The Paradox of Christian Environmentalism

35369

On many political and social issues, there is often a predictable split between traditional / conservative and so-called progressive wings of the Christian church, at least for certain denominations. Environmental activism, pursuit of clean energy, and concerns about climate change tend to be found more among the ‘Christian Left.’ Liberal-minded Christians emphasize the role of humanity as caretakers and stewards of God’s creation while conservative-minded Christians emphasize the call for humanity to exercise dominion over creation. The former are accused of worshiping a false god of Mother Nature; the latter of raping the Earth and denying science.

Paradoxically, both sides are wrong and right. Where the Christian environmentalists err is in failing to realize the total eschatological destruction of the creation they are trying to preserve. Scripture is clear that “the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire” (2 Peter 3:7) and that “the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10). Again, “the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!” (2 Peter 3:12). Some physicists argue that our universe is permeated by an ocean of Higgs field. If the value or energy state of that Higgs field changes, the Biblical scenario referenced above would indeed happen.

So no matter how hard we work to preserve the environment now, all of it will inevitably be erased from existence. The Great Barrier Reef? Gone. The Amazon Rainforest? Obliterated. The African Elephant? Extinct.

But the ultimate promise is of new heavens and a new earth, a return to the paradisiacal Edenic state – Earth 2.0, if you will. Although all physical matter in the entire universe in this current stage of reality will be gone, yet we are told that the “glory and honor of the nations” will be brought into the future heavenly city of God on the renewed planet (Revelation 21:26). But what glory and honor will remain if everything is wiped out? The Mona Lisa and Crown Jewels won’t be around. Godiva chocolate won’t be there either. What is this verse referring to?

I interpret this in part to mean that the knowledge and expertise Christians gain in this life will be carried over and useful in the age to come. Although the skyscrapers we build will not endure, our engineering and construction experience will. Although our spaceships and satellites will be long gone, our understanding of astrophysics and rocket science will be preserved. Although your favorite pizza place won’t be there, our understanding of making incredible, authentic Neapolitan-style pizza will endure (if anyone with that knowledge makes it into heaven). This same principle applies to environmentalism.

Christians should become experts in clean and renewable energy and sustainability now, because that knowledge is going to hugely benefit us in the life to come. We do not want to repeat the mistakes of the past. Who wants to be told to stay out of the ocean due to high bacteria levels? Who wants to walk around their city wearing a breathing mask because of air pollution? Who wants to suffer the consequences of radiation poisoning when a nuclear reactor fails? Who wants to see a Garden of Eden paved to make room for gaudy strip-malls? If you love fishing, sustainable fishing matters to you. If you love books, you are going to want sustainable forestry for the printing of paper. If we have the opportunity of Earth 2.0, let’s get it right from the start, especially if we are going to live there forever.

The Psychological Need for Aesthetic Beauty

cherry-blossom-lake

Sometimes it is hard to reconcile the natural beauty of creation with the spiritual call to not love the world or the things of the world, and to instead long for a heavenly country. Now, not to say anything about natural disasters, corrupt civilizations, or human depravity and suffering, there is within most of us a deep reaction to the remaining beauty of the created world: a breath-taking sunset, autumn colors at their peak, the vista from a mountaintop, etc.

In the creation story found in Genesis, what God created at the beginning of human history was good. More than that, it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). As part of God’s original design, he “planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed” (Genesis 2:8). Sometimes we assume that this was a wild, sprawling rain forest – we picture Adam being fully in touch with primordial nature like Tarzan. However, cultural studies of the Ancient Near East indicate that such concepts of Paradise have more in common with walled-in private (even botanical) gardens. Indeed, being left out alone in the wild of our planet as we know it today is not usually a pleasant experience – it is a struggle for survival against the elements.

Rather than untamed jungle in the Garden of Eden, we see the intersection of Nature and Design. “And out of the ground Yahweh Elohim made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Genesis 2:9). The Creator not only provided physical nourishment for the first humans, but also aesthetic pleasure – perhaps we could consider this psychological nourishment. Research does indicate that colors can affect our mood. The concept behind ‘seasonal affective disorder’ is that seasonal changes such as cold, gray, short winter days can impact our emotions and behaviors. Whatever the case may be, scripture notes that God specifically chose flora “pleasant to the sight” to be in the Paradise of his design. There is a human need to experience beauty.