We inhabit the earth

The earth is our home. We not so much live on the earth; we live in the world; we are at home in it. Is this earth not a wonderful home (oikos) the Creator God gave us to live in? We should live in awe of its wonders. We should be treading softly on this precious planet. But is this how we live? Often we act as if the earth’s wellbeing doesn’t matter. We think we are allowed to exploit and degrade it for our own purposes. Now this home is in trouble, and all of us who inhabit it are endangered.

God has a purpose with his world

According to Genesis 1 and 2 God’s purpose for mankind was to be his representatives (bearers of his image). People were to take responsibility for the wellbeing of the creation of which they were part. We were meant to manage the earth, to “rule” and “subdue” it (Gen 1:28), but as God’s representatives we should also act consistent with the life-giving and sustainable approach of the Owner of the earth. We have inherited a tremendous responsibility regarding the earth we inhabit. We should “work it” and “care for it” (Gen 2:15). Mankind – made in the image of God – was meant to fill the earth with the presence of God. We have the responsibility to demonstrate God’s love and compassion for his creation.

People abuse the earth

The fact is that people (especially since the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century) have stamped their authority on the earth. We work and exploit the earth on a massive scale. It seems there is no end to what people would do to transform the earth’s elements into products to the benefit of mankind. The technological advances are mind-boggling. Sadly though, it seems we have forgotten that we are supposed to not exploit the riches of the earth, but to care for it. We have indeed filled the earth, but not with the presence of God; we filled it with our own consumer products.

We consume too much

The truth is that the exponential growth of a consuming population led to an over-exploitation of the earth’s resources. It is calculated that we presently consume 50% more than what the earth can sustainably supply. We live on the saved energy capital of millions of years. In a few years we will need two earths to supply in our needs.

Our “carbon footprint” is way too big. We trample the earth to death. There are formulas by which we can calculate our own footprint, and even that of our families or congregations. But then we should also do something to lessen our negative impact on the earth. It is of the absolute importance to scale down our impact on the earth’s resources. We – and Christians should take the lead here – will have to reign in our insatiable thirst for new consumer goods. We simply cannot continue as in the past. A simple lifestyle can only benefit ourselves and our environment. This truth we should preach, but also live. 

“The rubbish-making animal”

This is what the historian Paul Johnstone calls humans. The consumer culture implies that all consumer goods will sooner or later become useless … and then we simply discard of it. Can’t we fix things and use them a little bit longer? Do we really need all we have? Each new article comes in new packaging, which we also just throw away. More and more rubbish contaminates the earth, whether it is on the street, in our streams and oceans, or at municipal dumping sites. We should consume less. We should recycle and re-use. We should see it as our obligation to co-operate with all efforts to re-use and recycle materials. Congregations could even make this their project.

We use too much energy

To manufacture all of these consumer goods requires so much energy. Most of our household gadgets on which we have become so dependent use electricity. Where does this (electrical) energy come from? To a large extent from the burning of non-renewable resources like coal and oil. Christians should do everything in their power to not only save as much power as possible (by switch off lights and household appliances), but also to switch over to renewable sources of energy (such as solar or wind power). 

We pollute

Our lifestyle leads to pollution. We are a throw-away society that not only pollutes the surface of the earth, but also the air we breathe. The burning of fossil fuels – by power stations, factories, but also our vehicles – shoots millions of tons of gases and particles into the atmosphere. This has an impact on our health, and most probably on our weather. We will have to do our bit to lessen this impact by using less energy, by looking after our possessions, but also by changing our style of driving.

We can easily use less fuel by driving less (use public transport, walk more, or cycle), by driving wiser (slower or not in peak traffic), and even by changing to smaller vehicles. In the process we not only lessen the pollution, but actually also save money.

It is not only our land and atmosphere that are being polluted; our water resources are contaminated. Rubbish spills in all kinds of forms into the oceans and our fresh water sources. Many of our towns and cities are already experiencing problems due to the pollution of our scarce water resources. They say that in the future wars might just be over the availability of water.

What should we as Christians do about these issues?

Learn to think and do differently

We should look at our environment in a new way. We should think about and appreciate our task and role in the environment. We should realise that we are not the lords of the earth; God is. He is the Creator and Owner of the world. Our role is that of manager-caretaker.

Our attitude should, therefore, change radically. The change should, of course, also lead to definite action. Firstly, we should change our lifestyle. Secondly, we should learn to live responsibly and sensitively regarding our impact on our environment. As we as individuals are transformed we can then take the hands of others (in the church and community) to make a difference.

“Green” and “brown”

We tend to have negative feelings towards the so-called “greenies”. They often act controversially, and seem to be motivated by all sorts of questionable (New Age) ideas. They try to stop all progress. We think this movement represents an one-sidedness and luxury we cannot afford. However, we shouldn’t be afraid to be called “green”, for it is clearly an important aspect of our calling as Christians and responsible citizens.

What we should be aware of, though, is that the so-called “green issues” are intertwined with the so-called “brown issues”, such as poverty and pain. The first people to suffer when the environment is destroyed are the poor and vulnerable. Climate change, and the massive storms that seem to go with it, leaves millions of poor people dead or homeless. If we really care for people – and we should – we should be sensitive to the wellbeing of the environment.

Someone said: “We should live simply so that others may simply live.” We may not continue consuming as if nothing else matters. We should develop grounded opinions about all the issues impacting our environment, such as the protection of our water resources (we should not allow misuse and pollution), the state of our municipal sewerage and dumping areas, biodiversity (the loss of species and habitat are unacceptable), the development of alternative and renewable sources of power, and the question of fracking.

It has everything to do with the Gospel

In the past these kind of issues did not receive much attention in the churches. It is a pity for it is part of the message of the Bible. We should see this clearly today. Look, for example, at the following:

God was so happy with his creation (Gen 1 – 2). The earth proclaims the power and glory of God (see Job 36 – 37; Ps 8; 19; 104). The earth and all that is on it belongs to God (Ps 24).

God expects of his image bearers to cultivate the earth, but also to care for it (Gen 2:15).

Nature suffers due to mankind’s failure to remain loyal and obedient to God (Gen 3). The earth suffers especially because of people’s insistence to “make a name for ourselves” (Gen 11:4), and due to their attitude that they are lord over the earth.

Christ suffered and died for our sins, and rose from the dead to renew and heal us, but also the earth (Col 1:20). He makes everything new. We are on our way to his new heaven and new earth (Rev 21:1-8). This gives us hope.

We who are made new by his grace have the calling to be witnesses of this healing and renewal. Human beings who were not only made in the image of God, but who now have the indwelling Holy Spirit to inspire them, are called to demonstrate God’s love and care for his creation by acting as his caretakers of the home in which we live.

In this home we are to live in such a way that new generations will be able to live a life of wonder before the greatness of the God of creation.

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