As an environmentalist, the creation story is foundational to my calling. Not only does it remind us that God is the ultimate creator, but it also reminds us of how things were meant to be in this world and how they will one day be restored. This gives us hope and new purpose in our work in the environment. As a Christian, I don’t just protect and conserve nature because it is the right thing to do in some abstract sense. I do so because it is God’s creation – something to be appreciated and respected, not abused. In Genesis 2:5b, it says “For the Lord God had not yet sent rain to water the earth, and there were no people to cultivate the soil.” Then in verse 15 God “placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it.” From the very beginning our vocation was to care for the earth and cultivate it. It is not a coincidence that the first command God gave Adam was to oversee and care for all the plants and animals in the garden. And so not only are we called to work as Christians, but we are called to protect the earth as well!
Only after creating humans did God use the phrase “very good” instead of just “good,” (Genesis 1:31). I find this very significant and meaningful. Of everything He created, God favored humans the most because we are most like Him. That is amazing! It also gives us hope for ourselves and our lives because if God said “very good” after He created us then that must mean we have the potential of being “very good” again even within this broken world. The more we become like God, reflecting His image the more “good” we become. But these statements show the deep challenge of working as a Christian environmentalist. Not only am I a rare commodity in this field, but most environmentalists don’t share in my belief that mankind is special and good. In fact, mankind – especially population – is usually considered the problem! After all, how can you be for the environment and for mankind? Aren’t they at odds against each other?
Many environmentalists would say that humans are bad and should be kept out of the environment – we’re considered a weed species in some senses: capable of spreading anywhere and hard to eradicate! We build factories which create air pollution and they cut down trees and harm habitats. And yes, that is true. And sadly, we often go about our God-given work in ways that are environmentally disastrous. Equally sadly, most of the “off the shelf” solutions available from the environmentalist movement as a whole work off of deeply unchristian assumptions.
As a Christian environmentalist I end up in the middle, bridging a gap – or at least trying to…. I must put the lie to the idea that mankind is the problem. Instead, mankind has to be the answer! Loving only the environment and hating all of human creation is bad, but so is loving only mankind and hating all of the natural creation – or just ignoring our impact on it. Humanity and the rest of the creation shouldn’t be put against each other! God created both and therefore both are good. Biblically, it must be possible to be for the environment and for mankind. But in today’s political climate, neither side of the polarized debate seems to want that. So whither the Christian environmentalist? I don’t know, to be honest, but I care because God cares.
Hannah Kinkaid is a Fellow in the Chattanooga Fellows Program.
Photos: FreeImages.com/Jay Lopez, Helmut Gevert