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Sarah v. the Environment, Part 2: The Bible

February 8, 2019

In response to Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's warnings that the world could end in 12 years based on the Climate Assessment  (see Part 1)  Sarah Huckabee Sanders fired back, "That is in the hands of a much, much higher authority."  She also stated the Administration would “not listen to the freshman congresswoman on when the world may end.”1

 

Hmm!  Suspicious echoes of a Christian Right textbook, America's Providential History, which instructs conservative Christian high school students that environmentalists, who see natural resources as fragile and limited, “lack faith in God’s providence and consequently, men will find fewer natural resources. . . . The Christian knows that the potential in God is unlimited and that there is no shortage of resources in God’s earth.” 2 It also assures students that, “Christians know that God has made the earth sufficiently large with plenty of resources to accommodate all the people.”3

 

(Yeah, maybe, IF everyone on Earth lived a simple agrarian lifestyle as people did when the Bible was written.)

 

AOC snapped back with a Tweet citing multiple biblical passages about the Christian's duty to protect and preserve the earth.4

 

“Genesis 1: God looked on the world & called it good not once, not twice, but seven times.

Genesis 2: God commands all people to “serve and protect” creation.

Leviticus: God mandates that not only the people, but the land that sustains them, shall be respected.”

 

So who won this epic biblical face-off?  Well, Sarah was right about at least one thing.  The Bible does say that no one knows the day or the hour when Jesus will come.  (Matt. 24:36) But I really don't think AOC was actually predicting the literal end of the world.  The Bible says NOTHING to rule out the possibility that humans' wanton destruction of the environment could make the earth virtually unlivable prior to the end of the world.  In fact, several of the prophecies strongly suggest that may be the case. 

 

But the rest of the points have to go to AOC.  Sorry, Sarah.  There's nothing whatsoever in the Bible that states, or even hints, that God will supernaturally intervene to protect us from the dire consequences of our crimes against the Earth.  God says nothing about miraculously renewing the almost limitless natural resources we have already fouled and squandered.

 

Before we go to the Bible, let's try a little common sense.  Imagine a great architect designs and builds an exquisite, unique home as a wedding present for his son.  He painstakingly hand-carves the woodwork, fills the rooms with priceless antiques, handwoven rugs, and paintings by the great masters.  He stocks it with the best high-end appliances, and builds in every automated convenience to make their lives seamless, serene and beautiful.  This labor of love takes him months of non-stop backbreaking labor, but the time passes quickly because of his keen anticipation.  He imagines the joy on his son's face when he discovers the surprise and envisions years of laughter-filled family meals at the long mahogany table.

 

The couple moves in, and a year later the father comes to visit. As he walks in the door, he stumbles over the remains of a campfire on the intricate parquet floors, and sees the son's initials all over the hand-carved beams.  A Rembrandt is lying upside down, impaled on one of the tall brass candlesticks, and the doors are falling off the antique cabinets.  Mud cakes the windowsills behind shredded silk curtains. 

 

Just then, the son saunters in, grinning broadly.  "Thanks a lot for the great digs, Dad!" he chortles,  "As you can see, we've made kind of a mess of things, so I think it's time for a new place. You're so great!  I know you'll fix us up!"  How do you think a good father would react?  Do you think he would build the son another house?  Do you think he should??

 

Some Christians claim that the fact that God gave humans “dominion” over the Earth means that we can do whatever we want with it.  According to conservative commentator Ann Coulter, “God gave us the earth. We have dominion over the plants, the animals, the trees. God said, “Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It’s yours.” 5

 

This is an ugly caricature of what the Bible actually teaches.  First of all, it is important to note that God gave humans dominion under Him.  As the Creator, God has and always has had ultimate dominion over the Earth.  He gave the Earth to us as His stewards--his Prime Ministers. A wise King when choosing a Prime Minister and giving him control over the country would ensure that he chose someone who has demonstrated that they could be trusted to faithfully follow the King's laws and policies! He would never choose a Prime Minister who would destroy and pillage the country to serve his own selfish interests.  

 

As AOC aptly pointed out, the language of Genesis 2 clearly indicates God’s policy toward the Earth, and what he expects of humans as his Prime Ministers.  The nature of the "dominion" God gave to humans is demonstrated by the words used to describe their responsibility for the garden. 

