The Christian and the Environment

The Christian and the Environment

Text: Genesis 3:17-19 — And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you;  in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Introduction: As we continue in our preaching series, Hot Topics, I want to talk about what may well be the hottest topic of all. I’m talking about global warming, otherwise known as climate change. In case you’re not yet sure what this is all about, global warming is defined as a gradual increase in the overall temperature of the earth’s atmosphere generally attributed to the greenhouse effect which traps the sun’s heat and acts like a kind of ‘thermal blanket’ around the world. This is caused by increasing levels of carbon dioxide, chlorofluorocarbons, and other pollutants released into the environment primarily through the burning of fossil fuels. The extra heat results in higher temperatures on land and in the oceans, more frequent and severe weather, increased death rates among the young and old, more acidic oceans and higher sea levels to name only a few of the consequences. According to proponents of global warming, we have only twelve years to make radical changes that reduce by 45% the greenhouse effect or we will have reached the tipping point where we will be unable to stop it from radically altering our planet.
On the other side of this debate are those who argue that climate change has been around since the creation of the earth and that carbon dioxide levels have never been solely dependent on temperature increases. Patrick Moore, the co-founder of Greenpeace, argues that many other factors are involved in global warming including the shape and size of the earth’s elliptical orbit around the sun; the activity that comes from the sun and the amount of wobble from the earth’s axis also contribute to it, not to mention a bunch of other things. People on this side of the discussion are not alarmed by what they call minor temperature variations. They point to a trend over the last twenty years that shows almost no rise in the temperature of our planet. While at the same time carbon dioxide levels are higher than ever, showing the two are not as closely related as some would have you think. Andy by the way, this is not necessarily a bad thing as all life is carbon-based. In fact, plant life requires carbon dioxide to grow and produce oxygen which is absolutely necessary to sustain life in human beings and animals.
So the big question is … who is right and how should we as Christians think about the world and our responsibility in the management of its resources? This morning I will attempt to answer five basic questionsrelated to our environment that may help us to think more clearly on this issue as Christians. We’ll start with this one.
What does the Bible teach about the Earth?
·     God created it(Genesis 1:1 – In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth). We may not fully comprehend how He could create everything out of nothing, but that’s what the Bible teaches. He made us and did so with a purpose in mind.
·     God called it good(Genesis 1:31 — And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good). The word for “good” means “good in the widest sense.” All of it was meant to be a blessing to us.
·     God cursed it because of sin(Genesis 3:17a — And to Adam he said, Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you). When Adam and Eve sinned, their disobedience resulted in a distorted relationship with God, each other and the created order. The whole earth was placed under a curse and now groans as it eagerly awaits its own redemption according to Romans 8:22.
·     God changed it after the fall(Genesis 3:17b-19 — In pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return). The natural world became a much more difficult and dangerous place to live. As a gardener, Adam would now have to grow his crop outside of the garden in the fields that would now contain thorns and thistles. Many believe this phrase “thorns and thistles” represents a whole category of things that make life more painful. This may well be where poisonous plants and animals and even insects that spread disease came into play. In spite of this, God still left much good in the earth for us to explore and develop. He did not make it entirely evil and harmful. That’s what the Apostle Paul is talking about when he says in 1 Timothy 4:4-5 — For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer. In summary, the Bible teaches that God created the earth, called it good, cursed the earth and changed it after the fall.
Illustration: In his book The First Chapters of Everything: How Genesis 1-4 Explains Everything, Alisdair Paineillustrates how sin and the Fall have spoiled the blessings God has given: My parents were once out of the house, but received an alarming phone call to say that there had been a fire. They hurried home to find that some workers mending the gas main outside had caused an explosion in the house boiler. The boiler itself was a charred ruin, but the rest of the house seemed alright. Except, that is, for the smoke damage. Smoke had got around the entire place, and now everything smelled of it. On every wall you could wipe to reveal a thin, grimy film; every picture you took down left a non-smoky mark; every item of furniture smelt burnt. Everything was still there, but nothing was the same. In a similar way, [after the Fall of Humanity in Genesis 3], God leaves us with the blessings he has given, but each one is damaged; each one has, if you like, a different kind of smell about it. Perhaps this helps you understand how the curse of God changed things in response to our sin. There are still blessings to be enjoyed, but some things just stink.
Did God design the earth to be fragile or resilient?The Bible does not paint a picture of an earth is ready to fall apart as some of the more radical proponents of global warming argue.In fact, it teaches that God not only sustains it (Colossians 1:17 – In Him all things hold together) but sovereignly controls it to do His bidding like a king exercising his rule over his kingdom.
·     God sovereignly maintains the seasons(Genesis 8:22 — While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease). This sure seems to indicate that they are fixed in place and will not be disrupted.
·     God sovereignly limits the oceans(Genesis 9:11 –I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth; Jeremiah 5:22 — I placed the sand as the boundary for the sea, a perpetual barrier that it cannot pass). One of the big concerns in the global warming debate is the thawing of the polar ice-cap and rising oceans that result from it. But here we’re reminded that God will only allow the seas to rise to a certain level and not beyond.
·     God sovereignly controls the weather(Job 37:3, 6, 9-12 — He unleashes his lightning beneath the whole heaven and sends it to the ends of the earth. (Verse 6) He says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth,’ and to the rain shower, ‘Be a mighty downpour.’ (Verse 9) The tempest comes out from its chamber, the cold from the driving winds. The breath of God produces ice, and the broad waters become frozen). Many environmentalists believe we’re seeing a dramatic increase in the number of natural disasters. Though there are studies that dispute this, even if it is true, as believers we know that the wind does not blow or a drop of rain fall apart from God telling it to.
