationships...loving and truthful relationships with one other. And what has the most bearing in this discussion is that once we've been brought into a right relationship with our Creator, we can be in right relationship to the physical world that he made.

Again, Schaeffer is helpful here when he describes that people in proper relationship to their Creator have ceased trying to exalt themselves over the creation. From a Biblical perspective, we are unlike the rest of creation in that we alone, of all the creatures, have been made in God's image and are thus able to relate to Him in a personal way. But from that same Biblical perspective, we are also like the rest of creation in that we too are created and are not God. This has helped me think about my connection to the trees and the birds in our yard. They are in one sense my brothers and sisters, for like them, I have been created.

But I am not simply a part of the creation. I am also created in God's image. That is why dominion and stewardship are given to us. We can have a relationship with our Creator, and as we know Him, we can properly exercise stewardship and dominion over His creation. Lynn White, in the article i referenced in the last post, justifiably points out that the Church historically has not exercised proper stewardship, but has tended to exploit (a self-centered dominion) the physical world. Unfortunately, we as followers of Christ do not always properly know our God or His call on our lives.

This was my story for the first 13 years of my life as a Christian. I was ignorant of the negative influence my decissions had upon the environment around me. I viewed calls to eco-conscious living with suspicion and even contempt, erroneously thinking that it was just an agenda to get Democrats elected or a "misplaced" desire to save the world. (I have since stopped listening to the Republican pundits and paying more attention to the value in both parties.) Those were my surface reasons. But underneath, I just didn't want to take the time or spend the money. Part of me still doesn't. Life seems easier if we just do what is convenient. Only in the last couple years, as i've interacted more with the green movement, have I begun to realize that the environment is something that I should care about because I care about the Creator.

It's crystal clear now. I mentioned at the top of this post that my desire to live a more environmentally friendly life doesn't come from a new 11th commandment. It actually comes from the one about loving God. John Stott, in The Care of Creation, says "God intends...our care of the creation to reflect our love for the Creator." This is what i mean by having a transcendent ethic for green living. Pragmatism eventually breaks down because we need a reason bigger than ourselves to live for something besides ourselves. Being rightly related to the Creator, and caring for the physical world as His creation provides the "meaningful underpinning" Missy referred to in a recent comment. All created things have intrinsic value because God made them. So now, myself and my family are taking small steps.

We are beginning to made decisions that we think would honor the Creator. We recycle more consistently, not primarily to preserve the earth for ourselves or our grandchildren, but because we live before the Creator who calls us to honor him by caring for His creation. We are planting a vegetable garden this summer. I want to grow and care for these vegetables in eco-friendly ways in part because I think that is better for my family, but largely because that garden belongs to God, not me.

Think of it like this. If a good friend of yours asks you to house-sit their mansion on the hill, would you finger paint the walls, dump your trash in their dining room, shit in the bathtub, and burn their couches in the fireplace because they produce a nice green flame? If you didn't like the person, you probably would. If you didn't really know the person, you might. But because you love the person and know they love you, you wouldn't dream of it. God has called us to "house-sit" his creation. And since Christ has restored us to a right relationship with him, one where we love Him because He first loved us, we want to care well for his creation.

That is the hope that I believe the gospel uniquely provides. It doesn't just give good reasons to take care of the creation. It doesn't tell me that it's better for me, or my children or my country. It doesn't tell me to do it so that God will love me. It tells me how to be forgiven and to experience the love God already has for me. It restores me to a relationship with my Creator and it's that relationship that changes my heart and motivates me to care for His creation.

1 comment:

Missy said...

Oh, Doug, thanks for this. Just had to say yes, and amen.