Chapter 20

Environmentalism: A Biblical Perspective

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Introduction: Environmentalism

Environment and economy: One of the great difficulties of addressing these two challenges together is that many people think economic development puts the created environment at risk, on the one hand, and environmental protection puts economic development at risk, on the other hand. And indeed, sometimes economic development does cause environmental damage, and sometimes environmental protection does impede economic development. The great challenge is learning how to pursue both at once, for the benefit of men, women, and children, and for the good of animals and plants, of earth, water, and air, all to the glory of God our loving, wise, all-powerful Creator.

While some, like Dr. Michael Nortcott, think — as he expresses it repeatedly in his recent book A Moral Climate: The Ethics of Global Warming — that we must choose between people’s rising out of poverty and protecting the environment, as if either prevented the other (a bifurcation fallacy), we believe the two are not exclusive alternatives but mutually interdependent. A clean, healthful, beautiful environment being a costly good, and wealthier people being able to afford more of a costly good than poor people, it follows that growing wealth — accompanied by ethics and values informed by Scripture, and in the context of a just civil social order — can protect and improve our surroundings (the real meaning, by the way, of the word environment) rather than degrade them.

While Dr. Northcott and others prescribe abandonment of industrial civilization, or what Dr. Northcott calls “the machine world,” and a return to a hunter-gatherer, or at most a “primitive,” subsistence agricultural social order, as the solution to environmental problems,1 we believe a technologically advanced society and ecological well-being can co-exist, and indeed that they must coexist if humanity is to fulfill the stipulation of Genesis 1:28 to multiply and to fill, subdue, and rule the earth — a stipulation not repealed after the Fall but repeated in God’s covenant with Noah (Genesis 9:1–17).2

Let us look at some foundational principles in Scripture, beginning at the beginning, with the biblical record of creation and early history in Genesis 1–9. It will be impossible to touch on, let alone to expound in detail, all the relevant truths in these chapters, but we can notice some of the most prominent.

The Doctrines of Creator and Creation

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. . . . [and] God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:1, 31).3 The first and last verses of Genesis 1 immediately set forth the eternity, omnipotence, and sovereign righteousness of God the Creator and the temporality, finitude, and dependence of all created things. They affirm all of creation, material and spiritual alike, as God’s work and therefore neither evil — contrary to Gnosticism and much Eastern philosophy, such as that underlying yoga, which sees nature, or pakruti, as evil because it traps the soul, parusa — nor value neutral, as presumed by the materialist worldview.4 Between those verses we have a record of God:

  1. creating light and separating it from darkness, establishing the cycles of day and night (verses 2–5);
  2. making sky and sea, with their liquid and gaseous waters, and separating them from each other (verses 6–8);
  3. gathering the waters of the sea into one place, separating them from the dry land, and causing vegetation to sprout from the land (verses 9–12);
  4. establishing the heavenly bodies, especially sun and moon, to rule and separate day and night (verses 13–19);
  5. making living creatures and separating their domains into water and sky (verses 20–23); and finally
  6. making living creatures to inhabit the dry land, and, on that same day, making mankind and separating it from all other living creatures by endowing it with His own image.

On that sixth day, having made man, male and female, in His image, crowned with glory and honor (as we learn from Psalm 8), God “blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth’” (verse 28). The verse is pregnant with implications.

Like all other creatures, they’re not God, they’re creatures. But unlike all other creatures, they are God’s image.

The first implication is that human beings are different from all other creatures on earth. Like all other creatures, they’re not God, they’re creatures. But unlike all other creatures, they are God’s image. Like all other living things, they are to reproduce after their kind. But unlike all others, they are to fill not just “the waters in the seas” (fish, verse 22), not just the air (birds, verse 20), but the whole earth (verse 28). And like all other living things, they are to obey their Creator (implicit in His commanding them), but unlike all others, people are to have rule over other living creatures and over the earth itself.

And what is it for them to bear the image of God? It is partly what we have just noticed: to rule over other creatures. And from the New Testament and elsewhere we learn that it is for them to have rational and moral capacity (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10). But we must not neglect what the immediate context reveals about the image of God in man. It is what it reveals about God Himself in verses 1–25: that He is a Maker — indeed, a prolific, even extravagant Maker. People, too, are to be makers — not makers of things ex nihilo, “out of nothing,” which is the province of God alone, but ex quispiam, “out of something.” That is, people, made in God’s image, are to make new things out of what God puts before them — and as God made all things of nothing, so people more fully express this creative aspect of His image as they make more and more out of less and less.

