By Claire Kinney
I’m a middle school science teacher, so I ask questions for a living. Questions are an important part of my life—I rarely take things at face value, and my faith is no different. So I write this article with a question in mind, one that eats at me and makes me second-guess the sermons that are preached from the pulpit from time to time. Is it our responsibility as Christians to care for God’s creation?
In his handbook, The Scientist and the Shepherd: The Emergence of Evangelical Environmentalism, Calvin Dewitt talks about a triangle—three things necessary to understand right living in terms of creation. He writes first of science: How does the world work? Then of ethics: What ought to be? Finally he writes of praxis: What must we do? In order to figure out if it is, in fact, our responsibility to care for God’s creation, I’ll be using Dewitt’s triangle as a guide.
Science: How does the world work?
Christian culture can fear science from time to time, worrying that it stands in contradiction to the Bible. However, I believe the two can—and should—coexist. From Isaac Newton to Neils Bohr to Albert Einstein, many of history’s greatest scientists expressed a deep faith in God.
Science doesn’t exist without faith; in fact, it furthers it. I am so clearly able to see God when I study science that, for me, the two are inseparable. I believe that God created the universe, and to stand in awe of it daily is an act of worship. I have immense gratitude for creation, and I think all God-fearing people would say that.
My curiosity stems from that gratitude: I want to know everything I possibly can about God’s creation, because he made it for me and he left it in my care. If I am to care for it, I have to know about it. Science exists to learn everything we possibly can about this incredible universe that God created.
Once we can recognize the interconnectedness of science and faith, it becomes easy to recognize the interconnectedness of all creation. We are all woven together with an incredible and almighty thread.
On a macroscopic level, it is easy to see that all of creation is interdependent. If grain didn’t exist, then mice would have nothing to eat. If the mice didn’t exist, we would have too much grain, and snakes would have nothing to eat. If snakes died, then hawks would have a hard time surviving and we would have too many mice. If you ever want to humble yourself, look down at the ground after a rainstorm at the worms. Consider the fact that you would be unable to survive if they didn’t exist.
On the other end of the scale, on a microscopic level, quantum mechanics tells us that two tiny subatomic particles are dependent and complimentary of one another, even when they exist separately. You can see where I’m going with this: Interrelatedness is at the heart of existence.
Ethics: What ought we to do with it?
So if all of nature is related, doesn’t that give us a great responsibility to each other? And if we believe all nature was created by God, doesn’t that make our responsibility even greater?
Genesis 1:28-30 says: “‘Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’ Then God said, ‘I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.’ And it was so.”
You can look at this passage two ways. You can have the attitude that God gave us all this stuff, so we can do with it whatever we want for our benefit—even if that means cutting it down or filling it with trash. After all, God entrusted us with his creation, and it clearly states that it is for our use, and this is what I want to do. It makes my life more comfortable, right?
Then there’s the other way of looking at it: View this gift as a great blessing, but also a great responsibility. God has given us so much in our lives, but there is an expectation that we use it appropriately. We were given salvation without stipulation, but we are expected to share the gospel. We are blessed with families, but we are expected to nurture them. We wouldn’t ever intentionally squander the other gifts God gave us, so we shouldn’t squander his gift of creation.
Jesus’ parable of the talents has great things to say about appropriately using the resources that God has provided. The take-home message is that we are to use our God-given blessings in a way that is beneficial. God has blessed us richly with an incredible earth that sustains human life. We have to care for it and use what he gave us in a manner that will benefit creation, not destroy it.
Praxis: So what do we do now?
At the heart of caring for creation is the idea of stewardship—using the gifts that God gave us in a responsible manner. But we all can be particularly guilty of using more than our share. (If we’re putting a title to it, we might call it gluttony.) It’s easy to roll our eyes at people who support “going green”; sometimes their ideologies don’t align with ours, and we use that as an excuse to write them off. But we can’t use that as an excuse to be bad stewards. We still have a responsibility to God’s earth.
There are so many simple things that individuals can do to be better stewards. We can use reusable items (grocery bags, dinnerware, utensils, glasses). We can recycle. We can use electricity sparingly. If we’re feeling really ambitious, we could convert our houses to geothermal, install solar panels, and plant gardens. How far are we willing to go to protect this gift that God gave us?
Even in churches we could be more aware of our environmental impact. I’d venture to guess that your church hands out paper bulletins each week (I know mine does). Are we recycling them? Are we offering them in electronic form for those who can access them? In our church we take communion weekly, but the cups are disposable and made of plastic that isn’t recyclable or biodegradable. It’s a little painful to think about the amount of God’s land we are taking up with landfills full of communion cups. But there are recyclable cups available. Let’s take the extra step to research. These things are small, but they add up.
In the Bible we’re taught that giving should be viewed as an act of worship. We’ve heard the sermons: Give until it hurts. We should view stewardship in the same way. As for me, I believe that God has blessed me with creation, so in turn I’ll care for it until it hurts—until I can’t anymore and have exhausted my resources, until Jesus returns. I do it because it’s an act of worship to my almighty God.
Luke 12:48 says: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” As Christians we have been blessed with so much, not the least of which is God’s creation. It’s an enormous gift, which means much is expected and asked of us in return.
Claire Kinney is a teacher with a degree in environmental education in Lexington, Kentucky.