Yet, the new evangelical movement frequently embraces the broad themes and specific claims of the wider Environmental movement. Often those themes are unbiblical and its claims false.
What is the basic problem? Most of the Environmental movement desires nature to be left as free of human influence as possible. This inevitably leads to opposition to economic development and population growth, since both require using resources. The movement’s goal is to preserve untamed wilderness at any cost.
But that goal is patently unbiblical. It runs contrary to the Bible’s teaching in Genesis 1:27 concerning man’s essence (being made in the image of God, male and female). And it directly contradicts Genesis 1:28 on man’s mission (to fill and rule the Earth and everything in it).
It may be worthwhile to put all this in context by looking at the history of creation.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. – Genesis 1:1-2
Genesis 1:3–30 tells us how God went about bringing form and content to what was once without form and void. Throughout the process, He brought increasing order out of chaos.
Just by speaking, God made light and divided it from the darkness. He gave each a name: Day and Night. He made a firmament to divide the waters above from those below, then separated the waters below from dry land. Again, He gave each a name: Heaven, Earth and Sea.
Then He brought order to the Earth. He made grass, herbs, and fruit trees, each according to its kind. He brought order to Heaven by making lights to divide day from night. He brought order to the seas and sky. He made an abundance of living creatures, each according to its kind. But notice something – He didn’t give them names.
Having made sea creatures, air creatures, and land creatures, He finally made a creature to rule them, thereby bringing order to Earth and seas and sky alike:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth. – Genesis 1:26
Just as God had given order to light and darkness by naming them Day and Night, and to dry land and water and sky by naming them Earth and Sea and Heaven, so God brought to Adam all the animals so that Adam could begin His work of ruling over them by naming them.
This is a very important distinction.
What began “without form and void” God immediately set about giving form and content to. This is the point at which the Biblical vision diverges drastically from the environmentalist vision. God instructed man to pick up where He left off, commanding him and his children to give greater form and content to the earth and everything in it.
Even the structure of the text shows us this. It is designed to drive home the point that bringing order out of chaos is the focus of creation. If anything jumps right out of the text, it is order, structure, system, rule.
The climax comes when God makes someone to whom He speaks.
And what does He say to this creature? “Have dominion…Rule.” Just as God has ordered things, so He wants man to continue ordering things.
After all, where did God put the man when He first made him? He put him in “a garden in Eden, in the east.”
What was the garden like? It is the paradigm for every garden that would follow. It had its own order and design: its order exceeded everything else God had made. It was beautiful and fruitful, and God put Adam into it “to work it and keep it.”
Order is thus extremely important in God’s economy. It is the mission God gave man in Genesis 1:28: to fill, subdue, and rule the Earth and everything in it. It is a mission to enhance Earth’s orderliness and fruitfulness.
Furthermore, the mission in Genesis 2:15 – to work and keep the garden – focuses that work on an area already subdued. It implies that Genesis 1:28 meant Adam was to make the rest of the Earth increasingly like the Garden of Eden. God wants Adam to subdue the disordered wilderness that is still “without form and void,” then “work and keep” the subdued Earth that has been transformed into garden.
What a profound mission! But it is a mission that contradicts the romantic dream of the Environmental movement to keep as much of the Earth as possible in a wild and unsubdued state – to keep it as wilderness.
But it is important to note that the Bible consistently associates wilderness not with God’s blessing but with God’s curse. (See Jeremiah 4:11–26 as one example of many).
The themes of wilderness vs. garden are set in direct contrast in Psalm 107:33–38. It tells of what God does with the lands of the wicked and of the righteous.
For example, with the land of the wicked, “He turns rivers into a desert, springs of water into thirsty ground, a fruitful land into a salty waste, because of the evil of its inhabitants.”
But with the land of the righteous, “He turns a desert into pools of water, a parched land into springs of water. And there he lets the hungry dwell, and they establish a city to live in; they sow fields and plant vineyards and get a fruitful yield. By his blessing they multiply greatly, and he does not let their livestock diminish.”
To mankind alone did God give the capacity of reason, of wisdom, of logos. It is central to the imago Dei.
Mankind alone has the ability to bring proper order to the world. Just as God made the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night, so also He made man to rule the sea, the sky, and the Earth.
