Two observations on environmentalism

  • Adrian Russell
  • 22 April 2016

Hands holding the world

God has given us a wonderful gift in creation—an amazing world for us to live in and enjoy together in thankfulness to him. He also gives us the privilege of being like him in ruling and caring for the world in order to make it fruitful and productive. Maintaining, working and caring for God’s creation and our environment is a way of obeying God, loving one another and fulfilling our role as image-bearing men and women.

Which means that thoughtless and destructive abuse of the environment dishonours God as king, is unloving to our fellow man, and denies who we are and what we have been designed to do.

However, without the guidance of God’s word, the world’s thinking on the environment tends to the extremes of either selfish and harmful disregard, or a form of worship of creation that raises environmental concerns to the level of the greatest moral issues of our day.

Briefly I wanted to make two observations about the environmental movement—in particular, pointing out two false assumptions built into environmentalism that the Bible corrects. The first is to think that it is in our power to destroy or cataclysmically disrupt the earth and its function. The second is to think that it is within our power to save the earth.

Genesis 8 records the receding of the devastating flood waters—by which God wiped out sinful humanity and through which he had saved Noah and his family in the ark. At the end of the chapter, God makes promises to Noah, Noah makes sacrifices to God, and then God says in verse 22, “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” In other words, God’s commitment to humanity is to sustain the life-giving cycles of the world as long as the earth endures. The seasons will continue under God, as will times for planting and times for harvesting, cooling and heating, day and night, light and dark. God gives his word: he will sustain life in his world as long as the earth endures.

Then we turn to 2 Peter 3 where we see God making another promise—this time, to do away with this world and to create a brand new earth and sky—a new world where he will dwell with his people in glorious face-to-face intimacy for eternity (Rev 21:1-4). Citing the flood, Peter says in verse 7, “But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.” On the day of the Lord Jesus’ return, this world will end and this corrupted and broken earth will be destroyed. What this means for us Christians is that “according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13).

In Genesis 8:22, God promised that as long as the earth endures, he will sustain its life-giving nature; in 2 Peter 3, God promises that there will be a time when the earth no longer endures—when it will be destroyed and a new earth will be created in its place. Therefore the two very human-centred assumptions of environmentalism—that it is within our power to destroy or disrupt the earth and that it is within our power to save the earth—are simply not true.

It is only when we acknowledge God as our powerful king and creator and Jesus as our glorious Saviour and Lord that we will truly understand our place and our responsibility in this world—that we were created by God to love him and one another by ruling this creation in dependence on him while we wait for Christ’s return and the perfect new world to come.