What is God’s plan for the earth?God will sustain the earth until all that He has planned for it is completed. Then He will renew or remake it so that it will be free of all the consequences of man’s rebellion to God(Romans 8:19-21 –For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God).
What is the concern about Global Warming?According to an atmospheric physicist from MIT (Richard Lindzen), there are three groups of people who are dealing with this issue.
·     Groups one and two are scientists who are strongly divided over the dangers of global warming. Some believe climate change is mostly due to the increased consumption of fossil fuels. Others argue that there are other contributing factors (the sun, clouds, oceans, the orbital variations of the earth etc.). While they disagree on the cause of global warming, it may surprise you to discover that both sides agree on at least six points: (1) that climate is always changing; (2) carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas without which life is not possible; adding it to the atmosphere should lead to some warming; (3) atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide have been increasing since the 19thcentury; (4) over the past two centuries the global mean temperature has increased slightly by 1.8 degrees F; but only since the 1960s have man’s greenhouse emissions been sufficient to play a role (5)  given the complexity of climate, no confident prediction of our future global mean temperature or its impact can be made (even by the most powerful computers); (6) the scenario that the burning of fossil fuels leads to catastrophic events isn’t part of what either group asserts. This brings us to the next group.
·     Group three is made up of environmentalists, politicians and the mediawho for various reasons (money, power, control, ideology) are creating doomsday scenarios that get the attention of others. Unfortunately, group three is winning the argument as they have drowned out any serious debate that should be taking place. Illustration: This is often what people do when they they are driven by fear. They move from rational thought to a sense of hysteria and gloom and doom. Remember the Y2K Scare? It was a phenomenon at the turn of the 21st century where computer users and programmers feared that computers would stop working on December 31, 1999. The phenomenon was also referred to as the “Millennium Bug” or “Year 2000 problem” by technology experts. A lot of planning went into preparing for it. In fact, the scare led governments and private organizations to spend millions of dollars in an attempt to avert the risk. As the calendar approached the year 2000, anxiety spread across the world as people feared that computer systems would shut down. Banking institutions which relied on software programs to calculate daily interest were at risk of system failure. As a result, stock prices of banking institutions dropped in value as the year 2000 neared. Transport systems were also affected especially in the airline business whose operations depend on accurate time and date. There were even rumors that planes would drop from the sky when clocks turned to midnight on 31st Dec 1999. This led travelers to avoid the airport on New Year’s Eve. Hospitals, power plants, and government organizations were not spared from the threats either. Due to the severe implication of a possible shut down, organizations went to great lengths to prevent the system failure from materializing. So what actually happened on the much-awaited date of January 1st, 2000? Computer programs updated to the new dates and carried on as usual. Except for a few incidents of software failures, not much else happened. Computer experts were later accused of exaggerating the concept of the “Millennium Bug” as millions of dollars were spent in preparation of the Y2K problem. LISTEN: NO ONE IS DISPUTING THAT THERE IS GLOBAL WARMING. BUT RATHER THAN LET THOSE WHO DON’T REALLY KNOW AS MUCH ABOUT IT (MEDIA, POLITICIANS AND ENVIRONMENTALISTS) DECIDE HOW TO RESPOND, WE WOULD BE WISE TO LEAVE IT UP THE EXPERTS.
How should Christians respond to concerns about global warming?We are called by God to be stewards of His creation (Psalm 24:1 — The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein). This means the following for each of us:
·     We should continue to fill, subdue and rule over the earth(Genesis 1:28 – Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature which walks upon the ground). The radical environmentalistPaul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Institute calls human beings‘the aids of the earth’ and argues that we need to reduce the world population to less than one billion and live in communities with a population no larger than 20,000 to be able to survive long term. This is obviously contrary to what the Lord told Adam and Eve. The biblical worldview would consider it morally right for human beings made in God’s image to reproduce. In fact, we see children as a gift from God and the meansby which we exercise widespread and effective dominion over the earth and its creatures.
·     We should continue to work the earth and care for it(Genesis 2:15 — The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it– as in ‘keep watch over it’). If we fail to work the earth, we are in disobedience to God. He fully expects us to utilize the earth’s abundant resources for the benefit of everyone. This is part of what it means to love our neighbors. Now, in doing so, we’re expected to manage God’s resources well with His purposes in mind. Ultimately, like everything else, it is meant to bring glory to Him (Psalm 19:1 — The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands; Psalm 72:19 – May the whole earth be filled with His glory).
·     We should encourage continued research and serious debate by legitimate scientists in the field of climate physics. And let’s pray that God will provide His wisdom which is “impartial and sincere” (James 3:17) to help mankind wisely and adequately deal with any global warming trends.
Conclusion: Known for their luxury watches, Swiss watchmaker Patek Philippe has also become well-known for its clever advertising slogan: “You never actually own a Patek Philippe; you merely take care of it for the next generation.” That translates pretty well for us as believers when it comes to our responsibility in caring for the earth.  We would do well to remember that we don’t own it, we just manage it with someone else in mind– namely God. And like everything else over which we’re stewards, we want to handle it in such a way that when it’s all said and done and we enter into the presence of the Lord, we hear these words from Him, “Well done thy good and faithful servant. Because you have been faithful in a few things, I will put you in charge of many. Come and share your master’s happiness(Matthew 25:23).”