And man exercises that rule by possession and occupation. The parts of the command in Genesis 1:28 (“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the Earth” and “subdue the Earth and have dominion over” it) are not independent. Fruitful multiplication is necessary to filling; and filling is necessary to subduing and having dominion.
Now, I have a feeling that what most people really have in mind when they say they want to preserve wilderness is that they want to preserve natural beauty and grandeur. That can be done—it has been done throughout much of the world—without excluding human occupation and even use of the land.
But the desire to keep large tracts of land—millions of square miles—in the wild, natural state, unchanged or controlled by humanity simply contradicts the dominion mandate.
Am I tilting at windmills? Does anybody of consequence really favor nature over humanity?
Carl Amery, founder of the West German Green Party said, “We, in the Green movement, aspire to a cultural model in which the killing of a forest will be considered more contemptible and more criminal than the sale of 6-year-old children to Asian brothels.”
The EarthFirst! newsletter said, “If radical environmentalists were to invent a disease to bring human populations back to sanity, it would probably be something like AIDS. It has the potential to end industrialism, which is the main force behind the environmental crises.”
Britain’s Prince Philip, a respected leader of the World Wildlife Fund, desires to be reincarnated as a “killer virus to lower human population levels.”
The North American Wilderness Recovery (a.k.a. Wildlands) Project would cordon off vast areas that would crisscross the continent, covering at least half of the lower forty-eight states with core reserves in which all trace of human habitation would be removed and where no humans would even be permitted to enter—all surrounded by buffer zones in which only limited human activity would be permitted.
The Environmental movement, which seeks to sequester the earth, can only be answered by the Biblical model, which seeks to steward the earth. It is a model of stewardship in which one takes care of what one is given because it is in the best interest of the steward to do so.
Should we protect nature from wanton destruction? Absolutely. “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1).
We are called in Genesis 1:28 and 2:15 not only to fill, subdue, and rule the Earth (that is, to enhance its orderliness, fruitfulness, beauty, and safety) but also to keep or guard it. The Biblical model gives us many ways of doing this, with the exception of declaring nature off limits to humans.
After all, let me point out one important thing about that instruction. God didn’t tell man to protect the wilderness against the encroaching garden. He told man to protect the garden against the encroaching wilderness.
Are there some specific examples of the Biblical model in practice? Here are three:
First, a hands-off policy toward forests leads to excessive undergrowth and sylvan mortality. This results in forest fires that consume everything for millions of acres – and sometimes destroys thousands of homes in the process. (We have all seen pictures of these wildfires in recent years.) In contrast, careful management of forests sustains their beauty, reaps lumber to build homes (among other things), and prevents massive fires.
Second, a hands-off policy toward rivers leads to regular flooding that damages farmland and valuable living sites. Careful flood control, however, prevents that and enables us to locate cities in strategic spots (like the excellent seaport at the mouth of the Mississippi River) as well as develop prosperous farms on fertile alluvial soils.
Third, a hands-off policy toward wildlife can lead to tragic suffering for animals and even the threat of their extinction. Take, for example, the elephants in Africa, as well as the devastating agricultural losses for subsistence farmers there. Again, careful management can give local villagers economic incentive to protect the elephants, benefiting both themselves and eco-tourists longing to see the majestic beasts.
The Property and Environment Research Center, in Bozeman, Montana, has chronicled many more examples of such beneficial management, particularly by private property owners.
Does the Biblical dominion ethic imply that we are to despoil the Earth, to treat it with wanton disregard? Again, absolutely not.
But it does imply that we must take seriously the broad and deep implications of God’s curse on the ground, of the distinction between garden and wilderness, between order and chaos, between land under man’s godly dominion and land untamed.
It implies that our goal should be not to sustain wilderness wherever it exists but to transform wilderness into garden – something magnificent, beautiful, and useful to man.
It implies that we must recognize that nature untouched by human hands is not necessarily to be preferred—theologically, morally, or aesthetically—to nature transformed by the hand of man, renewed and delivered, albeit in part, from the curse.
The Biblical mandate is clear. We are to recover the earth from wilderness and make it into a garden for the use of man and the glory of God.