CREATED TO CARE OR TO KILL?
God told Adam to keep the garden, not kill it. Yet that is the idea that some believers unconsciously embody in their ecological outlook, bringing blame on the Church for the world’s current environmental crisis (Berry 304). In the media, Christians are often unfairly misrepresented as ignorant fanatics who deny everything from climate change to the shape of the Earth, making the Church the target of much ridicule—and not the kind that Jesus would applaud. Sadly, Christians reinforce this caricature by electing officials who echo their environmentally indifferent ethos on the political scene, making the United States the only country in the world who refuses to join the global initiative in combating climate change (Friedman). This ecological arrogance stems from the androcentric worldview which has dominated western thought since the first millennia ACE: the conviction that the Earth is humankinds’ to exploit (White 292). As Bouma-Prediger puts it, “Directly or indirectly, many argue, the Christian faith is responsible for the present ecological degradation since it in various ways legitimates and encourages the exploitation of the earth” (312). Yet it is not the faith itself which is culpable for the current crisis, but the incorrect beliefs of the people who misrepresent it. And beliefs must be based on fact—especially when dealing with Bible doctrines. Contrary to the claim that God made the Earth for endless exploitation, the Bible teaches that God made human beings to be its caretakers, that he cares about his creation, and that the creation is included in his plan of salvation.
CREATED TO BE CARETAKERS
For centuries, Christians have helped pillage the Earth on the strength of weak exegesis, having an incorrect interpretation of scripture’s cosmogony. People misunderstand God’s command to subdue the Earth as a mandate to conquer it militarily (Genesis 1:28). This, in addition to other apparent imperatives in the narrative has led Christians to subjugate both women and wilderness into degrading hierarchies (D’Angelo 565). Such unjust scales have not only tipped in favor of men, but also of political agendas suspiciously centered on economic gains, fomenting growing anti-Christian sentiment around the world. Therefore, concerning ecology, it is necessary to consult the “whole counsel of God” to better understand what humankind’s relationship with creation really is, the scope of which can be delineated by the following two passages (Acts 20:27). The first is found in Genesis 2:15 where God commands the man to “keep” the garden, to be its steward. While some may argue that the Edenic mandate has no value in a fallen world destined for destruction (2 Pet 3:10), the second passage says otherwise. Romans 8:19-22 states that the creation yearns for the revealing of the children of God, which unequivocally infers that such will be its caretaker and not killer. Therefore, if Nature is hoping to be released into the care of God’s children, it follows that God’s children should start caring—and caring now; not only for Nature’s sake, but for God’s sake also—because God cares about creation.
GOD CARES ABOUT HIS CREATION
Despite the bulk of biblical material that depicts animals as mere instruments for service and slaughter, the truth is much more morally satisfying. When Scripture is interpreted within the narrative frame of redemption, the picture becomes clear that God is concerned with the salvation of everything he calls “good” (Gen 1:1-31). In other words, the treatment of animals—and humans—hinges on the fall, which changed the fate of all life (Gen 1-2; 3). This is evidenced by the divine injunction in Genesis 1:29 for all creatures to eat only plants, implying that before sin came into the world there was no death—not even among animals for food. It is only after the fall in Genesis 9:3 that God permits the killing of animals, indicating a dramatic shift in dietary policy. This apparent contradiction is best explained by Paul Copan, who argues that following the fall God instituted laws to accommodate the new conditions; laws which accounted for people’s inability to live up to his Edenic ideal (102). Jesus himself mentioned this when discussing laws on divorce, that such is not in accordance with the divine design (Matt 19:8). Moreover, the death of the very first animal recorded in Scripture was symbolic of the death of Christ, when God made tunics for Adam and Eve after driving them out of the garden. This suggests that in the economy of ritual sacrifice, God identified with the victims in whom his breath dwelt, signifying that animal suffering—is also God’s suffering. Along this line of thought Wallace has developed a theological model that accounts for God’s ecological concerns in Fragments of the Spirit: Nature, Violence, and the Renewal, an excellent resource for creating environmental awareness in today’s church (Kärkkäinen 22). And on account of God’s care for creation, it becomes clear that such has a place in his plan of salvation, as well.
SALVATION IS FOR EVERYONE
Scripture alludes to a global utopia in the eschaton where there will be no more death or suffering (Rev 21:4). This does not only apply to human beings, but also for all of God’s creatures. Because of the androcentric worldview which unconsciously pervades modern thought, some Christians assume that other lifeforms will be abandoned to destruction in the apocalypse along with unrepentant sinners. However, this could not be father from the truth, as numerous passages describe the inclusion of animal life in God’s plan of redemption. The most famous is the foreshadowing of the apocalypse in the story of Noah’s Ark, where God takes care to ensure that the animal life is delivered safely from judgment and ushered into the new world (Gen 5:32-10:1). And concerning the new world, Isaiah 11:6-9 provides perhaps the most encouraging glimpse of what such a world might look like in the future:
The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
In view of the above verses, it becomes clear that God cares for his creation, for the Earth and its inhabitants. Therefore, to accommodate this truth, the traditional paradigm must be corrected (White 292).
In sum, God is not only good towards people, he is good toward the whole planet. Scripture teaches that humanity was created in God’s image as caretakers of his creation—for God cares for his creation. And while the perception of Christianity as earth’s enemy is ultimately unfair, it is not without warrant. The misinterpretation of Christian cosmogony has historically affected the way the West has viewed the world, and as a result, has become an unseen support beam in the occidental ideologies of theists and atheists alike. However, it is the Christian justification of ecological abuse that has brought the Church into the crosshairs of environmentalists the world over, signaling the need for an overhaul in biblical hermeneutics. In Lynn White’s wisdom, since the andro-hegemonic program started with religion, it must end with religion, too (292).
Berry, Wendell. “Christianity and the Survival of Creation?” Epperson and Hall 299-307.
Bouma-Prediger, Steven. “Is Christianity Responsible for the Ecological Crisis?” Epperson and Hall 311-17.
Copan, Paul. Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011.
D’ Angelo, Mary Rose. “Review of From Apocalypse to Genesis: Ecology, Feminism, and Christianity by Anne Primavesi.” Critical Review of Books in Religion (1993).
Epperson, William, and Mark Hall, eds. Encounters: Readings for Advanced Composition. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt, 2001.
Friedman, Lisa. “Syria Joins Paris Climate Accord, Leaving Only U.S. Opposed.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 7 Nov. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/11/07/climate/syria-joins-paris-agreement.html.
Kärkkäinen, Veli-Matti. Pneumatology: The Holy Spirit in Ecumenical, International, and Contextual Perspective. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.
The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982.
White Jr., Lynn. “The Historical Roots of our Ecologic Crisis?” Epperson and Hall 287-93.