theological reflections on the environment
I was a little disturbed this past week about a blog conversation that went on at jesusmanifesto.com under the blog post “Jonah on Climate Change“. I’m not going to get into the discussion on there, but I just wanted to share a few of my on environmental thoughts.
1) If you don’t believe that Jesus is going to return some day and redeem all of creation, it’s hard to care about the environment. We all know a lot of environmental damage has been written-off by the Christian community because some of us believe we are going to escape earth in the end head off to heaven. If we will be gone from this place soon, why should we care about it? On the other hand, if you believe that there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and that all of creation will be redeemed, then it does matter how we treat the earth now. It’s not going to be burned up, it’s going to be redeemed and made into a new creation!
2) Environmental actions witness to our future hope in the present. By redeeming abandoned lots for community gardens to feed the hungry, by redeeming someone else’s old chair to furnish our apartment for a guest, by redeeming food through dumpster-diving for a meal with neighbors, we are pointing towards the full coming of the kingdom of God. The broken, the thrown-out, the things deemed worthless will be redeemed. By cutting back on what we purchase, by creating simpler lives, by not insiting that everything be new or up-to-date, we are witnessing to a redeemed way of life, where our identity lies with our Creator and not in the created things we purchase.
3) By caring for the environment, we are acting as God’s stewards of His creation. Creation wasn’t created to be consumed by us but was meant to be cared for by us. This is the same as the biblical view of money. The money isn’t ours, it is ours to care for and to invest in the kingdom, but it doesn’t belong to us. The same goes to the environment. So we can live off of it, but we cannot see it as belonging to us, nor can we believe that we have the right to consume it or do what we want with it. It is not ours.
4) Environmental degradation is linked to deeper sins of greed, entitlement, consumerism, and lack of security in God. Forget what you think of global warming, recycling, or bottled water… I think we can probably all agree that we live in a greedy, consumeristic, insecure culture. And I think that if we faced some of these underlying sins, our environmental issues would begin to lessen. We want more of the earth than the earth can provide for out of greed, we feel we can use whatever materials from the earth we want out of entitlement, we feel we need a lot of material goods out of consumerism, and we have a hard time giving up this lifestyle out of insecurity in God.
5) God can clean up whatever mess we make, but that doesn’t mean we should make it. Yes, even if the globe warms up and kills most of the life on it, or if we radiate the earth with nuclear weapons, the God who created it all can fix it all. Yet, just as Paul asked, “should we then go on sinning?” the answer is no. We are still asked to be good stewards of the earth and care for our neighbors and fellow creation, even if God can clean up after us.
6) We cannot save the environment through progress. This is my most pessimistic one, but I don’t think there is a way forward on this one that will put us back in balance with the environment. I don’t believe we can create “green” products, or “green” fuels, or “green” technologies that won’t have a dent on our environment. We keep putting our hope in these things, like ethanol fuel (when we really should be riding bikes instead) or in carbon-negative Fuji water (when we should drink from the tap in reusable bottles). We are believing a huge myth here if we think that progress and technology will save the environment. Instead, we need to look back- to cut out things we don’t need, to live simpler lives, to consume less. The answer isn’t finding “green” alternatives to everything, but to be anti-progress here and start living simpler lives.
My husband, Mike, works in solar. There are a great many things about solar power, but I want to leave you with two thoughts. One, solar creates cheap clean energy from the sun, yet it takes tons of fuel, materials, mining, and pollution to create solar panels. Even solar energy, as clean and “green” as it is, does damage to our environment. Two, my husband comes home from work and always has stories of people who spend hundreds on there electric bill each month and want solar to save some money. Are they willing to do things like cut back on their energy consumption or move out of their McMansion? No, but they are willing to pay several thousand to install solar panels on their roof. We cannot buy our way forward with this one.