The second implication is that the earth and the various living creatures in it — in its seas, in its air, on its ground (ha-adamah, related to the name for man; adam, who was taken from it, fashioned by God, who then breathed into him the neshamah hayyim, the breath of life) — the earth and all in it, while “very good” (verse 31), were not yet as God intended them to be. They needed filling, subduing, and ruling.

Was this because there was something evil about them? No. We have already seen that the biblical doctrine of creation rules out notions of the inherent evil of the material world, whether derived from the Hindu and Buddhist view of matter and spirit as antithetical (in opposition), or from the Platonic and neo-Platonic doctrine of a hierarchical “great chain of Being” from God (who has most being) to nothing (which has none). It was not that there was something evil about the earth and its non-human living creatures. It was that they were designed as the setting, the circumstance — the environment, if you will (that word coming from the French envirroner, “to surround”) — they were designed as the surroundings in which Adam and Eve and their descendants are to live out their mandate as God’s image bearers.

As God created it, the earth and all its constituents were very good. They were perfect — not terminally perfect, but circumstantially perfect, perfectly suited as the arena of man’s exercise of the imago Dei (image of God) in multiplying, filling, subduing, and ruling according to the knowledge and righteousness that most essentially constitute the imago.

Already we can recognize some important distinctions between a biblical ethic of creation stewardship, on the one hand, and secular and pagan religious environmentalisms on the other.5 The common environmentalist vision of human beings as chiefly consumers and polluters, using up earth’s resources and degrading it through their waste (a view expressed by Paul Ehrlich and others in the famous formula I=PAT, that is, environmental impact [which is always harmful] is a function of population, affluence, and technology). They claim that an increase in any of those factors inevitably brings more harm to the earth. This vision of man as essentially consumer and polluter confronts the biblical view that people are designed to be producers and stewards, capable of transforming raw materials into resources through ingenuity and hard work, making more resources than they consume, so that each generation can pass on to the next more of the material blessings than it received, and through godly subduing and ruling of the earth actually improving the environment.

In Genesis 2, a parallel account of creation that focuses more specifically on mankind on day 6, we learn that God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden, stipulating that he was to “cultivate it and keep it” (2:15). Almost as an aside, both this and the mandate of 1:28 to multiply and to fill, subdue, and rule the earth are not solely commands but also stipulations — God’s speaking to them ensuring their fulfillment just as surely as His saying “Let there be light” ensured that light would be.

Our Fall into sin unquestionably influences how we do these things, but it neither does nor can prevent our doing them or relieve us of the duty imposed by these mandates.

We should note that this means God’s intention that mankind multiply and fill, subdue, and rule the earth, and that he cultivate and keep the Garden, is not conditioned on mankind’s remaining morally perfect. We shall multiply, we shall fill, we shall subdue, we shall rule, we shall cultivate, and we shall guard — none of that is uncertain. How we shall do these things — that is what is in question: whether we shall do them wisely and righteously, or foolishly and wickedly. Our Fall into sin unquestionably influences how we do these things, but it neither does nor can prevent our doing them or relieve us of the duty imposed by these mandates.

Although some Christian environmental writers attempt to use Genesis 2:15’s stipulation of cultivating and keeping the Garden to define Genesis 1:28’s stipulation of subduing and ruling the earth, that is surely mistaken, for two reasons. First, the Garden is not the whole earth; it is a specific, limited geographical location, “toward the east, in Eden” (2:8). Just as we saw separation of light from darkness, heavens from earth, waters from land, life from non-life, animal life from vegetable, and human life from non-human life, so also there is a separation of Garden from the rest of the earth — a distinction that will later be developed between wilderness and Promised Land.

