A Thin Green Line – Christian Environmentalism

I am a Christian who believes that God created everything in six literal days and then literally rested on the seventh day. Having said that, I’m not sure that I’ve spent enough time thinking about how that should shape my interactions with the things that God created in, say, the first five days of Creation week. 1

That doesn’t mean that I’m in favor of strip-mining or mowing down the rain forest or anything like that, it’s just that I’ve never really thought about everything coming from God’s own hand.

Think about it for a minute. God made it and then asked Adam and Eve to take care of it. What was there to take care of? Adam and Eve hadn’t sinned yet, so what was there to tend?

Then there are verses like this one:

“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” Genesis 1:26-28 NKJV

People read the words “have dominion over” and “subdue it” and decide that we have the right to do absolutely anything at all to the planet and not worry about what the consequences might be. I’m pretty sure though, that showing Creation who’s boss, is not what the Creator had in mind.

On a very small scale, it might be like when my aunt and uncle would go on their medical missionary trips every year. They would ask me to “take care of things” while they were gone. That meant water the indoor plants, feed the cat, and generally keep an eye on things.

What if, while they were gone, I decided that they didn’t need all those plants and pulled up half of them or that they needed a dog instead of a cat? My aunt and uncle would not be pleased with my stewardship of their home, would they?

Does being stewards of Creation mean that we should value it above other humans or even God, Himself?

It seems kind of odd that, in general, the environmentalist movement is primarily made up of individuals who believe that life is governed by belief in the phrase, “survival of the fittest.” While those of us who believe a loving Creator made the earth and everything in it for us, His children, really don’t get too worked up over saving the snail darter or whatever.

Shouldn’t we be the leading advocates for Creation and caring for the planet? Is there a way to honor God by taking good of everything He made without putting His creation ahead of Him?

“The message reverberates through culture beckons us to ‘go green’ because we will look better and feel better and fit in …. [But as followers of Christ] we have deeper reasons to go green. We serve the Creator of the planet …. He created the earth and took the time to tell us his plan for it. The God of the universe has given us the great task of caring for our planet …. We have an operating manual for our planet right in front of us in the Bible, and we must allow that manual to change our thinking and behavior.” 2

Do we consider ourselves part of God’s plan for taking care of His Creation? Or are we here to get all we can out of it?

Did you know that God gave instructions that would have helped avoid the dustbowl of the early twentieth century? It’s called (Are you ready for this?) the “Law of the Sabbaths.”

“Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its produce, but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave, the beasts of the field may eat. In like manner you shall do with your vineyard and your olive grove.” Exodus 23:10-11

Verse 12 goes on to remind folks to let their work animals rest on the weekly Sabbaths as well. Interesting, the Sabbath is made for man, and man is then supposed to make sure that little piece of creation stays healthy by sharing Sabbath rest with his animals and his land.

Imagine what might happen if one day out of seven, all unnecessary worked stopped. What effect would that have on energy consumption and air pollution? Do you think it would be significant?  I don’t know, maybe? I’m pretty sure it won’t happen, though. Why? The same reason it quit happening in the first place.  Humans are selfish.

“Selfishness consists in dethroning reason from the seat of government and enthroning blind desire in opposition to it. Selfishness is always and by necessity unreasonable. It is a denial of that divine attribute that allies human beings to God and makes us capable of virtue. Selfishness dethrones reason and sinks human beings to the level of a brute. …

“It is a contempt for the voice of God within in him, and a deliberate trampling down of the sovereignty of his own intelligence. Shame on selfishness! It dethrones human reason, would dethrone the Divine mind and would place blind lust upon the throne of the universe.”3

Selfishness causes us to abuse the gifts God has given us, even the planet we live on. Our selfishness has brought us to a place where we value ourselves, our wants and desires about anyone or anything else. We value our planet only for what we can get out of it. We don’t even value human life if it stands between us and something we want. Our greed even causes us to injure our own bodies as we consume too much of the wrong things just because we want them, not because we need them.

As Christians we are in the unique position of protecting God’s Creation. We know its true importance. We aren’t caring for one random rock floating in random galaxy formed when a random star exploded. We are stewards of an extravagant gift made especially for us by our God who loves us. Every atom, every molecule was formed by His own hand and still bear His finger prints.

“… it was sin which marred God’s perfect work; …thorns and thistles, sorrow and pain and death, are all the result of disobedience to God. … see how the earth, though marred with the curse of sin, still reveals God’s goodness. The green fields, the lofty trees, the glad sunshine, the clouds, the dew, the solemn stillness of the night, the glory of the starry heavens, and the moon in its beauty all bear witness of the Creator. Not a drop of rain falls, not a ray of light is shed on our unthankful world, but it testifies to the forbearance and love of God.”4

Many of us would like to think that we don’t have to worry about the world around us because Jesus is coming soon. But even before sin, Adam and Eve were to tend the Garden. What makes us think that we are any less responsible now?

  1. Waterfall Through Rocks Image © Greg Walker from GoodSalt.com
  2. Jonathon Merritt, Green Like God (FaithWords, 2010)
  3. Charles G. Finney in Principles of Love. Christianity Today, Vol. 36, no. 4.
  4. Ellen G. White, Testimonies of the Church, Volume 6, p 358


A Thin Green Line – Christian Environmentalism — 9 Comments

  1. Excellent lesson Lilliane! I love your example about caring for your aunt and uncle's home. yes, we are stewards of this earth, and he who is faithful in little will be given much. Why would God trust us with a new earth if we destroy the one we have now? But if we show we can be faithful stewards of this earth, He will give us an even better and New Earth to care for.

    • It's true my sister, God loved us before, and grace begin in Eden, where our forefather Adam and Eve sinned against God but they didn't die because of grace.

  2. Thank you Lillianne for that powerful lesson. Why indeed should God trust us with a new Earth when our behaviour has thus far shown us to be untrustworthy? I pray we will all become better stewards.

  3. Powerful lesson. I have been touched about this lesson. Think of it; how often have we just stepped/drove on God's insects on the road. Ants moving in a line, carmelions, centipedes, snakes:-innocent reptiles. Think of the rush for minerals, exploring of the earth for minerals like gold, coal, diamonds etc. Some places people even killed because of love for minerals. Oh how I wish the Lord would rekindle a new spirit in us that would lead us to have a heart for His Creation.

  4. We live in a the powerhouse area of Australia. If I drive to the top of a local hill I can see 5 power stations, each of them devouring a small mountain of coal every day. I can see the scars of huge open cut mines and they snake across what was once prime dairy farming land. And on top of all that 80 wagon trains are travelling into and out of the port of Newcastle at so many trains per hour. I visited the coast last week and counted 24 ships off the coast waiting to be loaded with coal to take it to China. It is not uncommon to count 50 - 60 ships. Typically these are loaded at the rate of about 3 per day. Many of the locals are employed in either coal mining or power production. My wife Carmel, who is a local has roots in the coal mining industry that go back to when coal was the main fuel for trains.

    There is no escaping the influence of coalmining in this area and it often boils over in political antagonism. Only recently the local coal mining company decided that they wanted to open-cut mine the area north of Cooranbong, with its high population of Adventists. Public meetings were held and Adventists were at the forefront of the battle with the mines to force them to either abandon mining the area or force them to go underground. Clearly the big motivator was the economic impact of having an open-cut mine on the villages front yard.

    The "green" cause is often a political and economic issue and sometimes it is wise to see it as that. Clearly everyone sees mining as a threat when they see huge earth-guzzling machines marching towards their homes. On the other hand we also use and enjoy the benefits of the energy provided by such industry. As with many issues such as this the boundaries are blurred.

    Being environmentally responsible as a Christian is more than political protesting. It requires environmental responsibility and an understanding of how that responsibility affects the whole of our lives. Sometimes it does mean protesting. I took exception to the French using the Pacific to test their bombs. If I had been aware of it I would have protested about the Poms (English) using Australia to test their bombs. (I was a bit young at the time) However a Christian perspective of environmental management is more than protest. There is one area where I believe that we can make a positive contribution to both the environment and the cause of Christianity. Many areas have landcare groups that are interested in ensuring that the land is well looked after environmentally. They spend time getting rid of noxious weeds and re-establishing primitive natural plant communities. Many of these organisations rely on volunteers on weekends. I wonder if it would be a good missionary endeavor to join one of the groups and spend time with them on Sabbath afternoon. Is that something Jesus would do? Maybe I could photograph birds for them on Sabbath afternoon!

    • Hello Maurice, I can relate to much of what you say. Montana is a mineral rich state where mining, oil, lumber, and agriculture are major industries. The mining industry in our state is forced to clean up after their mess by involving themselves in land reclamation. The lumber industry has learned the hard lessons of over production and voluntarily enters into reforestation programs in order to ensure a renewable resource for themselves. I don’t think the question is whether we use the resources or not but how we use it in a way that doesn’t wreak havoc on this planet.

      To me one of the most damaging practices is the denuding of tropical rain forests but then how do you tell a people that they can’t use their land to earn a living when most of us live on a much higher standard than they do? Certainly greed and gluttony are the tyrants in the destruction of our planet especially when outside interests treat other countries as nothing more than vassal servants for the use by the wealthy and literally rape the land for profit.

      Personally I have to heat my home in the winter else I would freeze. With what am I to heat it? No matter what I do I have to use a natural resource. I do conserve the best I can by getting efficient light bulbs and lowering the general house temperature down to 60° F with only my office heated to reason. I also use a bicycle for 95% of my travel. But even when I do all of that something somewhere is being consumed and somebody is making a living on my use of the original resource I use.

      And what can we say about our production practices which engineer planned failure into every product to ensure their company has something to sell in the future. I once worked for a company that made a machine called a FlowTurn. They made it so well that it never wore out and soon there were no more sales so people lost their jobs. It certainly would be great if things could last forever but then who would have a job under those circumstances? We could all revert back to the cave but realistically that doesn’t seem to be a very practical option.

      To me the ultimate answer is the second advent and the rebuilding and restructuring of this planet where the economic and survival issues no longer exist. But until then we all must live in a real world with real needs and real problems that have to be addressed.

  5. Wow, what a lot you have given me to think about! You have helped me see another perspective. Here in the United States it's easy to just see the economic benefit of doing things a certain way or the loss of jobs if we don't do something else.
    Photographing birds, animals and nature seems like a beautiful way to spend the Sabbath honoring our Savior.
    Thank you for reading and commenting.

  6. The dominion God gave the man and woman is actually, in the original language, not unlike that of a king, or a ruler of some kind. By following Satan's suggestions, Adam and Eve gave that dominion over to him. Notice that during the wilderness temptations Jesus did not dispute Satan's assertion that he was able to give all the kingdoms of the world to Jesus. On three occasions (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11) Jesus referred to Satan as the "prince of this world". The redemption Jesus completed on the cross includes the defeat of the present ruler of this world in order to be able to turn it back over to His people upon its re-creation.

    Realizing this does not address the stewardship responsibilities that go with "ruler-ship", still it is an important concept for us to bear in mind even as we study and discuss the need to care for our environment. A good ruler will certainly exhibit good stewardship of that for which he/she is responsible. And while the "prince of this world" and his "ruler-ship" have not yet been completely destroyed, his doom is sure and it is appropriate for us, to some degree, to take back the authority God planned for us to have and care for at least the "little corner" of the world in which we live.

    I have no patience with the environmentalists who use false science, lies, radicalism and even violence to push their cause. But I can be certain that for which I am responsible is not harmed or unwisely used and share it with God's creatures (I'm not quite certain that every "animal" in existence today was created by God--at least not in the form and behavior they exhibit today. Did God design termites to destroy our shelters? Is it wrong to exterminate for protection from termites?)

    • Excellent point, Terrance. Satan has perverted both our use and our stewardship of His creation. We, as individuals, honor God with out stewardship of our own little corner.
      Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment.


Please leave a comment long enough to say something significant and considerably shorter than the original post. First and last name required.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *