Leading Question: Has our consumer society taught us to destroy the earth?
Lauren Weber’s book, In Cheap We Trust (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2009), raises a significant question for the Christian: Do we save or spend? In the midst of another economic downturn, should we seek the cure through spending? Or should we attempt to return to older values of thrift and conservation? And does the Bible have anything to say about all this?
The depression of the 1930s taught our grandparents and parents to save. Similarly, the shortages triggered by World War II encouraged habits of thrift and cryptic verses like this:
Use it up
Wear it out
Make it do
Or do without.
Currently in America there are three “mainstream” cultures, and their interests in preserving the creation vary significantly.
- Secular mainstream
– at its best can be very altruistic, at its worst, driven by greed and arrogance
- Mainstream Protestantism
– inclined toward social activism, not religious issues
- Evangelical – Fundamentalist Christianity
– inclined toward saving people’s souls, abortion and gay issues have become dominant
Of these three cultures, the first two have led the way in promoting conservation. But somehow, when God looms larger on the horizon as it does in Evangelical and Fundamentalist circles, believers are inclined to point others to heaven, while overlooking the urgent needs of the present world. Adventism tends to share that tendency. Would you agree that of the three primary way of “serving” humanity, Adventists would first seek to save souls (Global Mission) then bodies (ADRA) and last of all, seek to save the earth? It may be revealing that we have no dedicated Adventist organization that seeks to save the earth.
Biblical points of reference. Written before the industrial revolution had ravaged the world, the Bible isn’t always as forthright in environmental issues as we might wish. Still there are some key passages that should encourage us to be more caring of the world. These are the more notable ones:
Serving the earth: Genesis 2:5, 15; 4:2. Most translations do not preserve the flavor of the original Hebrew word in Genesis 2:5 and 15. NRSV says that humans were to “till” the earth. The basic Hebrew word simply means “serve.”
Sabbatical Year and weekly Sabbath: Exodus 23:10-13. Both the sabbatical year and the weekly Sabbath have an environmental and humanitarian aspect which is often overlooked in our culture. The fields, slaves, and animals are all mentioned as primary beneficiaries of the sabbatical year and the Sabbath.
God’s vegetarian kingdom: Isaiah 11:6-9. The future world is described as one in which none of the animals are carnivores. It is truly a peaceable kingdom.
The Christian’s Goal: Make this world as much like the next one as possible. Devout conservatives have often read Genesis 1:26-28 as a divine mandate to ravage the earth: God told our first parents to subdue the earth and to maintain dominion over it.
Another factor that has sometimes seemed to prevent Christians from taking a stronger interest in this earth is the conviction that a better world is coming and this one will simply be burned up in the end in any event. New Testament passages should be good corrective to that impulse.
Parable of the talents: Matthew 25: While the king is away, invest the talents he has given you until he returns. In other words, keep at it. In Luke 19, a similar story carries the admonition from the king “to occupy until I come” (Luke 19:13)
Parable of the sheep and goats: Matthew 25: The judgment parable of the sheep and the goats focuses more on people than on the earth. But the bottom line calls for God’s children to be helpful to those in need while they await his return.
Question: What practical steps can Christians take to preserve the earth? Should we work as individuals or should we tie our goals more closely to the work of the church?