What Does the Bible Say About… The Environment?

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I’m currently in a series of blog posts about political issues. In the wake of the Brexit vote and the establishment of our new government under Theresa May, I felt it was important to examine some social and political topics by asking the question, “What does the Bible say about…?” You can read my previous posts on Immigration and Benefits by clicking the links. My topic for this post is the environment.

Many people were shocked when, during her cabinet reshuffle, Theresa May closed down the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc), folding the responsibilities of this focused department into a newly expanded Department for Business under Greg Clark. The decision was described by previous ministers from the Decc as “a major setback for the UK’s climate change efforts” (Ed Davey, Lib Dem) and “plain stupid” (Ed Miliband, Labour).

Although there has been a lot of debate over the years about the validity of climate change, scientists are now 95% certain that it is indeed caused primarily by mankind. So how should we feel about this as Christians? What does the Bible say about the environment?

“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.

    The world and all its people belong to him.

For he laid the earth’s foundation on the seas

 and built it on the ocean depths.” Psalm 24:1-2

Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.””

“Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”” Genesis 1:26, 28

“The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it.” Genesis 2:15

God created the earth. Whatever your take on the creation account (let’s park the ‘Young Earth/Old Earth’ debate here), the Bible is unambiguous about the simple fact that God did it. Upon finishing his work, God assigned mankind to rule over it. The Hebrew word there is rādāh, which means ‘to manage or govern.’ Mankind is also told to govern the earth. That word is kābaš, meaning ‘to conquer or control an environment.’ While this word is used elsewhere in a military context, here it is referring to subduing the earth and keeping it orderly. So mankind has a clear mandate from God in the very beginning to steward the earth, look after it and ensure its continuing welfare.

This week I was walking with my wife in one of our favourite parks. As we were walking past a pond, I looked into the water – which was a horrid green colour – and saw several large crisp packets beneath the surface of the water. I turned to Annie and said, “We’re pretty rubbish really, aren’t we?” Annie and I didn’t personally put that litter in the pond, but as a species we humans have not done the best job of looking after the planet God has given to us. I looked at those crisp packets and imagined some hapless newts or fish attempting to make a home in their silver-lined, crumb-filled depths. Not the most welcoming of habitats!

Politically, the environment has for a long time been championed by groups like Greenpeace and the Green Party. These groups have sadly been ridiculed in the past for their devotion to preserving the environment. Of course, it can be argued that a single-issue party like the Greens is opening themselves up to some level of ribbing simply because all their policies come back to this one point, but that does not mean that their point is invalid or unimportant. (I’ll admit at this point that I was quite impressed by the Green Party in the 2015 general election, and particularly by Natalie Bennett in the leadership debates, because they distinguished themselves as a party with a wider focus than was previously thought.)

I suppose a question which might be on the mind of some readers is ‘why should I worry about the environment when there are pressing issues of social justice to be dealt with?’ Of course, social justice issues are massively important; I’ve dealt with such things in previous posts, and I’m sure I will again as well. However, focusing on one problem to the exclusion of others is not a good position from which to do politics. Furthermore, we can’t read Scripture with only one topic in mind, because it is concerned with a wide range of aspects of life on earth. As I’ve said, we have a clear mandate from God to care for the environment. It might not break our hearts in the same way as seeing the exploitation of vulnerable people does, but it is no less our responsibility as Christians to engage with climate change.

Upon becoming Prime Minister, David Cameron made the laudable goal of creating our greenest government ever, with limited success. Now under Theresa May, the government’s climate change policy is as yet unclear. There are still questions on the table about Britain’s targets to decrease our carbon footprint, the ongoing debate around fracking, and the apparent move away from funding renewable energy sources in favour of natural gas. We ought to be concerned about climate change. We ought to be doing our bit to care for our environment, because that is one of the first things God asked mankind to do.

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