Weekly Blog - 22 April 2024 - Earth Day


Earth Day

This coming Monday 22 April is Earth Day, an annual day to focus on the protection of the planet, held every year since 1970.  The event is marked by millions of people all around the world.  This year’s Earth Day is focusing on a massive reduction in plastic waste.  Plastic pollution is a huge issue around the world.  Marine plastics are having a devastating impact on ecosystems.  Whilst on land, in developing countries 2 billion people have no access to proper waste management systems and are left with no choice but to dump, burn or bury plastic waste – none of which are good options, and all of which have huge negative environmental and health impacts. 

Caring for God’s earth is a major focus for one of Arise’s three main campaigns, our 4 Shifts Campaign, which calls for a rewiring of our global economy to be green and fair, so it still creates the jobs and wealth that lift people out of poverty, but does so without relying on fossil fuels and overconsumption which are wrecking our planet.  In this week’s Arise weekly blog, to celebrate Earth Day, we take a look at the Biblical teaching on caring for creation, that lies behind Arise’s 4 Shifts campaign, and all Christian responses to the environment.


A framework to guide humanity's approach to the environment

First, the Bible is clear that all of creation was created by God, for as we read in the very first verse of Genesis, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1: 1)  It is also clear that God continues to be active in his creation, upholding and sustaining it, for “He covers the sky with clouds; he supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills.  He provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they call.” (Psalm 147: 8 – 9)  Furthermore, God also continues to own creation.  It belongs to him, not to us, for “To the LORD your God belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it.” (Deut 10: 14)  We are told repeatedly that God’s creation is good, beautiful and wonderful, as Genesis relates, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Gen 1: 31)  Furthermore, not just humanity, but all creation worships God, as David cried “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let them say among the nations, ‘The LORD reigns!’  Let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them!  Let the trees of the forest sing, let them sing for joy before the LORD”. (1 Chron 16: 31 – 33)  We see a clear Biblical principle that creation is good, and has incredible beauty, worth and wonder in its own right, beyond simply what it can provide for human beings.  It has inherent value and is worth conserving and treasuring.  As Moses told the Israelites, “the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven.  It is a land the LORD your God cares for; the eyes of the LORD your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end” (Deut 11: 11 – 12), and the Psalms declare “You, LORD, preserve both people and animals” (Psalm 36: 6).

Turning to consider our place in this picture, we see that humanity itself is not separate, but a part of God’s creation.  As the prophet Isaiah says, God is “the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out, who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it.” (Isa 42: 5)  Nevertheless we are special, created in God’s image.  We hear in Genesis that “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Gen 1: 27)  Furthermore, he placed us in a position to rule over creation, for as God said when he created humanity, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.  Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Gen 1: 28)  We are to work creation and use its natural resources for our food, water, clothing, heating, housing and other needs.  Again the Psalms say “He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for people to cultivate – bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens human hearts, oil to make their faces shine, and bread that sustains their hearts.” (Psalm 104: 14 – 15)  Moreover, we are entirely dependent on creation to provide us with these things that we need, and by extension on creation continuing to remain in a healthy state in order to continue to provide us with these things.  We cannot survive without a healthy creation. 

However, as we farm creation and use its natural resources, the Bible is clear we should not do this in an exploitative, rapacious and destructive way, but in a balanced and managed fashion, protecting and preserving creation.  Genesis tells us how “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Gen 2: 15) and Proverbs that “The righteous care for the needs of their animals”. (Prov 12: 10)  Indeed this is not just a moral exhortation to us, but throughout the Old Testament there are multiple specific laws to limit and prevent human exploitation of the natural environment.  Thus there were laws that every seventh day was a Sabbath of rest for people, but also “so that your ox and your donkey may rest” (Ex 23: 12).  Similarly, there were laws that every “seventh year let the land lie unplowed and unused” (Ex 23: 11), in part for the poor to gather from, but also so that “the wild animals may eat what is left” (Ex 23: 11), thus “The land is to have a year of rest.” (Lev 25: 5)  This happened again every fiftieth year in the year of Jubilee.  There were also laws to prevent the overexploitation of animals and animal cruelty, for example from a nest the Israelites were told “You may take the young, but be sure to let the mother go, so that it may go well with you” (Deut 22: 7), and to preserve nature, thus if they found themselves besieging a city the Israelites were instructed “do not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them, because you can eat their fruit” (Deut 20: 19).

Considering what this looks like in the case of our food, before the fall, and indeed for some considerable time afterwards, humanity was given only plants to eat.  We read in Genesis how God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it.  They will be yours for food.  And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground – everything that has the breath of life in it – I give every green plant for food.” (Gen 1: 29 – 30)  Later God expanded this to include meat from animals, as he said to Noah and his sons, “The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands.  Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you.  Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.” (Gen 9: 2 – 3)  However, when Jesus comes again to bring his kingdom in full and restores us to that original picture of harmony with God, one another and the rest of creation, it seems there will no longer be any consumption of meat, and that we (and indeed the animals) will return to that essentially vegetarian state.  The imagery that the Bible uses of that time points to this, “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.  The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.  The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.  They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Isa 11: 6 – 9).

