During my week of training at what my husband jokingly calls “whale college,” I've thought a lot about a biblical perspective of conservation. Frankly, the majority of people with whom I interact on the subject do not believe in a creator God, and worship of the creature seems the norm rather than the exception out here. Furthermore, I don't hear much on conservation from Christians. Christian views certainly didn't pop up during my week of training. As I reflect back on my Christian upbringing, I don't remember conservation or environmentalism ever spoken of in positive ways.
What's a believer to do? Before I get into a Biblical perspective on conservation, I should mention the pitfalls that are tempting to one who loves nature and values diverse ecosystems. As I mentioned in the last paragraph, it is easy to elevate the creature above the Creator. Let me tell you, orca whales are incredible. After chimpanzees, they are the most intelligent animal on earth. Their social systems and dialects are fascinating. I understand the ease with which many subcultures have slid into worship of these creatures. God's magnificent creation becomes a substitute for God Himself.
Another pitfall is what I call “straining at gnats and swallowing camels.” People need the Lord. It's priority number one, and the needs of the hearts of men supersede the needs of animals. We had a sober message at our church Sunday of the spiritual and physical needs of a Native American group in our state after our pastor and others from our church returned from the area. The needs among those image-bearers of God are stark and real, and any believer who loves both conservation and Creator knows that the needs of mankind always supersede the needs of animals.
Another pitfall befalls us in our great experiment of democracy called the United States. How far should government go in mandating environmental issues? I remember well during my college years some state institution forbidding my father from plowing and planting a small inner portion of one of his fields because it was considered a wetland for threatened waterfowl. We wrote a letter petitioning for a lifting of the ban, noting that no self-respecting duck would choose that measly mud hole when there was a perfectly good 20 acre pond with marshes on the land just a quarter mile away. I'm not sure we worded it exactly that way, but the state official lifted the ban, and the waterfowl seemed happy enough with the arrangement.
However, none of these pitfalls wipe out a Christian's responsibility in terms of conservation. In the last post, I discussed the Us v. Them mentality some Christians have when it comes to persecution. I posited that the diverse response among Christians to perceived persecution often reflects more on our view of end times than our view of current times (or even our view of Scripture). I think the same holds true for conservation. If you think the new heaven and the new earth of Revelation 21 means that God is going to totally scrap the old one, then why in the world would you worry with conservation, right? Some day, I'll write some thoughts on end times, but suffice it to say, I'm convinced that the creation mandate of Genesis 1 is the foundational piece of Scripture that should shape our view of creation and conservation rather than Revelations 21. Theologically, origins are really important points for understanding the whole. God's first words describing what He made and how He created it to function should be the framework for understanding our relation to it today.
The opening story of Scripture concerns the environment – how it got here (God created it), what He thought of it (it was GOOD!), and His plan for man's interaction with it (which I'll explore in the rest of this post). Adam was the first naturalist! Consider Genesis 1.
24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground. ”
29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food. ” And it was so. 31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.I've known this chapter of Scripture from childhood, yet I've never paid much attention to verse 30. In God's notes to us of His creation of the world, He highlights His provision of food for each animal He created! And He notes clearly throughout each piece of creation that it was GOOD. The way He made it was the way it was supposed to be. It was beneficial. It had intrinsic value just the way it was.
Then He made man in His image and tasked him with ruling over the fish, birds, and animals. Man, without a doubt, is the king of the jungle in God's paradigm. Clearly he was not created to exist at the whim of his environment. I think of submarines and airplanes as classic examples of man subduing the earth. We shouldn't be able to fly, and we shouldn't be able to live for months underwater. Yet we have figured out ways to subdue natural laws in our exploration and subjugation of our world. Such technology seems a good and natural result of what God set in motion when He created man and declared it all good.
Yet the fall of man occurred. It's not long into Genesis before we see man's ability to subdue his environment gone awry. Instead of ruling as a good steward who values God's creation as God Himself does, man quickly sees himself as god to use technology and creation at his own whim. This is evident at the Tower of Babel, where man's engineering abilities tempt him to grasp for God's realm. 2 Chronicles 26 gives us another example.
5 [Uzziah] set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God, and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper....
8 The Ammonites paid tribute to Uzziah, and his fame spread even to the border of Egypt, for he became very strong. 9 Moreover, Uzziah built towers in Jerusalem at the Corner Gate and at the Valley Gate and at the Angle, and fortified them. 10 And he built towers in the wilderness and cut out many cisterns, for he had large herds, both in the Shephelah and in the plain, and he had farmers and vinedressers in the hills and in the fertile lands, for he loved the soil. 11 Moreover, Uzziah had an army of soldiers, fit for war, in divisions according to the numbers in the muster made by Jeiel the secretary and Maaseiah the officer, under the direction of Hananiah, one of the king's commanders....
14 And Uzziah prepared for all the army shields, spears, helmets, coats of mail, bows, and stones for slinging. 15 In Jerusalem he made machines, invented by skillful men, to be on the towers and the corners, to shoot arrows and great stones. And his fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped, till he was strong. 16 But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction.It's not rocket science to say that mankind doesn't steward creation well and gets proudly secure in his technological advances. This post is already too long to discuss the fascinating and disturbing relationship with the technologies associated with institutional atlantic salmon farms in the pacific northwest and their impact on the natural types of pacific salmon that have flourished here for thousands of years. But it's a case study to me in Tower of Babel and Uzziah type thinking.
What I don't understand is why believers who fight for a literal view of creation don't more strongly contribute to conservation as well. I see conservation efforts in many parts of the world as God's common grace at work, keeping mankind from the total destruction of the planet that he tends toward after the fall. God gifted us with the penthouse apartment on a massive 100 story building, yet every day, someone elevators down many flights to pull out 10 bricks from floors below to build an addition on our penthouse. It adds up.
If we believe that what God created was, as He calls it, VERY GOOD, then those of us who are being called back to Him and transformed into His image through Christ ought to look to the early chapters of Genesis for our understanding of our relationship with creation. Christian conversation of late has included lots of wrestling through how the gospel equips us to once again bear the image of God as He intended in our relationship with the opposite sex. I hope we will also have a conversation on how the gospel equips us to reclaim those pieces of His image in us marred by the fall in terms of our relationship with His creation.