All posts by Dean Ohlman

Why Should We Care About the Environment?

Consider similar questions: Why should we care about our bodies since they are all going to die anyway? Or why care for our homes or business establishments since they will all eventually be demolished? Careful consideration of these questions should make it easier for us to draw the conclusion that biblical prophecy about the future must not be used to excuse present carelessness. This kind of attitude has often been expressed in the claim that “some believers are so heavenly minded they’re of no earthly good.”

The Bible passage that tells us of the “elements” of the earth burning “with fervent heat” 2 Peter 3:10-13) is not easy to understand nor is its chronology clear. Many Old Testament passages speak about the permanence of the creation (Psalm 104:5; 148; 78:69; Ecclesiastes 1:4); both Old and New Testament Scriptures tell of a future time of restoration and reconciliation when the earth will return to the peaceable kingdom much like that of the Garden of Eden (Isaiah 11:6-9; 65:25; Micah 4:1-4; Acts 3:18-21; Romans 8:18-25; Colossians 1:19-20; Revelation 22:1-3). Certainly that is a yet-to-be era on this earth, and one we should eagerly anticipate. If what Peter was predicting is a total remaking of the planet, it would have to come after the restoration—which would seem to make such destruction unnecessary.

Regardless, Francis Schaeffer reminded us in his book Pollution and the Death of Man: The Christian View of Ecology that “on the basis of the fact that there is going to be total redemption in the future, not only of man, but also of all creation, the Christian who believes the Bible should be the one who — with God’s help and in the power of the Holy Spirit — is treating nature now in the direction of the way nature will be then. [Our healing work] will not now be perfect, but it must be substantial, or we have missed our calling” (pp. 68-69. Tyndale House, 1970)

The major problem with basing our present attitude toward the earth on an uncertain chronology of the future is that we fail to remember the very clear mandates of the past. Caring for creation is a matter of obedience. It is our God-given responsibility to care. We understand this from Genesis 2:15. “The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and care for it” 1 (NLT). We are to be “good earth-keepers.”

  1. The two Hebrew words in Genesis 2:15 used in reference to caring for the creation are rendered in the King James Version as “dress” and “keep.” In modern English, these words have lost the rich meanings known in the days of King James. In Hebrew they are “abad” and “shamar.” The definitions of these words according to James Strong’s concordance include the following understandings: abad = to work, to serve, to till, to keep in bondage, to be husbandman over; shamar = to hedge about, to guard, to protect, to attend to, to be circumspect, to take, to mark, look narrowly upon, to observe, to preserve, to regard, to reserve, to save, to wait for, to watch over (as a watchman). “Shamar” is used in the familiar Aaronic blessing: Numbers 6:24 “The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: The Lord make His face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The Lord lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace” (KJV). Adam was apparently expected to care for the earth as the Lord cares for it and for us. Back To Article
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Isn’t “Caring for Creation” the Same as Environmentalism?

When a belief system becomes dominant in an individual’s life, it virtually becomes a religion. When it does, we often add the suffix “ism” to the chief word defining it. Many people are so given over to communism, scientism, conservatism, liberalism, or materialism that these worldviews become virtual worship systems to them. Because such philosophies come to rule an individual’s behavior, debate over them strongly affects the emotions of both believers and unbelievers alike. Environmentalism is another of those belief systems. It is an emotionally charged word that evokes images from the sixties of radical activists storming the fences of nuclear power plants or chaining themselves to trees about to be cut. It paints mental pictures of people worshiping nature. Without question, thousands of environmental activists really have no greater object of worship than the natural world. The cosmos is their god because it’s the greatest thing they know.

Christians, of course, don’t want to be associated with nature worship, so we don’t want to be characterized as “environmentalists.” However, the difference between environmentalism and true stewardship of God’s handiwork – good earth-keeping – is extreme. Some environmentalism does indeed tend toward worship of the creation. Biblical earth-keeping (caring for creation in accord with the Holy Scriptures), however, is centered on a personal relationship with, and worship of, the Creator. As a part of our worship we respect and care for the creation that comes from God’s awesome power and gracious providence. Caring for creation is one of the major responsibilities given by God to His people1 (Genesis 2:15). And there is no good reason we can’t combine that responsibility with all the other responsibilities we have: caring for our children, caring for our neighbor, caring for the lost, and the like—all the while, taking great pains not to make the objects of our care the objects of our worship (Romans 1:21-25).

  1. The two Hebrew words in Genesis 2:15 used in reference to caring for the creation are rendered in the King James Version as “dress” and “keep.” In modern English, these words have lost the rich meanings known in the days of King James. In Hebrew they are “abad” and “shamar.” The definitions of these words according to James Strong’s concordance include the following understandings: abad = to work, to serve, to till, to keep in bondage, to be husbandman over; shamar = to hedge about, to guard, to protect, to attend to, to be circumspect, to take, to mark, look narrowly upon, to observe, to preserve, to regard, to reserve, to save, to wait for, to watch over (as a watchman). “Shamar” is used in the familiar Aaronic blessing: Numbers 6:24 “The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: The Lord make His face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The Lord lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace” (KJV). Adam was apparently expected to care for the earth as the Lord cares for it and for us.Back To Article
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Isn’t Environmental Concern Pantheistic Thinking?

Because the earth tends to be an object of worship for those given to neo-pagan beliefs and other modern forms of pantheism, it’s logical for them to be concerned about abuse of the earth. Many of these deceived individuals have followed the path of earth-worship illustrated by the apostle Paul: “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen” (Romans 1:25). There is a world of difference, however, between those who care for creation because they believe the earth itself is divine, and those who care for creation because they honor and worship the divine Creator and desire to obey Him in being good stewards of His created world. The truth is, according to Paul, the creation does indeed demonstrate to everyone – no one excepted—both God’s eternal power and His divinity (Romans 1:20).

We need to keep in mind that it is only natural for those who worship the creation to want to care for it. And pantheism (believing that God is everything or that He is the impersonal force that inhabits all matter) is growing today among those concerned about the degradation of the earth’s environment. In fact, Christian philosopher-theologian Francis Schaeffer warned the evangelical community thirty-five years ago that if it did not begin to address these real crises, the worldview of the environmental movement would come to be based on pantheism (Pollution, p.23). He was already voicing that concern when the Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught fire in June of 1969 because of extreme pollution by flammable liquids dumped into the stream by careless industries. This shocking disaster sent many non-Christians into a search for a philosophy or religion that could address the abuse of our environment. Sadly, they did not find it in Christianity where it should have been evident.

Chuck Colson in his book The Body tells us, “We should be contending for truth in every area of life. Not for power or because we are taken with some trendy cause, but humbly to bring glory to God. For this reason, Christians should be the most ardent ecologists” (p.197, The Body: Being Light in the Darkness, Charles Colson; Word Publishing, 1992).

Christians ought to be able to demonstrate to those who have fallen into the error of pantheism that biblical faith provides ample support for faithful care of God’s creation handiwork. Christians care because earth stewardship is our responsibility of service to God1 (Genesis 2:15). Why others may care is of little significance to believers—other than serving as a contact point for reaching them for Christ. Many believers who are outspoken advocates of creation care have had significant opportunities to reach New Age thinkers with the truth of the Gospel—providing them with the fundamental reason for environmental concern: respect for and obedience to the One who created the earth. Many of these people might be drawn to the message of the gospel if more believers consistently lived out with integrity the meaning of the gospel in all its aspects—including respect, regard, and responsibility for the creation which will one day be restored because of Jesus’ act of redemption (Acts 3:18-21; Romans 8:18-25; Colossians 1:19-20; Revelation 22:1-3).

  1. The two Hebrew words in Genesis 2:15 used in reference to caring for the creation are rendered in the King James Version as “dress” and “keep.” In modern English, these words have lost the rich meanings known in the days of King James. In Hebrew they are “abad” and “shamar.” The definitions of these words according to James Strong’s concordance include the following understandings: abad = to work, to serve, to till, to keep in bondage, to be husbandman over; shamar = to hedge about, to guard, to protect, to attend to, to be circumspect, to take, to mark, look narrowly upon, to observe, to preserve, to regard, to reserve, to save, to wait for, to watch over (as a watchman). “Shamar” is used in the familiar Aaronic blessing: Numbers 6:24 “The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: The Lord make His face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The Lord lift up His countenance upon thee, and give thee peace” (KJV). Adam was apparently expected to care for the earth as the Lord cares for it and for us.Back To Article
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Why Care About the Earth?

One of the thrilling promises given to us by Paul is that “our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body” (Philippians 3:20-21, NIV). This passage, in tandem with Acts 3:18-21, speaks of the future when Jesus Christ will return and with His followers establish His messianic kingdom, which, according to evangelical theologians, will be on this present earth.

Our “heavenly citizenship” tells us who our true Sovereign is and to whom we owe allegiance. And His kingdom is actually going to come to earth. That’s what we pray for in “the Lord’s Prayer,’ and what the apostle John tells us about in the Revelation (Rev. 21:6). That understanding should keep us from carelessness regarding God’s good creation. Poet T. S. Eliot, a friend of C. S. Lewis, gave believers a good point to ponder in his poem “Choruses From the Rock”: “‘Our citizenship is in Heaven;’ yes, but that is the model and type for [our] citizenship upon earth.” (p.100; T. S. Eliot, Collected Poems 1909-1935; Harcourt, Brace & Jovanovich; 1936)

The atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ provided not only for the salvation of mankind, but also for the restoration (Rom. 8:21) and reconciliation of the whole creation (Colossians 1:20). Our nonhuman co-worshipers—the stars, the land, the animals, the plants—will share our return to pre-Fall conditions which, as suggested by John Wesley, may even exceed the glories of the original creation (John Wesley Sermon #60 “The General Deliverance,” Section III, 1872).

What remarkable things might be accomplished if we lived on the fallen earth today in light of the way we expect to live on the restored earth tomorrow? We believe that through the process of sanctification we can become more like Christ. Are we to assume that sanctification improves relationships only between man and God and between man and man, and not between man and the natural world? The influential Bible scholar and Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer challenged us in this area: “God’s calling to the Christian now, and to the Christian community, in the area of nature – just as it is in the area of personal Christian living in true spirituality – is that we should exhibit a substantial healing here and now between man and nature and nature itself, as far as Christians can bring it to pass” (Pollution and the Death of Man: The Christian View of Ecology, Tyndale House, 1970 p.69).

We ought to always remember this: to abuse the earth is to profane the handiwork of God.

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