A Christian Environmental Ethics - Part Four

This is Part Four of a series arguing toward a Christian environmental ethics. In the previous posts in this series we have examined the three aspects of the biblical narrative that point toward a comprehensive approach to human stewardship of creation. Those three aspects are Creation, Fall, and Redemption.

God created everything good, but it wasn’t in its final state. The vision of God was always to have humans populate the earth, develop technologies and build cities in the garden. However, Adam sinned, and God cursed the earth to remind humans that there is something wrong. Ever since then, humans have been pushing back against the disorder of the curse and struggling to overcome the wilderness.  When Christ came, he worked at alleviating the effects of the curse around him. Ultimately, his death on the cross made possible the final restoration of all things, which will come at some point in the future. In the meanwhile, since we are still on earth, we should be working to reverse the effects of the curse like Jesus did. We should be preaching the gospel verbally and demonstrating the implications of the gospel practically. We should be helping the weak, serving one another, and working as good stewards to use creation wisely. We do these things because we will be called to give an account of our work when Christ returns.

Some practical applications:

1.   Consume less – Americans are guilty of a lot of waste. We buy too much stuff we don’t need and throw it out. Excess consumption is bad stewardship of the environment and it is bad stewardship of financial resources that could be directed toward gospel activities.

2.   Simplify – One of the reasons why we consume so much is that we are trying to save time or do too much. Simplifying life can have benefits on a number of levels, including reducing the resources we use.

3.   Pick up trash – Simple activities that improve the aesthetics around us, like putting trash where it should be and keeping it from where it shouldn’t be, are good ways to be good stewards of the earth. When we work to directly improve the environment around us, we are showing some of the implications of the gospel, where the signs of the curse are wiped away.

Generally, we need to think close and move out. If we make small decisions about things we can directly control with the intent to be a good stewards of resources, we can do more than worrying about macro problems we can’t conquer. The larger problems will be reduced when the smaller problems are tackled.

To apply the three part paradigm to this: We should seek to conduct ourselves as good stewards, using the available resources wisely and cultivating the earth well. We should seek to do so in the character of Christ, which in this case means by pursuing actions that counteract the effects of the curse. We should have the goal of glorifying God by demonstrating the nature of the gospel through our actions.

Some things we don’t have to do:

1.   Stop having kids – God commanded us to be fruitful and multiply. It may be the only command that we’ve faithfully obeyed. Contrary to popular myth, the problem isn’t a lack of space or resources but the allocation and availability of them. People are producers, not just consumers. So we should be encouraged by having more of them.

2.   Stop all technological progress and development – Biodiversity is a good thing and we ought to take it into account when we are looking at developments and technology. However, we don’t need to stop all technological progress and development because we don’t know the answer to every question that could ever possibly be asked. We are called to be good stewards, not infallible prophets.

3.   Pretend everything is a disaster – There is certainly room for us to be better stewards of our resources, but that doesn’t require abandoning the things that have made the improvements in medicine, electronics, and education possible. Hopefulness is something that distinguishes non-Christian environmentalism from other forms. We should be hopeful that things can improve and live for God's glory instead of fear of an apocalyptic demise.

The bottom line is that an environmental ethic that loses sight of the whole picture of stewardship of creation and obedience to God is a bad ethic. As Christians, we ought to consider how our actions impact the environment, especially through our use of resources. However, we should not pursue the “ecological good” without considering the other goods that may be impacted.