Monday, August 12, 2013

The Importance of Caring for the Earth as People of Faith

I wanted to take some time to explain how, as a believer in God, scripture motivates and inspires me to care for creation. I’m not just talking about whales now, but the earth and environment as a whole. I understand that environmental issues, wildlife conservation, and any kind of animal welfare are not usually thought of as religious issues. But let me explain why I believe that there is great relevance for us as children of God to consider these topics.

Our first mandate given in scripture is the care and keeping of the earth. In Genesis 2:15, God calls man to “cultivate and keep it. “ In a nearby passage, God gives man “dominion” over the earth and the animals. Now, a lot of Christians have taken this word to mean “dominate and rule over,” and used it as an excuse to carelessly and abusively do whatever they want to the environment and the animal kingdom. More accurately, this passage is a call to tend to and protect the safety of created things.

"A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel" Proverbs 12:10

A lot of Christians are intimidated and confused when it comes to answering the question: “what is the purpose of animals?”Even though much of scripture is silent about the subject, one thing is repeatedly made abundantly clear: all things were created by God, for God. All created things reflect his goodness, creativity and expanse. Our feelings of “awe” and our appreciation of “beauty” may lack a utilitarian purpose when they are by themselves, but are illuminated with great purpose in the light of a good and glorious creator who breathed life into all that is.

The last Psalms are prayers of joy, calling “everything that has breath” to praise the Lord. I’m especially fond of this passage from 148: “Praise the Lord from the earth you great Sea creatures of the deep.” The Psalmist calls the whales to sing to God.

Who can know the mystery behind this? Is it merely that created things show us how glorious and creative God is? Or is there something more mystical happening between God’s creation and God? His hand made the farthest reaches of the cosmos. There are places completely unseen by our eyes, yet dazzlingly beautiful. Those starry expanses reflect glory without our involvement or awareness. It is entirely possible that God equipped other beings with advanced, highly evolved mental faculties which they use, in whatever way, to display his goodness.

"But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of The Lord has done this? In His hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind." (Job 12:7-10 RSV)

If you think about it, the universe sort of operates in a way to teach us how small we are. All creation isn't about us. It’s about something bigger- something grand and glorious that we have the honor of participating in.

The Christian faith teaches that Jesus "is before all things, and in him all things hold together," (Colossians 1:17) and that he "upholds the universe by the word of his power." (Hebrews 1:3) God looks upon his grand and glorious universe and calls it good. (Genesis 1:31.) The earth is a display of the purposes of Christ.

The earth has tremendous value in the eyes of the one who breathes life into it. Therefore,
we would be wise not to treat it destructively or abusively. Instead, we ought to treat it like its someone else's stuff. Wild whales do not belong to us, nor do the rain forests, or the ozone layer, or other human beings. They belong to Jesus Christ. Our role is to cultivate, respect, preserve, care for, and bring forth the best from our fellow creation.

Relevant Magazine had a great article about where Christians generally get environmentalism wrong. This quote is from that article:

"Because Jesus sustains creation, pollution is at odds with His purposes. Because Jesus holds this world together, oil spills are an insult to His design. Because Jesus grows this wild green earth, deforestation is an assault on His creative goodness."

Speaker Tony Campolo goes so far as to say that, since whales are created for the purpose of singing praises to God, “when you hunt and kill a species of whale or dolphin to extinction, you are silencing music that worships God, and that is blasphemy.” Even if you don’t take it that far, you can probably agree that abusing something that is beautiful, smart,  God-glorifying, and doesn't belong to you is a bad idea.

We must also remember that the gospel says that Christ came into the world to make all things new. His mission is the salvation of the cosmos, not just humanity… to restore creation to what it was meant to be. Certainly the gospel is the story of God and Man reconciled, but it is also a reconciliation of the earth in its entirety. (Romans 8:22)

It is the sentient nature of these animals which makes them so individually valuable in my eyes. Cetacean brains are extremely complex, highly evolved, and even have areas that are completely unique from our own. That area is known as the Paralympic cortex, and some scientists believe it stores certain kinds of emotional and social understandings we may lack. As Christians, we should never be off-put or afraid of scientific discoveries like this, but rather, allow those discoveries to inform us, and to paint a fuller picture of our God. God is not in competition with science: he brought all laws of nature into being, and  no discovery of truth should never be shied away from. Remember the excitement of Joanne Kepler, (the Father of Physical Astronomy) who, when he made a scientific discovery, proclaimed, “I am thinking God’s thoughts after him!”

In the end, I think our call is clear.  I do not believe that manipulating sentient animals for our own purposes is godly, nor is it condoned by scripture. In fact, I believe that we have a call to protect creation, to marvel at it, and to recognize the mystical qualities within it that point towards the spirit of God.

 In all things, may we strive to

 love mercy
seek justice
and walk humbly with our God.
(Micah 6:8)

For more on Christian care of the environment, I recommend Joel Hunter's Documentary, Our Fathers World.

 And this article from Relevant:

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