Theology is Green: Should Christians Try to Save the Planet? Part 1 (Gupta)

I am launching a new blog series called: “Theology is Green.” This series will be about why Christians should care about cultivating, caring for, and saving the planet.

Truth be told, I used to care little—really not at all—about the earth. But, especially over the last fifteen years, I have turned around on this subject. Yes, some of my habits have changed (I have an electric bicycle now!), but also my attitude towards God, God’s world, and God’s creatures, and the role of humans in this world. We are at a critical juncture in world history where Christians need to think carefully about our place in the wider context of God’s creation. To start off, I want to counter three bad arguments for why Christians shouldn’t care.

Myth #1: God’s going to destroy the world anyway, why bother with the earth?

There are some biblical texts that deal with what we might call cosmic dissolution (e.g., Isaiah 34:4), and it appears that a time will come when earth, sky, and stars are destroyed. But you will probably notice these statements often happen in poetic kinds of settings in the Bible. My interpretation of this is that it is not narrating destruction of physical things and replacement with spiritual things (why bother with the physical to begin with?). Rather, the dissolution language points to the renewal of all things. It is not so much that the earth will vanish, as it will be redeemed. We might say the same things about our bodies. We will have resurrection bodies, and they will be “different” in some ways, but they are still bodies. I hope we don’t think to ourselves now, “Let’s ruin our bodies because they will decay anyway.” No, we know that the gifts God has given to us matter, and we are expected to respect and preserve them.

Myth #2: The Bible is all about salvation, not hugging trees

There is a latent (sometimes overt) Gnosticism in our modern Western theology that tries to divide “spiritual” things (like salvation) and “earthly” things (like work). The biblical view of “salvation” is so much bigger than saving souls for an ethereal heaven. Paul talks about all creation groaning in pain and despair, anticipating freedom and redemption (Rom 8:22). And who do they (God’s creatures) place their hope in? The children of God (Rom 8:19).

Myth #3: The Bible doesn’t talk directly about earth care, so it must not be important

There are a lot of things the Bible doesn’t talk about, because it comes out of a certain time and place. The Bible doesn’t talk about how we use technology (like iPhones), but it would be ridiculous to say Christians ought not to have thoughtful reflections on the use of screens.

There are (2) quick reasons the Bible doesn’t address this head-on. (#1) Because of the importance of agriculture to the economy in the ancient world, it was in everyone’s best interest to treat the earth and animals well. Today, we are so removed from the food/materials production process that we don’t see the damaging steps that have often been taken. (#2) Because of industrialization and advancement in technology, we can do destructive things to the earth on a scale that wouldn’t have been fathomable back then. Think about littering and trash. In Jesus’ time there were no plastic cups, no napkins floating around the streets. There were no cars and airplanes to pollute the atmosphere. Yes, people were cutting down trees, but with machines now we can wipe out forests rapidly.

Questions?

I will have maybe 5-6 posts on this subject, but I am interested in the questions that you have. Keep in mind, I am not a scientist, I am a biblical theologian, so I am trying to engage with Scripture and theology. You can leave a question in the blog comments or on social media. Mean-spirited/jerky questions will not get answered.

 

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5 thoughts on “Theology is Green: Should Christians Try to Save the Planet? Part 1 (Gupta)

  1. Seems to me the biggest question is always this one: how do we choose among options (both for individual action and for wider policy) when everyone is telling us to panic. After all “the science” describes facts. It cannot tell us how to act. And in this case both the “green” side and the “non-green” side are constantly saying that we must, of course, do (or not do) this or that or dire consequences will ensue.

  2. Hi Dr. Gupta, thanks for exploring this subject. Here are a few questions I’m pondering. How much do we rely on science when it comes to actions we should take to try to save the planet? How should we understand God’s sovereignty and sustaining of the universe? It seems like many scientists focus on global warming as the catastrophic ending of life as we know it. Or they posit the end as eventual heat death of the universe based on the 2nd law of thermodynamics . Based on this emphasis, many scientists claim that the the carbon footprint must be reduced worldwide to sustain life. This would need to involve all the major contributors to the carbon footprint (i.e. U.S., China, India, etc.) to come together and maybe stop eating meat to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Is this something people should strive for even though the effects or possible consequences of global warming aren’t entirely clear or agreed upon by all scientists? Does the earth need to be saved? Do humans need to try to save it?

    With regard to heat death, um well, according to scientists, not much can be done about this.

    As theologians, we believe in a sovereign and all powerful God who doesn’t always have to acquiesce to the laws of science. He is going to sustain the universe and life regardless of what scientists predict about global warming and regardless of the response and actions by humans. He is sovereign in these matters. There are environmental issues that he allows and there environmental issues that he does not allow. He has allowed a certain amount of global warming at times throughout history and at other times not so much. God knows things about his universe that we will never know. With this perspective, it is difficult for me to adopt the view that global warming in the greatest human existential crisis. Nor heat death for that matter. I caution against the hysteria.

    I agree with your responses to the bad arguments, and I agree that we are to be good stewards of the gifts God has given us. Indeed, we are to care for the planet and question our attitudes and actions towards the universe. We are agents of the already-not yet in full kingdom of God. New creation has begun. Restoration is among us.

    I am confident that God is guiding human history towards “that day” when Christ will establish the new heavens and the new earth. No heat death, no relocating to another planet that has not been ravaged by humans. Just God with his new humanity in his restored Eden for all eternity. This is my hope and my hope and my focus.

    I look forward to your future posts on this subject.

  3. Does the eschatology underlying your critique of myth #1 also imply that Christians should not be cremated but should bury their dead, assuming that God will raise their original body to new life? There are of course many legitimate theological reasons to steward creation well, but it seems to me that a consistent application of the God-will-renew-not-remake argument implies the need to bury the dead as much as it does to be environmentally friendly.

    1. Good question, but renewal doesn’t require perfect preservation of what came before. After all, some saints were sawn in half (Heb 11:37)! The point of my appeal to renewal is not that matter and molecules will be exactly the same. The point is that the new creation will not be radically different (i.e., immaterial, spiritual) from something like the material world now. If we look at the images of new creation in Isaiah (for example), it is basically images of work, play, family, and harmony in the animal world.

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