Second, the language in the stipulations differs radically. In 1:28, God told Adam and Eve to “subdue and rule” (kabash and radah), the words meaning, respectively, to subdue or bring into bondage, and to have dominion or rule. In 2:15, God told Adam to “cultivate and keep” (abad, and shamar), the words meaning, respectively, to work or till, and to keep, watch, or preserve. What God assigned Adam to do in the Garden (to cultivate and keep) was not the same thing He assigned him to do in the earth (to subdue and rule). Some environmental writers have also suggested that the command to cultivate, or till, the Garden should be translated “to serve,” and then, by equating Garden with earth, have inferred that humankind is to serve the earth. But this is not only to equate Garden and earth, which Scripture expressly distinguishes, but also to misuse the Hebrew abad, which, although it may bear the sense of serve when followed by an accusative of person, does not bear that sense when followed by an accusative of thing.6

From these two stipulations — to subdue and rule the earth, and to cultivate and keep the Garden — it follows:

  1. that humans are not aliens, much less a cancer or a plague on the earth, but its rightful, God-ordained rulers;
  2. that it is not wrong in principle but right that they should subdue and rule the earth;
  3. that their cultivating the Garden (to increase its fruitfulness) and keeping it (to protect it against degradation) are not mutually exclusive but complementary; and
  4. that their cultivating and keeping are not antithetical to but additional and complementary to their subduing and ruling the earth and everything in it.

It follows also that the beliefs, common among many environmentalists, that “nature knows best,” that nature is best untouched by human hands, that nature’s unaided fruitfulness is all that is right and sufficient for mankind, and that, as Dr. Northcott puts it in A Moral Climate, “the move from the hunter-gathering lifestyle of Eden to the agrarian life on the plains [was] a fall from grace,”7 are all contrary to the biblical worldview and to the binding stipulations/commands given to mankind at creation.

Adam and Eve did not abandon their post in the Garden and strike out into the wilderness of their own accord and so come under God’s judgment. Rather, they disobeyed the probationary command not to eat of the fruit of one particular tree in the Garden, and in response God banished them from the Garden into the wilderness — where, consistent with the stipulatory character of the commands to multiply and to fill, subdue, and rule the earth, they would indeed do so.

Indeed, Dr. Northcott’s assertion that Edenic society would have been hunter-gatherer rather than agrarian is explicitly contradicted by the command to cultivate the Garden. His claim, again, that “just as the story of Genesis is that of a Fall from the Garden to an imperious and idolatrous urban culture, so the story of redemption in Exodus is of an urban prince who leads his people in a revolt against the slavery imposed by the city, back out to the levelling nomadic lifestyle of the wilderness,”8 is also mistaken, for Israel’s destination in the exodus was not the wilderness, where God forced it to spend 40 years as chastisement for its rebellion, but the Promised Land, where the Israelites would possess and settle in cities and houses that they did not build (Deuteronomy 19:1).

And contrary to the common environmentalist notion that cities are essentially bad, God names some of them as places of refuge (Deuteronomy 19:1–10); chooses one city, Jerusalem, as the special abode of His Temple; and ultimately describes the completed and perfected Church, the Bride of Christ, as the holy city, the New Jerusalem, descending out of heaven (Revelation 21:2, 10). Thus, the biblical history of creation, Fall, Curse, redemption, and consummation begins in a Garden, makes its way through a wilderness, and ends in a Garden City, and it becomes clear that the command/stipulation of Genesis 1:28 to multiply and to fill, subdue, and rule the earth was a comman /stipulation to go forth from the Garden of Eden into the rest of the earth to transform wilderness into Garden City.9

Thus far we have taken only little notice of a very significant statement at the end of God’s creative activity: Genesis 1:31, “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” We have seen that this does not entail that it was terminally perfect but that it was the perfect setting for man’s probation and for his exercising the imago Dei. Let’s draw one other implication from this brief and simple sentence. A crucial element of the environmentalist worldview is that the earth and its habitats and inhabitants are extremely fragile and likely to suffer severe and perhaps even irreversible damage from human action. Let us for now ignore the implicit assumption here that humans are aliens, that they alone among all living things are prohibited from transforming their surroundings. Rather, what are we to think of the explicit thrust: that the earth and its various ecological subsystems are fragile? That element of environmentalism contradicts this verse. It is difficult to imagine how God could have called “very good” the habitat of humanity’s vocation in a millennia-long drama if the whole thing were prone to collapse like a house of cards with the least disturbance.

Now, I have encountered an objection to this reasoning, pointing out that, after all, some things in this world are fragile — a fly’s wing, for instance. But there are two mistakes in this rejoinder. First, it confuses the part with the whole. That some inhabitants of the earth are fragile doesn’t entail that the whole earth is, and that the wings of individual flies are fragile doesn’t entail that therefore the genus Drosophila, or even the species Drosophila melanogaster, is fragile. Though many individual flies lose their wings and all flies die, the genus and even the species endure.

Second, it neglects that, seen in proportion, what deprives a fly of its wing is not, in proportion to the fly and its wing, a tiny disturbance. The fly’s wings serve quite well for their normal purposes and in the absence of proportionally overwhelming impingement. To speak of the whole biosphere, or even of extensive ecosystems, as extremely fragile is both to neglect the force of Genesis 1:31 and to ignore the testimony of geologic history, which includes the recovery of vast stretches of the Northern Hemisphere from long coverage by ice sheets several miles thick — which certainly wiped out more ecosystems more thoroughly than human action has come close to doing — not to mention the recovery, according to Genesis, of the whole earth from a Flood that destroyed all air-breathing, land-dwelling life but the few representatives rescued in Noah’s ark and the curse in Genesis 3.

Let me apply this insight to the most controversial environmental issue of our day — indeed, of the whole history of environmentalism to date – anthropogenic global warming. Briefly put, the fear is that human emissions of carbon dioxide and other “greenhouse gases” (a sadly misleading metaphor since greenhouses work not by absorbing infrared radiation, as do these gases, but by preventing the movement upward of warm air) — that our emissions of these gases have caused, by increasing the rate of absorption of infrared radiation bouncing back from earth’s surface toward space, or will soon cause sufficient warming of the earth’s surface to set off a series of positive feedback mechanisms (for example, more evaporation and hence more water vapor, which then absorbs yet more infrared radiation). The feedbacks will warm the surface still more, thus instituting a positive feedback loop that leads to a runaway greenhouse effect that eventually makes the earth uninhabitable, at least to human beings, and particularly to human beings living in modern civilization. (As an aside, one wonders why those environmentalists who despise industrial society mourn the prospect of its collapse due to global warming. One would expect them to celebrate it as judgment instead.)

Clearly, this scenario rests upon precisely the assumption of the fragility not of individual elements but of the whole of the bio-/geosystem. That an increase in carbon dioxide from one molecule in every 3,704 in the atmosphere to one molecule in every 2,597 — from 270 to 385 parts per million — from 0.027 percent to 0.0385 percent — should cause catastrophic damage to the biosphere, or even set off a positive feedback loop (“runaway global warming”) that will cause such damage — particularly when carbon dioxide’s infrared absorption is logarithmic (each new unit absorbing less than the previous one) — is fundamentally inconsistent with the biblical worldview of the earth as the “very good” product of the infinitely wise Creator. That biblical worldview instead suggests that the wise Designer of the earth’s climate system, like any skillful engineer, would have equipped it with balancing positive and negative feedback mechanisms that would make the whole robust, self-regulating, and self-correcting.10

Perhaps more importantly, they should prompt Christians to praise God for the way in which the earth, like the human body, is “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).

Perhaps more importantly, they should prompt Christians to praise God for the way in which the earth, like the human body, is “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). In some senses this planet, like the eye, may be fragile, but overall it is, by God’s wise design, more resilient than many fearful environmentalists can imagine even in a sin-cursed world.

The Doctrines of Fall, Curse, and Redemption

As we move along in these early chapters of Genesis, we come to the account of mankind’s fall into sin. It is not, as we have already noted, a sin of moving from the idyllic hunter-gatherer life of the Garden on the mountain to the urban life of the plain (against which God had given no command, and “sin is lawlessness” [1 John 3:4]), but disobedience to a specific command: not to eat of the fruit of the tree that was in the midst of the Garden. The aetiology (study of causation) of this sin is significant for our discussion of environmental ethics: it came about when Eve, who as bearer of the imago Dei was supposed to rule over every living thing that moved on the earth, abdicated her rule and instead bowed to the serpent, “more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made” and then Adam, to whom Eve was to be a helper rather than a ruler, bowed to Eve (Genesis 3:1–6). The rejection of human rule over the animal world, common to many environmentalists, reflects Eve’s abdication, and it is not right. This ultimately led to Adam’s sin as well.

In response to their sin, God pronounced judgment on Adam and Eve: pain for her in childbirth, and a frustrated desire to rule over her husband; pain for him in cultivating the ground; and death for both of them (Genesis 3:16–19). Yet at the very same time, “God said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, cursed are you . . . and I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel” (verses 14–15), and “God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them” (verse 21), spilling the blood of animals to cover over the now-embarrassing nakedness of these sinners, typifying the sacrificial system of Judaism and the ultimate sacrifice of His incarnate Son on the cross.