The Bible therefore seems to see humans as primarily eating plants, with permission – to a lesser extent – to also consume some meat.  Certainly every person in Biblical times, as in most other historical periods, would have consumed mainly vegetables and cereals, and only small amounts of meat and dairy, compared to those of us living in developed nations today.  Amazingly, the vast majority of doctors and dieticians in the world today confirm that the way God has designed our bodies to be healthy is indeed to eat mainly fruit and vegetables (at least a third), and cereal and carbohydrates (at least a third), with a small amount of meat (less than a sixth) and dairy (less than a sixth), and when we do eat meat to eat white meat and fish rather than red meat as much as possible.  Furthermore, this is also exactly the kind of diet the world needs to return to today, as current western diets with high red meat consumption are environmentally unsustainable, due to the vast amounts of land and fresh water needed for animal grazing and mono-crop agriculture.  The rediscovery of such a ‘Biblical diet’ is today widely accepted as important by both environmental scientists and health experts.

Overall then, the Biblical picture of humanity’s relationship with the environment is as a caring steward placed in authority over the natural world and permitted to use its resources, but never in an exploitative and destructive way, remembering that creation still belongs to God, not to us.  As the people of Israel were told by God when they entered the Holy Land, “The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers.” (Lev 25: 23)  This is a powerful concept even for those without a faith, since the vast majority of people recognise that each generation cannot claim to ‘own’ the land, but must pass on the world in good condition to the next generation, if our children and grandchildren are to survive and flourish.  The Bible shows us that before the fall, humanity did indeed live in balance and harmony with both God and the natural world, which effortlessly provided all our needs.  We hear how “the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed.  The LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.” (Gen 2: 8 – 9)  However, by turning away and rejecting God, humanity fractured not only our perfect relationship with God, but also our relationship with the natural world.  The natural world has been in some sense ‘broken’, so that, although it remains fundamentally ‘good’, just as we still bear the image of God despite our fallen nature, the effortless provision of all our needs by creation can no longer be taken for granted.  This means natural disasters may occur and we must work hard to ensure creation continues to provide us with the things we need to survive.  Decay, death and conflict are now a reality, both in our own bodies and for the whole of creation.  We read how God said to Adam at the time of the fall, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.  It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.  By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground” (Gen 3: 17 – 19).

Within this overall picture of human sin leading to brokenness in wider creation, the Bible also warns us that this was not just a one-off instance, but that today the land can also continue to become barren and unfruitful when humanity rejects God in multiple acts of rebellion.  Thus, the prophet Jeremiah mourns, “How long will the land lie parched and the grass in every field be withered?  Because those who live in it are wicked, the animals and birds have perished.” (Gen 12: 4)  In the Old Testament this was most obvious in the context of idolatry, but also when people rejected God’s standards of justice and his law more widely, including his laws to respect and preserve his creation.  The idea that the land will continue to bounteously give us all that we need, even if we reject God, behave with injustice, and mistreat his creation, is not Biblical.  Furthermore, when environmental destruction happens as a result of our actions, it is the poorest and most vulnerable people in our world that are hit hardest.  We know that we are to bless and care for those in poverty and love our global neighbour as ourselves.  So this is yet another Biblical reason for us as Christians to care for creation. 

Wonderfully, the Bible teaches us that God is outworking a plan for the healing and restoration of all broken relationships.  The Bible shows again and again that God is concerned with preserving not just humanity, but the whole of his ‘good’ creation.  The Psalms tell us “The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made” (Psalm 145: 9), and in the story of Noah we hear how in the ark God saved not just humanity but “two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive” (Gen 6: 19), and that afterwards his covenant to never again bring such a flood, was not just with humanity but was “my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind.” (Gen 9: 15)  Therefore Jesus’ death and resurrection was not just to open the way for humanity to be reconciled and restored to God, but for the whole of creation as well.  Paul tells us that God’s plan was “through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross … This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven” (Col 1: 20 – 23), and elsewhere that “the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.  We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Roms 8: 19 – 22).

When Jesus comes again, ushering in his kingdom in full, it will not be to burn up creation and whisk those who know him off to a ‘heaven’ in the sky, but to bring heaven to earth, and redeem and restore the whole of his creation in a very earthy and real way, as he originally intended it to be.  Just as Jesus’ body was renewed and transformed, but still very real and physical after his death and resurrection, and ours too will be renewed and transformed into our heavenly but still physical bodies when he comes again, so the whole of creation, whilst it may similarly pass through some sort of tribulation, will be renewed, restored, healed and transformed as the new heaven and earth, in the way God always intended it to be.  Revelation says “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev 21: 4), and Isaiah tells us how “The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox … They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain”. (Isa 65: 25)  Finally, whilst the Bible begins with a garden, it ends with a garden city, where John saw “the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city.  On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month.  And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.  No longer will there be any curse.” (Rev 22: 1 – 3)  So we do not see just a return to the old pre-fall state, but a dynamic forward moving restored kingdom of God, in which God, humanity and creation move forward together in a restored relationship.  The Bible then provides us with a rich framework to guide humanity’s approach to the environment (4 Shifts Report, pg 64 – 69).


Find out more

Find out more about why the world needs 4 Shifts to transition to a fair and green global economy in Arise’s 4 Shifts Report

And for the bigger picture of how God is at work in the world, and the role we all have to play in that work, check out the Arise Manifesto.  This is Arise’s big picture, researched, Biblical, holistic and practical vision for a better world.  It looks at what the Bible says, and what we can learn from the best data and the world’s leading experts on the five major areas of evangelism, discipleship, social justice, development and the environment.  It then draws these lessons together into a practical road map for the changes we need to see in our world, which the Arise movement campaigns to achieve.

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