This year, April 22 is Earth Day. I never remember Earth Day until I begin to see comments and articles about it on some of the websites and blogs I check regularly. It isn’t because I am not interested in Earth Day but more because I have enough dates to remember and Earth Day always comes somewhere in the busy Easter season, although this year it is about a month after Easter.
I do remember one or two years in my pastoral ministry that I actually remembered Earth Day and focused the worship service on it. Among some of my clergy friends, that was considered a bit much–after all, Earth Day is a secular event and has very little to do with our faith. The fact that I would not only focus a worship service on Earth Day but also preach on it made me just a little suspect in some of their minds–like maybe I had jumped the barrier and ended up in theologically liberal territory. Among the more conservative parts of the church where I live and work and feel comfortable, becoming a liberal is probably the worst thing that can happen.
But at the time, and still today, I think that Earth Day is a valid focus for the Christian faith. Earth Day itself may have been developed by secular environmentalists, but a lot of the concern and reasoning behind Earth Day has deep Christian roots. Unfortunately, neither the Christian church nor the environmental movement are terrible aware of that reality.
In fact, Christians are often described as being among the causes of the current ecological disaster. The Protestant work ethic and the Industrial Revolution were partially responsible for the increase in the over-exploitation of natural resources. Many of the early exploiters used their faith as a justification for the destruction of the natural environment, or at least that is the theme of some of the things I have read at various times.
And I have no doubt that there is some truth in this–historically, all faiths have been used as justification for what people want to do. Some early industrialists most likely believed it was their God-given right to destroy landscapes and toss waste where ever they wanted. Some of them likely believed that the poor were there to exploit along with the natural resources. Some may even have had Biblical proof tests and captive clergy to validate their claims.
But the Christian faith can’t really be used as a justification for ecological destruction. True, there isn’t a great deal in the NT about the environment and its care. There is the passage in Romans 8.19-21 which tells us that all creation is suffering from the effects of sin and is waiting for deliverance through Jesus Christ. This can be referring to the damage humanity has done to creation as a result of our greed and ignorance.
But even more significant is the charge God gave humanity in Genesis 1.27-30. There, humanity was given the task of looking after the creation that God had lavished so much love on. Some read this as a justification for any kind of use and abuse of creation but I think the passage needs to be contextualized. God is the creator and it is his creation. Humanity is not being given creation to exploit as we see fit–rather, we are being given an important position as managers of God’s creation.
We benefit from the creation, we are provided with food, shelter, economic benefits and so on–but we are not to manage creation for our benefit alone. We are God’s managers, tasked with the job of managing what God has so carefully and lovingly put together. While we benefit from creation, it isn’t ours and we need to remember that.
Our faith should actually put us in the forefront of the environmental movement–we are, after all, God’s servants and agents in the world. That calling includes caring for the poor, spreading the Good News and caring for creation. If giving a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name (Matthew 10.42) is a blessing, it is an equal blessing to ensure that that cup of cold water not only is available but also is free from pollution and disease. Care of creation is also part of our Christian task.
May the peace of God be with you.