Judgment and the promise of redemption met in that moment. And then “God sent him [that is, the man generically — Adam and Eve together, the human race] out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken” (verse 23). Despite the Fall, the God-ordained vocation of cultivation remained — only now it would be cultivation in a more difficult, less cooperative environment — instead of the Garden, the wilderness, a term consistently associated in Scripture with curse. Yet the stipulation that Adam and Eve should multiply and fill, subdue, and rule the earth, transforming wilderness into Garden, remained, and indeed the next chapter recounts the beginning of the fulfillment of that stipulation in Adam and Eve’s bearing of children; the eruption of enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent in the farmer Cain’s murder of his sheep-herding brother Abel; a new pronouncement of curse on Cain, frustrating his cultivation of the earth and making him “a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth” (a description that well fits the hunter-gatherer life admired by some environmentalists), and yet again God’s gracious extension of life despite sin (Genesis 4:1–17).

For space’s sake let’s skip over the detailed accounts of the descendants of Cain and Seth and come to Noah, in whose day the wickedness of mankind reached such a height that God “was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart,” and He said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them,” for “the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence” (Genesis 6:6–7, 11). “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (verse 8), i.e., God looked on him with grace, and God instructed him to construct an ark to rescue remnants of all flesh from the Flood He decreed.

It must be admitted that the event brought ecological devastation on a scale unmatched by anything man has done. And yet that devastation was done by God due to disobedience to God’s Word.

God then rained His judgment on the earth and wiped out all air-breathing land-dwelling life, excepting only those few on the ark. It must be admitted that the event brought ecological devastation on a scale unmatched by anything man has done. And yet that devastation was done by God due to disobedience to God’s Word. This, it seems to me, is difficult to reconcile with environmentalist notions of inherent as opposed to imputed value in nature and the condemnation of any action that harms any of it.

Following the Flood, we read, Noah built an altar to God and sacrificed birds and animals on it, and God “smelled the soothing aroma; and the Lord said to Himself, ‘I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease” (Genesis 8:18–22). The Hebrew poetic merism in verse 22 uses pairs of opposites to express the inclusion of all things of the sort mentioned. The implication is that God has promised to Himself that He will sustain the cycles on which human and other life on earth depend as long as the earth itself remains. This promise of God to Himself is, it seems to me, difficult to reconcile with fears that some human action will send the climate into irreversible, catastrophic disruption, threatening mass species extinctions and the destruction of human civilization or perhaps even human extinction.

And then God makes a promise to Noah and his sons, repeating the command/stipulation first given to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:28: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” But this time He continues, “The fear of you and the terror of you will be on every beast of the earth and on every bird of the sky; with everything that creeps on the ground, and all the fish of the sea, into your hand they are given. Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant” (Genesis 9:1–3). This passage forever invalidates the claim that vegetarianism is ethically superior to meat eating. God has permitted people to kill and eat “every moving thing that is alive.” The Apostle Peter would later write of “unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed” (2 Peter 2:12).

And finally, God re-establishes His covenant with Noah and, through him, the whole human race, and even with “every living creature”: “. . . all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood, neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth.” He ordains the rainbow as the sign of the covenant, and says, “when I bring a cloud over the earth . . . the bow will be seen in the cloud, and I will remember My covenant . . . and never again shall the water become a flood to destroy all flesh” (Genesis 9:9–15). We find this language reflected later in Psalm 104:5–9, which says that after the Flood God “set a boundary, that [the waters] may not pass over, so that they will not return to cover the earth.”

Conclusion: Environmentalism from a Biblical Perspective

In a stunning passage, the prophet Jeremiah compares the stubborn and rebellious people of Judah with the waves of the sea (Jeremiah 5:21–25) due to their lack of fear of the Lord. Just as the sea could not overcome the boundaries God set for it following the Flood, so the people of Judah could not overcome the boundaries God had set for them. Rage against His laws as they might, they would still face His judgments. I will conclude with two observations on this passage.

First, like Psalm 104:5–9, what it says about the boundaries God has set for the sea is difficult to reconcile with fears of catastrophic sea level rise. While there is evidence that sea level was once much higher than what it is now, the sea has never again prevailed against the land. This is best interpreted in the light of the Flood of Noah’s day — a never-to-be-repeated, cataclysmic judgment of God that would have been followed by an ice age (accompanied by much reduced sea level as water was stored in vast ice sheets on land) as the atmosphere lost its high water vapor content and so cooled rapidly, and then a gradual recovery as water vapor (which accounts for over 95 percent of the greenhouse effect) rose to approximately its present concentration (accompanied by a gradual sea level rise to near-present levels as the continental glaciers melted).

This does not mean that sea level cannot rise (and likewise fall) gradually over long periods as earth warms and cools through natural cycles. But it is inconsistent with the fear of catastrophic sea level rise driven by anthropogenic global warming, which also finds no support in sound science. The IPCC reduced its estimate of likely 21st-century sea level rise from about 35 inches in its 2001 report to just 17 inches in its 2007 report, in which it also projected that there would be no significant melting of the Greenland ice sheet for several millennia — and then only if the world remained at least 2°C warmer than today throughout those millennia (an unlikely scenario granted historical temperature cycles driven by cycles in solar radiance). While the IPCC included no sea level experts among its authors, one of the world’s leading experts on sea level, Nils-Axel Mörner, head of the sea level commission of the International Union for Quaternary Research, concluded in the study “Estimating Future Sea Level Changes from Past Records” that 21st-century sea level rise would be much lower than even the revised IPCC estimates:

In the last 5000 years, global mean sea level has been dominated by the redistribution of water masses over the globe. In the last 300 years, sea level has been [in] oscillation close to the present with peakrates in the period 1890–1930. Between 1930 and 1950, sea [level] fell. The late 20th century lack[ed] any sign of acceleration. Satellite altimetry indicates virtually no changes in the last decade. Therefore, observationally based predictions of future sea level in the year 2100 will give a value of + 10 ± 10 cm (or +5 ± 15 cm) [0 to + 7.88 inches, or −3.94 to + 7.88 inches], by thus discarding model outputs by IPCC as well as global loading models. This implies that there is no fear of any massive future flooding as claimed in most global warming scenarios.11

Recent data from sea level monitoring stations around the southwest Pacific confirm that sea level rise during the last 30 years, despite widespread claims to the contrary and fears of the impending submersion of island nations like Tuvalu and Kiribati, has been slight to nonexistent and certainly not significantly greater than its long-term rate.12

Second, God’s words through Jeremiah make it clear what is the real root of fears of natural catastrophes like droughts: the absence of the fear of the Lord, manifested in persistent sins like those named so frequently throughout Jeremiah: idolatry (1:16; 2:5; 3:6; 7:9, 18; 8:19; 10:2; 11:10; 16:18; 17:2), forsaking God (Jahweh) and worshiping pagan gods, which God called spiritual adultery (1:16; 2:11, 17, 20; 3:1, 2-3, 9, 20; 5:7, 18; 7:30; 9:2, 13; 11:10, 17; 13:10, 25, 27; 14:10; 15:6; 16:11), prophets speaking in the name of false gods (2:7), absence of the fear of God (2:19), rejecting and killing God’s prophets (2:30), forgetting God (2:32), murder (2:34; 4:31; 7:9), injustice (5:1; 7:5), falsehood and lies (5:1, 12; 6:13; 7:9; 8:8, 10; 9:3), deception (9:8), oppression (5:25–29, 6:6; 7:6; 9:8; 17:11), fraud (5:27), false priests and prophets “and My people love to have it so” (5:30; 14:15), rejection of God’s Word (6:10, 19; 8:9; 9:13; 11:10; 13:10), covetousness (6:13; 8:10), religious formalism and presumption (7:3-4), stealing (7:8–9), sexual adultery (7:9; 9:2), general disobedience to God’s law (7:28), child sacrifice (7:31), worship of nature (8:2), covenant breaking (11:3), general wickedness (12:4), complaint against God (12:8), pride (13:8), trusting in man instead of in God (17:5), and Sabbath breaking (17:21).

It is significant that, in contrast to some Christian environmentalists’ claims that God sent Israel and Judah into exile because they defiled the land, never once do the prophets describe the sins for which God punishes them as unsustainable farming practices, pollution, or similar things. Oh, the people defile the land, true. But how? “[T]hey have polluted My land: they have filled My inheritance with the carcasses of their detestable idols and with their abominations” (16:18). It is precisely because the people of Judah do not fear God (and so practice all kinds of sin) that they come to fear that the spring and autumn rains will fail.

Fear of environmental catastrophe grows out of the lack of the fear of God.

Fear of environmental catastrophe grows out of the lack of the fear of God. That, I would argue, is the real root of the environmental scares that have plagued the modern world.13 And such fears will continue — with or without scientific basis14 — until people repent and fear the Lord. “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind, and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the Lord. . . . Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is the Lord. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream, and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit” (Jeremiah 17:5, 7–8).

A Christian should be aware of the unchristian roots and philosophies underlying the environmental religious movement today. It is important to get back to God’s Word as the ultimate authority and rely on God and His Word as the solution to such issues.

Dr. E. Calvin Beisner
Dr. Beisner is the national spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation. This chapter is based on a lecture presented originally at Creation Care Colloquium: Perspectives in Dialogue, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, North Carolina, August 28, 2009.

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Footnotes

  1. Michael S. Northcott, A Moral Climate: The Ethics of Global Warming (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2007), p. 113, 124–126, 129–130, 175, 232–241, and elsewhere.
  2. I argued for this complementarity rather than opposition of economic development and environmental stewardship in my books Prospects for Growth: A Biblical View of Population, Resources, and the Future (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1990) and Where Garden Meets Wilderness: Evangelical Entry into the Environmental Debate (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans/Acton Institute, 1997), and in a monograph published by the Institute on Religion and Democracy and available online titled What Is the Most Important Environmental Task Facing American Christians Today? (Washington, DC: Institute on Religion and Democracy, 2008), and similar arguments have been made by such scholars as Julian L. Simon and Indur Goklany: Julian L. Simon, Population Matters: People, Resources, Environment, & Immigration (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1990), Simon ed., The State of Humanity (New York and London: Blackwell, 1995), and Simon, The Ultimate Resource 2 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996); Ronald Bailey, ed., The True State of the Planet (New York: Free Press, 1995); Indur M. Goklany, The Improving State of the Planet: Why We’re Living Longer, Healthier, More Comfortable Lives on a Cleaner Planet (Washington, DC: Cato Institute, 2007).
  3. Scripture quotations in this chapter, unless otherwise identified, are from the New American Standard Version.
  4. Vishal Mangalwadi, “ ‘Cap-and-Trade’ Legislation: Secularizing Sin?” draft paper, October 27, 2009.
  5. For example, Pantheism, and Gnostic, illusionist, and Manichaean dualisms, and Platonic idealism and Aristotelian materialism, and modern Marxist and secular humanist naturalisms — all of these fall before this biblical worldview. Epistemological and moral relativism, antinomian utilitarianism, existentialism’s claim that we define morality by our choice, postmodernism’s rejection of hierarchy and transcendence and enduring meaning — these, too, fall.
  6. Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, eds., A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907, 1953, 1978), s.vv.
  7. Northcott, A Moral Climate: The Ethics of Global Warming, p. 233.
  8. Ibid., p. 235.
  9. Indeed, as I have argued in Where Garden Meets Wilderness, it was precisely by doing this that mankind were to guard, or keep, the Garden, for what threatened it — even before Adam and Eve’s fall into sin — was encroachment by the wilderness.
  10. For more on global warming and climate change, please see chapter 16 in this volume and chapter 7 in the New Answers Book 3. See also A Renewed Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor: An Evangelical Examination of the Theology, Science, and Economics of Global Warming (Burke, VA: Cornwall Alliance, 2009; online at http://www.cornwallalliance.org/docs/a-renewed-call-to-truth-prudence-and-protection-of-the-poor.pdf).
  11. Nils-Axel Mörner, “Estimating Future Sea Level Changes from Past Records,” Global and Planetary Change 40 (2004): p. 49–54.
  12. Cliff Ollier, “Sea Level in the Southwest Pacific is Stable,” New Concepts in Global Tectonics Newsletter, no. 50 (June 2009), accessed online September 7, 2009, at http://nzclimatescience.net/images/PDFs/paperncgtsealevl.pdf.
  13. For catalogues and exposés of such, see Julian L. Simon, ed., The State of Humanity (New York and London: Blackwell, 1995); Aaron Wildavsky, But Is It True? A Citizen’s Guide to Environmental Health and Safety Issues (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995); Ronald Bailey, Eco-Scam: The False Prophets of Ecological Collapse (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993); Christopher Booker and Richard North, Scared to Death: From BSE to Global Warming: Why Scares Are Costing Us the Earth (London: Continuum, 2007).
  14. Charles Mackay, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (1841; reprint ed., Hampshire, UK: Harrman House Ltd., 2007); Booker and North, Scared to Death: From BSE to Global Warming: Why Scares Are Costing Us the Earth.

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