“We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty… for destroying the destroyers of the earth.” Revelation 11:17-18 (ESV)
Conservative Christians, for a number of reasons, do not accept the consensus of scientists who say the planet is imperiled by global climate change. But among the reasons, along with economic and politically based ones, are the theological ones. Conservatives, who claim to take the bible literally, have slapped together a mixture of proof texts and sanctified wishful thinking to prop up their anti-science economic and political arguments. In the process they show a disregard for both their claims of biblical literalism and the planet God entrusted to us as its stewards.
In Genesis 1 God gives humans dominion over the planet. God made it and we are to care for it. God is the owner and we are the stewards. In 1:31 we read: “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.”
Fast-forward to our current age and we have a planet in peril. What God called “good” has become marred and wasted by consumption without restraint. Gains of the last 40+ years to rein this in are disregarded as the Trump administration, heavily supported by conservative Christians, and regulations which have made a demonstrable difference are discarded. The EPA, a driver for many of the pollution curbing initiatives of the government, is targeted for extinction by the industries that profit from lax pollution regulation. And the irreversible harm from global climate change is dismissed with lectures about cost and assurances that, in spite of all evidence to the contrary, the planet will be fine.
Beyond Dominion To Apathy
Conservatives will tell us that humans have dominion over the earth. We have sovereign control given to us by its creator. But, to varying degrees they will explain the pollution, the devastation, the hunting species to extinction, as a natural consequence of the maximum “best use” of the earth. Dominion is equated with economic activity and the acquiring of wealth and private property. As they talk their theology begins to sound more like a discourse on capitalist economics rather than followers of the Living God and caretakers of creation.
Excuses for the destruction of the earth, couched in pious language, seek to justify unbreathable air, water that kills and sickens, and temperatures that could end life as we know it. Among the horrifying excuses is this gem from John MacArthur:
“All of creation exists so that God could redeem sinners to take them to heaven for His own eternal glory.
“And by the way, when He’s done with that redemption, when redemption is complete, He will destroy the whole universe. The Old Testament says it, the New Testament says it, the book of Revelation describes it, 2 Peter describes it in detail. The elements will melt with fervent heat; there will be an atomic implosion of the whole creation.
“We’re not responsible to take care of the planet in that sense; it’s a disposable planet. If you think we’re messing it up, wait until you see what Jesus does to it. It is a disposable planet. We’re not here to preserve the planet, we’re here to proclaim the gospel.”
So “messing up” the “disposable planet” is OK as long as we are proclaiming “the gospel.”
“Hey people, your children may not have fresh air, or drinkable water, the rivers may be mired by preventable industrial waste, the land scarred by development and your health may be compromised by pollution but I have Good News!” Somehow I think that a disregard for the condition of the planet and (indirectly?) the people who inhabit it might be an impediment to reaching people with the gospel.
“Though the ancient Israelites weren’t industrially capable of the same pollution that we have today, they recognized that sinful dispositions like arrogance, greed, lust, anger, envy, and gluttony destroyed not only human society but also the land they needed to survive. An economic system built upon accentuating and exploiting these sinful dispositions is not going to be compatible with a biblical worldview without heavy filtering.”
And this heavy filtering is provided by theological systems that prioritize their “gospel” and apocalyptic views of the “end times” over the good of their fellow humans.
Beyond Apathy To Baseless Fantasies
We hear things like this all the time: “God will take care of it.” Or, “God has a plan.” And this is used to shut down concerns about pollution, the environment, global climate change, and any number of other legitimate concerns. A stark example of this is the recent words of Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI) who said:
“I believe there’s climate change. I believe there’s been climate change since the beginning of time. I think there are cycles.”
“Do I think that man has some impact? Yeah, of course. Can man change the entire universe? No. Why do I believe that? As a Christian, I believe that there is a creator, God, who’s much bigger than us. And I’m confident that, if there’s a real problem, he can take care of it.”
If the congressman or conservative Christians really believed this then they would do NOTHING about EVERYTHING. Anything else is illogical. If God is going to take care of this if it is a “real problem” then what of the other real problems? How do they know which problems God is going to magically fix and which ones he is going to ignore and leave to us? If he ignores them should we ignore them also? And where do we find this in the bible? But the reality is that they want us to “do something” about the things that concern them. Then we are expected to play along with their baseless fantasies about God intervening in this one problem. They arbitrarily pick and choose and then expect everyone else to defer to them because they have used an incantation with the word “God” in it.
Beyond Baseless Fantasies To Stewardship
Psalm 21 says: “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” And in Job 41:11 we read: “Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me.”
God did not give the world to humans. God created the earth, God owns the earth, and God made humans the stewards of it. Owners have the right to do as they wish with their property. Since humans do not own the world they have responsibilities to the owner of the property. Allowing the earth to be destroyed for profit is short-sighted and antithetical to the task God gave humans.
Agree or not, conservative Christian theology generally teaches that humans, unrestrained by external forces, will always do bad. Why this would not be true of corporations, run by humans, is puzzling. We have seen faceless corporations pollute and poison in pursuit of money. Civil government allows us the opportunity to constrain the avarice of those who would take from and deplete the world. The fantasy that the “free market” needs to run unfettered is a formula for disaster and runs counter to human history and human nature.
Stewards must demand that the world they are responsible for is protected from harm. They must live lives realizing that the world is a gift from God for all humanity. Because pollution in a far-away place does not impact you is not a reason to ignore it. The poor and the powerless are as deserving of the benefits of the earth, water, air, food, and beauty as you and I. We must call out those who would use their theology to empower the “destroyers of the earth.” We must hold accountable the destroyers, the exploiters, and profiteers who take from the earth and leave destruction in their path. We must show that loving our neighbor means insuring that the air they breathe and the water they drink is clean and safe. This is what Christian stewards do.
For more extensive reading about Christianity and the environment check out the EcoPreacher, The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade.