Ecology and the Bible: Loving the Planet by Loving God and Neighbor

By Patricia Anders, Editorial Director, Hendrickson Publishers

Ecology and the Bible Cover

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.

Psalm 19:1–4 (NIV)

In Shakespearean tragedies, when fierce storms raged and animals went berserk, this was a signal from the cosmos that something was seriously wrong in Denmark, or on that blasted heath, or outside the castle walls of Dunsinane. This usually meant that the “divinely appointed” ruler had been betrayed. After encountering his kingly father’s ghost and learning of his murder, Prince Hamlet knew it was now his unpleasant duty to put his world back into balance—but he also knew he couldn’t do it alone.

The time is out of joint. O curséd spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!
Nay, come, let’s go together.

Our world is not unlike one of Shakespeare’s tragedies. Created in the image of God and given charge over all he created, we fell from grace and were banished from the garden. We rebelled against our rightful ruler and king. In Ecology and the Bible, Frédéric Baudin calls this “The Reversal of the Creation Order.” We now think we are “the be-all and end-all of everything, which grants humanity the intellectual and practical preeminence to dominate the entire world—alas, often at the expense of nature” (57). The biggest problem, Baudin says, is that we put ourselves first, when God is actually the “be-all” and the “end-all of everything.”

A Serious Problem of the Heart

The other problem here, Baudin says, is that not only do we fail to love God with all our hearts, all our minds, and all our strength, but we also fail in loving our neighbors as ourselves. Let’s be honest. How often do we think of our global impact when we decide to drive two blocks to the grocery store instead of walking, or when we power up that leaf blower instead of using a rake or broom? And what about all the plastic packaging we throw away, which ends up in a landfill or in the middle of the ocean? For Baudin, this speaks to something deeper within us that needs to be addressed:

Much has been made of the physical pollution of nature, while too often the spiritual and moral defilement at the root of all pollution is forgotten. The problem lies in the inner nature of human beings themselves, with their hearts, and not in the surrounding world. . . . When they usurp the place of God and overstep the limits of their “mission,” they upset world order; they turn it “upside down.” (32)

But some Christians will argue that if God is going to create a new heaven and a new earth when Jesus returns, why should we bother to take care of the one we currently have? After all, even the apostle Paul said that creation itself is “groaning as if in childbirth” (Rom. 8:22 NRSV), waiting to be fully restored. Does this, however, mean that we all can sit back and wait for the world to end? Baudin gives us a resounding no! And he has plenty of Scripture and sound theology to back him up.

He says that we are still called to be stewards of the creation entrusted to our keeping. When God gave the law to Israel, he not only provided a sabbath rest for his people, but he also included the land in this rest (see Lev. 25). And when Israel abused the law and the land, God exiled them from their “garden” to give the land a proper time of healing. But this doesn’t pertain only to ancient Israel. We are all guilty in one way or another, as Baudin demonstrates throughout his book.

Does “2020” Really Mean Clear Vision?         

As I write this, it has been eight months since the United States first began to lock down in an effort to fight off the coronavirus plague. As of today, over 35 million people in our world have been infected and over one million have died. This tiny germ should humble us—just as it did in the Spanish Flu Epidemic of 1918, when a similar virus killed as many as 100 million people in four waves over a couple of years.

And if a global deadly pandemic isn’t bad enough, fires continue to rage in California and Colorado, and we’ve already run out of the twenty-one names allocated to this season’s hurricanes, which are increasingly more intense and frequent. In addition, rising water levels are causing devastation and death around the globe. Science has been trying to warn us for a long time now about human-generated greenhouse gases that are heating up not only our land but also our oceans.

I am a native Southern Californian who all too vividly remembers the thick, choking haze and diesel smell of the Greater Los Angeles area in the 1970s. When the days grew hot and the air quality became dangerous, we had “smog alerts” that warned against outdoor physical activity. The good news here is that because of strict regulations, the air quality has significantly improved over the past couple of decades.

Like this ongoing fight against emissions in California and the noticeable benefits, the rest of the world has also seen just how quickly the Earth can cleanse itself when it has a chance to catch its breath, so to speak. This past spring, when we withdrew indoors to safeguard against COVID-19, nearly all transportation around the world came to a halt, as well as many factories. This past April was also the fiftieth anniversary of the first Earth Day (April 22, 1970). On this anniversary date, remarkable photos were published on the Internet that showed “before” and “after” scenes of notoriously polluted cities, such as Los Angeles.

“Life Finds a Way”         

I believe the moral to this story, to quote Dr. Ian Malcom during that fateful tour of Jurassic Park, is that “life finds a way.” If we do not stop the destruction of our own habitat, then it may just have to cleanse and heal itself. As my brother-in-law—who recently had to evacuate his home in rural Colorado—recently said, “It’s nature helping nature. We’re just collateral damage.”

The really tragic part in all this is our stubborn refusal to believe that we humans share a large part of the blame for these catastrophic events; and, according to Baudin, as Christians and stewards over this planet, we look especially bad when we shirk our God-given responsibilities:

An irresponsible attitude toward the environment can have negative repercussions on their [Christian] witness to the world. How can nonbelievers—who live in society with them and observe them, up close or from afar—take them seriously when they show such little regard for sharing their blessings, when they take to the highways or the air in powerful machines that consume (and often waste) costly and highly polluting fuel? Many believers have allowed themselves to be carried away by the frenetic pace of consumerist society, without ever thinking of their struggling neighbors, including their brothers and sisters in the household of faith who live in poverty at home and abroad; nor do they even consider their descendants on this earth, who just as much belong to the Lord. (129–30)

Much Ado about Everything

Fortunately, Baudin says, this indifference has lately been “replaced by a real interest in environmental causes” (130). There are many Christian organizations now working in this area, and churches and seminaries are also getting involved with programs and education. This gives us hope that we can learn once again to be good stewards of the Earth and effective witnesses to the kingdom of God in our midst. In closing, Baudin leaves us with this hopeful challenge:

In the final analysis, it is up to each individual believer—living alone or in community, solidly planted in the present world but with eyes fixed on the world to come—to put into practice the greatest of the commandments to love God and to love our neighbor. (152)

Or to rephrase Hamlet’s earlier comment:

The Earth is out of joint. O blessed gift,
That ever we were born to set it right!
Come, let’s go together!

With God’s help and guidance, as Baudin says, “there is still time for us to be witnesses of the firstfruits of this restoration and hope by taking care of our planet in these latter days with faith and with love—toward both the Creator and his creation” (3) Amen!

Ecology and the Bible On Marble

Patricia Anders is the editorial director of Hendrickson Publishers and the managing editor of Modern Reformation magazine. She has also taught literature and writing to undergraduate students, doing her very best to open up to them the vast, fascinating, and still-relevant world of William Shakespeare.

About the Author

Frédéric Baudin studied theology at the Faculté Jean Calvin in Aix-en-Provence, France, and has completed post-graduate studies in biogeography, ecology, and literature at several French universities. He serves as the executive director of the organization CEM (which promotes social justice and Christian values in the areas of culture, the environment, and the media) and is a founding member of the French chapter of “A Rocha” (an organization dedicated to the protection of the environment from a Christian perspective). In addition, he provides training on sustainable development in francophone Africa, Madagascar, Haiti, and India. Baudin was vice president of the French Evangelical Alliance from 2000 to 2010, and he currently serves as a pastor in the Union of Evangelical Free Churches. He is the author of numerous articles and a dozen popular-level books related to his various fields of study and work.

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