by John Mays
To state the obvious, we live in challenging times. Here is why I mention this: Spiritual growth, that is, growth in our relationship to Christ and in our understanding of how to follow him, means constantly being willing to reassess our attitudes, behaviors, and practices in light of what the Spirit is teaching us. Growth means change—change of mind, change of heart, change of practice. But in our country at present, political dialog is ever more polarized, and people hear their leaders saying Don’t give an inch! Dig in! Hold the line! Thus, our current climate of polarization is a barrier to any growth in Christ if such growth involves anything political. But all environmental issues are simultaneously political issues—that’s just the nature of the situation. The result? Any article, like this one, that seeks to lead people to reconsider whether their priorities align with God’s priorities, and to be willing to change if they don’t, is dead on arrival unless readers are willing to put down polarization and read with a mind open to the voice of the Holy Spirit.
Now, I think a lot about the environmental mess we are in, how we got here, and what we are doing and are going to do to try to get out of it.
Yes, we are in a mess. Everyone knows this and everyone knows many of the specifics about this mess. The mess includes contamination of the entire earth with microplastics, environmental destruction (habitat loss, high rates of species loss, and so on); profound levels of pollution from pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers; and numerous global environmental crises due to the ongoing effects of incipient climate change.
And yes, if we want our grandchildren to have something like a beautiful world to live in, and food to eat, and some kind of political stability, we must try to get out of the mess. And yes, that means making changes to how we do things.
Should we care? In other words, does following Christ necessitate that we care? In a word, yes. As Jesus taught us, the second greatest commandment is that we love our neighbors as ourselves, and it is now obvious that if we cling to the practices that got us into the mess, things will get dire for a great number of people as food and water supplies become unstable or fail entirely in coming decades. Continuing our present practices is not loving our neighbors.
I am sometimes reminded that there are Christians who believe that Genesis 1:26 and Psalm 115:16 describe a blanket license for humans to exploit the creation at will for their own purposes. It is difficult to imagine how any Christ follower could adopt such a doctrine based on two brief texts divorced from everything else the Scriptures have to say about the relationship between God, the creation, and humans in particular. However, a few hundred years ago many Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, thought they were serving God by burning people at the stake. A few centuries later, the heinous nature of such crimes is evident to all, and Christians do not think that way anymore. Only two hundred years ago, most of the Christians in the American South thought that forced enslavement based on race was morally legitimate. Today, slavery is our national shame, and we are quick to admit that it is hard to see how we could have been so wrong about something so obvious.
A century from now, Christians will look back on this present time and wonder how we could have misunderstood so completely the way we should act in relation to God’s creation.
Many have written entire books on this subject, demonstrating at length just how robustly the Scriptures affirm the doctrine of creation care. Here, I offer just two points for consideration—one from science and one from the Scriptures.
Over the past few decades, environmental science has shown the enormous extent to which all the organisms on this planet are interdependent. There is no doubt about the fact that if we continue wiping out species at the present rate the results for life on earth will be disastrous. One example: Numerous studies have revealed and confirmed the fact that over the past 30 years insect populations worldwide have declined by 60–70%. I first became aware of this only a few years ago, but it was not hard to perform a simple experiment to confirm this research finding. You see, I have lived in central Texas for a half century, and I know what used to happen when one drove down the highway at night for even 60 miles—the car windshield would be virtually opaque from splattered insects. But today, I drive the 80 miles from Austin to San Antonio late at night every month, and most of the time I complete the trip without hitting a single insect.
The decline of insect populations is very distressing news for the simple fact that the global food web depends heavily on insects: birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and even many mammals eat insects. Moreover, insects, along with wind and some birds, are the pollinators of the world. Without insects, our food supply in trouble. We do not need a creation care lesson from the Scriptures to know that we need to be supporting policies that will quickly and significantly change the way we are affecting the non-human life on this planet. This is a utilitarian argument, to be sure. My next argument is of a higher order. But when it comes to dealing effectively with our environmental challenges, I will take every good argument. The interdependence of all life, and of all life on the inanimate materials and processes in the air, in the water, and both in and on the land, necessitates that if we are to act even only in our own self-interest, we must care for and carefully steward every part of creation.
When we turn to the Scriptures, we find a consistent testimony. Psalm 148, for example, describes the “mountains and hills, fruit trees and all cedars, beasts and all livestock, creeping things and flying birds” as praising the name of the Lord. It is not credible to profess a love for God while abusing the creatures that are praising God. Does creation’s praise for the name of the Lord having any meaning? If so, then the creation—all parts of it, since Psalm 148 is clearly describing all of it—are intrinsically valuable as things that praise the Lord, day and night. As such, creation is something that God loves and thus something we should cherish. The logic here is not hard to follow. We do not have license to clear-cut forests, blow up mountains, poison rivers, contaminate fish populations, and eradicate species, all in the name of production, profit, development, and more profit. To be clear, we do have license to make use of creation, in a loving, managed, and sustainable way, to supply our own needs for food, water, shelter, and clothing. However, this is not what we are presently doing.
All creation praises the Lord and declares his glory. God not only accepts this praise; God also delights in what he has made. This too is a consistent testimony throughout the Scriptures. Genesis 1 depicts God as judging it all good and very good. In Luke 2:14, the angels announce God’s benediction on the earth: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace.” God cares for the creation intimately, as Psalm 65 and Psalm 104 describe at length. Jesus calmly tells his listeners that God knows when every bird falls, which means, among other things, that God cares when one falls. In Proverbs 8, Wisdom speaks in the first person, describing her presence with the Lord throughout the process of creation.
The creation praises the Lord. The creation declares God’s glory. God delights in what he has made. God blesses the earth. God cares for the creation intimately. God cares about the death of a single bird. God made the entire creation with wisdom. The consistent message here is that we need to be about cherishing and protecting creation, not exploiting it. We need to repent. We need to change our priorities, habits, and practices. And we need to support and sponsor policies at every level and in every sphere that will protect and restore our damaged environment.
As the folks at A Rocha International like to say (check them out at arocha.org if you don’t know who they are), we need to make it part of our worship to care for the creation that God made and loves.
Are you interested in deeper study on this? Below I have listed some resources. There are many, many others.
- Environmental Science, by Mark and Karen McReynolds, to be published by Novare Science/Classical Academic Press (2025). This is our own forthcoming environmental science text.
- Song of a Scientist, by Calvin DeWitt, published by Square Inch Books (2012). Dr. DeWitt is one of the most active and prominent Christian environmental scientists in America. This little book is a hymn to “the Harmony of a God-Soaked Creation.”
- Earthwise, by Calvin DeWitt, published by Faith Alive Christian Resources (3rd, 2011). The subtitle says it all: “A Guide to Hopeful Creation Care.”
- Creation Care, by Douglas and Jonathan Moo, published by Zondervan (2018). This is a very extensive treatment of the theology of creation care, teasing out everything the Scriptures have to say on the subject (so it seems, anyway), which is a lot.
- A Climate for Change, by Katherine Hayhoe and Andrew Farley, published by Faith Words (2009). Dr. Hayhoe is an evangelical Christian and a climate scientist. Since this book was published, she has traveled extensively, talking to audiences about the reality of climate change.