Bishop's Message

The Earth belongs to the Lord


A huge Climate Convention was held in Copenhagen in December 2009. About 15,000 delegates and officials, 5,000 journalists, 98 world leaders, and an entourage of celebrities descended on the Danish capital. It was noted that a record 1,200 limousines were hired for the occasion, and 140 private jets landed at the airport. Expensive luxury hotels were fully booked and exquisite and costly meals were consumed.

Did the conference achieve much towards saving the environment and improving the problems we are having with global climate changes? Not much really. Instead the conference helped to create 41,000 tonnes of “carbon dioxide equivalent” – what a town of about 150,000 people would produce during the same period. Critics noted that the climate conference that gathered to find solutions to environmental problems actually ended up doing more environmental damage.

The fourth Gaia Conference was held in 2006. This movement has many followers, from Green activists to practitioners of New Age neo-paganism. The Gaia hypothesis (named after the Greek goddess of earth) was proposed by Sir James Lovelock in the 1970s. It is partly scientific in that it seeks to see the earth as a living organism with its own huge ecosystem, and partly metaphysical and religious. Thus Lovelock wrote, “What if Mary is another name for Gaia? Then her capacity for virgin birth is no miracle, it is a role of Gaia since life began. She is of this Universe and, conceivably, a part of God. On Earth, she is the source of life everlasting and is alive now; she gave birth to humankind and we are part of her.” Such ideas were readily welcomed by New Agers who called for the reverence for and worship of “Mother Earth”.

Al Gore who famously championed global environmental responsibility remarked that religions like Christianity replaced earlier “goddess religions”. He called for a new faith which recognises that “the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth”.

Could it be that the above two cameos represent the reasons why Christians seem to be slow to respond to the environmental crisis of our day? One represents hypocrisy, the other heresy. Though there are sincere environmentalists even amid hypocrisy, and there are also those who hold on to views that are not antithetical to Christian perspectives, it is easy to become sceptical or guarded with suspicion. But should we simply have to follow the crowds in order to become more environmentally responsible? No, we can develop a proper response by reading the Bible and reflecting in a Christian way.

In his book The Radical Disciple, John Stott rightly grounds our responsibility to care for God’s creation in what the Bible teaches. In the creation accounts in Genesis, we read about three primary relationships: our relationship with God (God is our Creator), with one another (we are to love one another) and with God’s creation (we are to take care of the Garden). Sin has marred all these relationships. We are alienated from God and from one another, and from the good earth which was cursed as a result.

God’s redemptive plans include the restoration of all three relationships. We find this, for example, in Romans 8.

There we find humans, creation and the Spirit groaning for the Day when all these relationships will be restored. There will be a new society of redeemed individuals, and a new earth and heaven. Many Christians, with their rather narrow individualistic perspectives, may not appreciate the cosmic proportions of God’s salvation plans. Others argue that since the earth will be destroyed anyway, why bother with preserving its environment? We can use the same argument for our bodies as an excuse for not caring about it. But we do not. Instead, today there is an obsession with the body and its well-being.

The body, though it will die, will continue in a new resurrected form. It is because of this continuity that we ought to care for it today, besides the fact that it has been created by God and belongs to Him (1 Cor. 6:20, KJV). Likewise, because the new earth will have some relationship with the present earth, we must also pay attention to the earth on which we now live. “The earth is the Lord’s” (Ps. 24:1) and God gave it to humankind (Ps. 115:16). This means that we are not the owners of the earth and its resources to exploit it as we like. Instead, we are to exercise responsible stewardship over it.

Stott refers to Chris Wright who, in his huge book The Mission of God, advocates individual environmental responsibility in the context of God’s mission. We may not fully understand the complex and sometimes fiercely-debated issues but we can each do our part by choosing common-sense habits that are environmentally friendly. One Methodist lay leader told me that he uses a simple maxim: Reduce, Reuse, Refuse. These are commendable principles that will help us avoid getting sucked into modern forms of rampant consumerism, self-indulgence and wastefulness. Choosing a simpler lifestyle, avoiding the wastage of precious resources like water, energy, food and trees (for paper) should become part of our daily habits. Parents must teach and demonstrate these values and habits to their children.

In addition, corporately we must seek to be environmentally responsible churches. Do we waste electricity? Do we use too much paper? In our worship and in our weekly routines, do we show that we care for God’s earth? Do we travel too much (thus wasting precious fuel and leaving a huge carbon footprint) to achieve too little? We must ask ourselves these and other related questions.

In the end we must be environmentally responsible because it has to do with God’s creation. We honour God by caring for the earth and its resources. We worship God by recognising the beauty and rich resources that God has given us in nature. We obey God by tending the earth and being responsible for it. Caring for the environment shows that we love God our Creator and love our neighbours, including future generations, with whom we share God’s creation. It is also good for our souls because it brings us face to face with sinfully rampant consumerism, greed, pride and self-indulgence which are destroying human souls and society, and the planetary home God has given us.