Around the world today millions of people will celebrate Earth Day. This can be seen as one of the most successful grassroots campaigns in terms of both impact and visibility. It is a day celebrated with rallies, TV specials, speakers, fun runs, parades (you get the picture...). I scanned Discovery and it looks like a full day of making me feel bad for driving a car, using disposable anything, and not having a garden.
In light of the enormity and visibility of Earth Day, what should the response be of Christians to this?
To begin, I did some research into the origins of Earth Day. This can be found on the Wikipedia page. It seems to be a great story of wanting to bring awareness to issues with the climate, and recognizing the need to better care for our environment. But what shocked and disappointed me about this was the idea of "Zero Population Growth," which was what fueled a rising interest in environmental issues and was a key component of Senator Nelson's sales pitch. The association of a movement supportive and encouraging of active birth control (i.e. abortion on demand) and the environmental movement may be harmless associates, but I fear the connection is one that must be seriously considered and evaluated based on the biblical witness. The irony is, at the time the concern was over "global cooling." My how the agenda has changed (giving, in my opinion, some evidence to dismiss global warming, but that's just me)! Spaceship Earth is also a concept that has arisen from the global impact of Earth Day. The concept here is careful use of the limited resources, and to work together. That sounds great, but the whole thing reeks of a desire to work towards a perfect world through saving the earth.
Several great things have come about as a result of Earth Day and the environmental agenda. Many species of wonderful animals have been saved from certain extinction, recycling efforts are up and are cutting back on logging and deforestation, toxic disposal regulations have been enacted, and air quality concerns have been addressed around the world. I am glad for these, and all people should be thankful that groups have fought to ensure a clean and profitable environment for future generations.
However, there are many areas of concern to bring up regarding Earth Day.
One, we have to look at the creation (and in particular Earth) as being under a curse and subject to futility and decline. The creation will not be redeemed and restored until the return of Christ. Until then, we will continue to see the labor pains and cries for redemption (earthquakes, volcanoes, fires, storms, hurricanes, etc.), and we as humanity are powerless to reverse the trend. Thinking that being as eco-friendly as we can will fix the problems denies both the authority of Scripture and a Christian understanding that creation itself is cursed.
That said, we as humanity, the crown of Creation, have a duty and obligation to subdue the world and rule it as God's stewards. We have a responsibility to care for our environment, to use well the resources given us, and ensure that our children will enjoy the same possibilities we do. We must not deny though that ultimately the Earth will not be perfect until the Curse is lifted and Christ reigns supreme over it.
Second, the whole thing reeks of Earth worship, you know, Gaia and Mother Earth and all that sort of thing. Look, like every kid in the late 80s to early 90s I watched Captain Planet. But it wasn't until later that I realized the whole thing was built on goddess stuff, and preached a naturalistic worldview that all things could be explained in nature and existence contained the Divine. I'm all down for saving the trees, whales, and whatever else needs to be saved, but we must be careful not to get to the point where we worship the created realm. This is where I fear many on the environmentalist side have strayed, and they are living out the words of Romans 1:18-22 in their agenda. To think that we should save the Earth because it is all there is or that the Divine is contrary to Scripture. Panentheism would hold that the lion who devours a zebra calf is as much God-contained as a lamb innocently grazing in a meadow. That is just crazy talk! Christians, stop calling it "Mother Earth." God is your Father, and the Earth is a created thing, subject to His rule and dominion. I know this is speculative, but it is bothersome that the flag for Earth Day contains the Greek letter Theta. Theta is held in many circles as an abbreviation for God (Greek word theos). I really have to wonder if there was something behind that. Perhaps it is meaningless, but if it is true it is a strong statement of the agenda of the Eco Movement.
Third, we have to recognize that this is the greatest of all possible worlds or possibilities of existence. God is in control of all things, and in His holiness and majesty He has ordained all things to happen so that He receives the most glory and worship. Therefore, we have to recognize that our efforts to "save the earth" are at best going to simply slow the bleeding. Placing hope for a redeemed earth in recycling, species rescue, and other eco-movements is putting our hope in someone or something other than the Triune God of Scripture. We must take heed of the fact that all of our efforts will ultimately be futile because of two things. One, we are not God and therefore we are unable to reverse the Curse in Eden. Two, Scripture itself bears witness that the ideal world disappeared in Genesis 3 and will not be a reality again until the consummation of the ages in Revelation 21-22.
What does this mean for us as believers? Should we buy SUVs and throw styrofoam into whales' mouths and burn the rainforest down? Absolutely not! God gave our parents Adam and Eve the command to have dominion over the Earth (Genesis 1:28), and that command is not to wreck it for our own pleasure, but to care for it and rule it wisely. We have done poorly in this in recent years, and our consumption of what God has so generously provided for us is something that does need to be corrected.
As believers, we should be on the front lines of demanding better care and stewardship of the Earth. We should be the ones first in line to recycle, and we should make every effort to control our pollution and negative impact on the enviornment. We should also make it VERY clear, that what we are doing is not because we believe in a realized utopia, but that we are the bearers of the Image of God and have a duty as His servants to care for the Creation that He spoke into existence. Our care and stewardship should be Gospel-saturated, and any of our effort should be met with the call of "We are merely taking care of it, one day Christ will come and redeem it"
So, have a happy Creation Stewardship Day! And do your part, share the Gospel with the Earth Day crowd, and let them know why it is you do what you do and who it is that calls on you to do it.