Originally published in Creation 15, no 1 (December 1992): 26-29.
In an effort to link Christianity with the conservation movement, some people portray God as the ‘Original Greenie’ whose chief concern is the preservation of the natural environment.
In an effort to link Christianity with the conservation movement, some people portray God as the ‘Original Greenie’ whose chief concern is the preservation of the natural environment. But is God green? What does the Bible have to say about the greenness of God?
The Bible consistently teaches that God created all things by virtue of His own power and wisdom (Revelation 4:11). Everything He made was good and gave Him pleasure (Genesis 1:31). To this day His eternal power and divine nature are plainly evident in His creation (Romans 1:20).
Now if God created all things, and declared them to be ‘very
good’, it stands to reason that He is concerned for their preservation.
This concern is plainly expressed at various points in the Bible. For example,
He commanded the people of Israel to avoid wanton destruction of fruit-bearing
trees during warfare. He told them that when they besieged a city for a long
time, making war against it in order to take it, they ‘
shalt not destroy
the trees thereof by wielding an ax against them … thou shalt not cut
them down’ (Deuteronomy 20:19).
God’s concern for His creation is not business-like, but fatherly; not general, but particular.God also set rules for the protection of nesting birds. If the Israelites chanced to come upon a bird’s nest, in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs, and the mother sitting upon the young or the eggs, they were not to take the mother with the young. They were to let the mother go (Deuteronomy 22:6,7). God is concerned about the conservation of His creation.
God’s concern for His creation is not business-like, but fatherly; not general, but particular. The Bible reveals that He knows and cares for the least of His creatures. For example, He hears and feeds the young ravens when they cry out for food (Psalm 147:9). Likewise, ‘The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God’ (Psalm 104:21). At God’s altars even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, ‘where she may lay her young’ (Psalm 84:3). Indeed, Jesus tells us that God is aware of every small bird that falls to the ground (Matthew 10:29).
Well, then, is God green? Yes! In so far as love for all living things is concerned, God is greener than the greenest greenie.
However, so far as an understanding of man’s relationship to nature is concerned, God is at odds with many of today’s conservationists.
God made all things for His own pleasure and to reveal His own glory. But He also made nature for man’s pleasure and profit. At the end of the six days of creation, He said to Adam and Eve, ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth’ (Genesis 1:28). God’s command does not sanction wanton destruction of the environment, but it does permit—and even require—the wise use of natural and living resources for the benefit of mankind.
While some conservationists may object to the notion of human dominion over nature, there is not one who does not dominate nature in numerous ways. Even the most dedicated greenie must subdue creation to live. He might object to the logging of native forests, but he is pleased to have jarrah floorboards and furnishings in his house. He might not wear furs, but he does wear leather sandals or shoes cut from the hides that come from the slaughter yard. He might not cat meat, but he does eat other living things, such as carrots and turnips, and thinks nothing of hoeing the vegetable patch to kill the weeds. In short, he does what the Bible says he ought to do: he subdues (or encourages others to subdue) the earth for his own survival.
God and the greens are at odds on a second and more serious matter concerning man’s relationship with nature.
This difference has to do with an understanding of man’s value as compared to that of other creatures.
Not so long ago the Australian Conservation Foundation sent me a brochure about endangered animals. It was an interesting and informative leaflet. But it contained one statement that demonstrated just how distant conservationist and Christian thought can be from each other. It said we must look upon all species as our companions on planet Earth, ‘commanding equal respect.’
The phrase ‘commanding equal respect’ hints at the idea that seems to underlie much conservationist thought today—namely, that animal (and often plant) life is inherently as valuable as human life.
At first glance, the attempt to attribute equal value to human and animal life seems to ennoble animal life. But on closer consideration we discover that it does no such thing. Rather, it demeans human life. To say that a rabbit-eared bandicoot is as valuable as a man does not dignify the bandicoot so much as degrade the man. We see this degrading of human life under Hinduism in India, where animal life is considered sacred. In that country, cows are permitted to eat crops while people starve.
The notion that other forms of life are as valuable as human life is utterly rejected by Christianity. The Bible teaches that human life is not only the most valuable life on earth, but that it is infinitely more valuable than any other form of earthly life. Not all the rainforests, not all the seal pups, not all the great whales, equal the value of one human soul. This truth might seem outrageous when you compare the value of the whales against the value of a person whom you do not like or know. But it becomes rather wonderful if you compare it with the value either of your own life or of the life of someone you love. How wonderful it is to know that the God who made all things, loves and values you above all things!
Some people claim that this Christian view is ‘parochial’ (narrow) and ‘anthropomorphic’ (man-centred). But it is not, for it is God’s doing, not ours. God has put us at the centre of the universe, not we ourselves. He has chosen to make us in His own likeness. He has chosen to set His love upon us. He has chosen to send His Son to save us from sin and judgment. We had nothing to do with it.
Indeed, we are entirely astonished that it should be so. Like King David, we find ourselves saying, ‘When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?’ (Psalm 8:3,4). How can it be that God thinks upon us and cares for us? We do not have the answer, and yet we know it is so.
The ultimate proof of the surpassing worth of mankind is found in the incarnation, when the Son of God became the man Jesus and dwelt among us. He became one of us to bear our sins on the cross. The Bible teaches that all creation will ultimately benefit from Christ’s death and resurrection (Romans 8:21). But this, in a sense, is incidental. For essentially ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ (1 Timothy 1:15). Here we see the measure of our worth! And here we see God’s true colours: the fringe of His garment may be green, but the garment itself is white, and the insignia upon the breast is red.