As the seasons change from winter to spring and we begin to spend more time outdoors, it is only natural that our minds would drift more often to thoughts of the environment. Perhaps this is why Earth Day is so thoughtfully scheduled right around this time of year! As we reflect on such things, it is important to remember that a lot of what is connected with Earth Day and other green and environmentally friendly actions reflect how folk think about God. Let me explain.
In Genesis 1:26-28 God gives man stewardship responsibilities for the earth and all that is on it. God tells Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it.” Many things we do as part of being environmentally sensitive are in line with those directions. Recycling would be a good example. Finding good sources of fuel from as many natural venues as possible is another.
Where problems may arise is when the creation becomes confused with the Creator.
Where problems may arise is when the creation becomes confused with the Creator. An important word for us to remember about God in this connection is the word other. God is not part of creation. While it is true that “the heavens declare His glory and the firmament shows forth His handiwork,” [Ps. 19:1] nonetheless they only point to God and are not to be considered God. Likewise, the first chapter of Romans insists “since the creation of the world His [God’s] invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made.”
The rest of Romans 1 is an explanation of what happens when God is too closely identified with His creation. It says we humans are prone to “exchange the truth of God for the lie, and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator.” [v.25] While God is Lord of all creation, we may not worship Him as part of creation. He is other than any created thing, spiritual or material.
A good bit of contemporary environmentalism incorporates such confusion. Were you aware that in Europe in recent years Switzerland enacted legislation to protect the dignity of plants, while France in the spring of 2019 issued a Declaration of Tree Rights? It’s true. In our own country we’ve been alerted to the dangers of speciesism, namely, what right does the species homo sapiens have to use other species for its own purposes, especially when it involves taking the life of a member of another species merely to satisfy our hunger? So, we all become vegans, at least until we move to Switzerland, at which time we can live entirely off vitamin supplements!
Carl Sagan did much to popularize the confusion of the creation with the Creator through his Cosmos series which begins with him intoning the words, “The Cosmos is all there is, or was, or ever will be.” Sagan was not religious, but he certainly invoked religious sentiments about creation. Religions such as Hinduism and expressions of New Age spirituality do much the same, though with explicitly spiritual intentions. God becomes “us” or “this created order” or “whatever is” but God is certainly not other. When such is the case distortions are rampant.
Though God is other than His creation that does not mean He is not involved in His creation. In Romans 11:36 we read, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.” And that brings up another word we need to remember when we think about God: order. As the Creator, God ordered all of His creation from beginning to end, i.e. from, through, and to. We are reminded in 1 Cor. 14:33 that “God is not a God of confusion.” The word for confusion is a negative of the word for to set in order or to appoint. So, for instance, in English we have the word mobile, which means to be able to move around. Its negative is immobile, meaning not able to get around. Hence, when we read that God is not a God of confusion, it could just as appropriately, though less smoothly, be translated, “God is not a God who doesn’t set things in order.”
That God is other and that God is a God of order is of vast importance, otherwise we don’t look outside ourselves or beyond the creation for understanding and direction, but instead look within the created order. If all the created order is equal in that it is part of the divine order (or, as Sagan asserts, the only order there is), then why should it be that humans eat chickens and shrimp and beets rather than the other way around? In fact, it seems that humans are using all the other species for their own good, and that’s just not right! That’s speciesism! [By the way, Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary defines it as: prejudice or discrimination based on species; especially: discrimination against animals; the assumption of human superiority on which speciesism is based] Indeed, the world would be better off without humans, for humans are the scourge of the planet!
Here’s a direct quote from the New Scientist website: If they could, the other species we share Earth with would surely vote us off the planet. This notion is more widespread than we think, and, what’s worse, many humans are ready to vote with the other species! No consideration is given to God’s mandate in Genesis 1 quoted at the beginning of this article. Also, when describing some of the errors to which men will fall prey, 1 Tim 4:3 states that some men will “. . . advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth.” Part of God’s order is that He gave us food in the form of animals and plants, which we are to manage and use rightly under Him, including using them as food.
If God is not other and does not order then the ordering is left to us. What is it that we would find preferable? What do we think is best? What do we think is right? Morality becomes a matter of personal choice. And so, students convince themselves it is OK to cheat. We find it convenient and easy to tell lies. The proliferation of sexual options [sexual deviancies, from a biblical perspective] comes from our choosing to order our existence as we think best. After all, did God say “You shall not cheat” or “You shall not lie” or “You shall not commit fornication or adultery or other sexual deviancies”?
When we think about God, we must think of Him as Other and as Orderer. Those are not the only terms, but they are necessary terms.
There are all kinds of thinking to which we’re exposed. Some of it is good, some of it is bad, most of it is a mixed bag. It behooves us to seek to think about things the way God thinks about them. To do that we need to think rightly about God. And to do that we need to learn from the Bible, otherwise we’ll become just like the world, “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” [2 Tim. 3:7]
May God give us grace to live out faithfully His mandate to us in Genesis 1:26-28.
In the Joy of the Lord,
John H.C. Niederhaus