 

"'Abad" --the Hebrew word translated "to tend" or "to work" is a rich word with multiple shades of meaning. 

 

“to work, serve

to labour, work, do work

to work for another, serve another by labour

to serve as subjects

to serve (God)

to serve (with Levitical service)

to be worked, be tilled (of land)

to make oneself a servant

to be worked”

to compel to labour or work, cause to labour, cause to serve 

to cause to serve as subjects

to be led or enticed to serve”6

 

The numerous connotations of this word imply that man has dominion by working with and serving, not only God, but the garden--and that he serves God by working and serving the Earth.

 

The Hebrew word "shamar," translated “to keep” or “to guard” is also a rich, multi-layered word, meaning:

 

"keep, guard, observe, give heed

to keep, have charge of

to keep, guard, keep watch and ward, protect, save life

watch, watchman (participle)

to watch for, wait for

to watch, observe

to keep, retain, treasure up (in memory)

to keep (within bounds), restrain

to observe, celebrate, keep (sabbath or covenant or commands), perform (vow)

to keep, preserve, protect

to keep, reserve

to be on one's guard, take heed, take care, beware 

to keep oneself, refrain, abstain

to be kept, be guarded

to keep, pay heed

to keep oneself from”7

 

Both words contribute to a clear picture of “dominion” as service-oriented caretaking, painstaking concern, and loving protection.  Neither word contains any suggestion of dictatorial control, exploitation, waste, misuse of resources or indifference.  They really couldn’t, because all of those things are diametrically opposed to the principles of God’s government!

 

Like the architect, God painstakingly crafted the Earth as the perfect home for living things. In the past few decades, science has begun to discover the extreme precision in every aspect of the Earth's design which makes it the ideal environment for life to exist and thrive. There is still so much we don't know--that we cannot know. But science has allowed us to lift the corner of the curtain to catch a fleeting glimpse of a universe, a galaxy, a solar system, prepared specifically for human life.  Preparations so precisely calibrated, so miraculously fine-tuned, that the mathematical expressions are difficult even to comprehend.  Modern scientists have fully as much reason for awe and wonder at the works of God as Bible scholars. 8

 

And not only did God design the Earth with extreme care, but according to the Bible, he maintains it with the same loving attention to detail.  He provides food and water for wild animals. 

 

"He makes springs pour water into the ravines;
    it flows between the mountains.
They give water to all the beasts of the field;
    the wild donkeys quench their thirst.

The birds of the sky nest by the waters;
    they sing among the branches.
He waters the mountains from his upper chambers;
    the land is satisfied by the fruit of his work.
He makes grass grow for the cattle,
    and plants for people to cultivate—
    bringing forth food from the earth. (Ps. 104:10-14)

 

God chides Job:

 

“Do you hunt the prey for the lioness
    and satisfy the hunger of the lions
when they crouch in their dens
    or lie in wait in a thicket?
Who provides food for the raven
    when its young cry out to God
    and wander about for lack of food? (Job 38: 39-41)

 

According to Job, God even understands and monitors animals’ reproduction and lifecycles:

 

“Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?
    Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn?
Do you count the months till they bear?
    Do you know the time they give birth?
They crouch down and bring forth their young;
    their labor pains are ended.
Their young thrive and grow strong in the wilds;
    they leave and do not return. (Job 39:1-4)

 

Jesus tells us that that God even cares for something as small and common as a fallen sparrow and that He clothes the grass in the field, so that “Solomon in all his glory” was not dressed as beautifully as a common flower. (Matt. 6:29)

 

To Job, God further explains how God maintains the natural functions of the earth, including the cycle of water and the processes of the weather.

 

“Have you entered the storehouses of the snow
    or seen the storehouses of the hail,
 which I reserve for times of trouble,
    for days of war and battle?
What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed,
    or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth?
Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain,
    and a path for the thunderstorm,
to water a land where no one lives,
    an uninhabited desert,
to satisfy a desolate wasteland
    and make it sprout with grass? (Job 38:22,23)

 

Psalm 33:7 presents an intriguing image,  “[God] gathers the waters of the sea together as an heap: he lays up the depth in storehouses.”   Some commentaries on this verse note that the word translated storehouses, actually means "bags," and suggest that this verse depicts the cycle of water of water from the clouds to the land to the ocean and back again. 9 I find that interpretation compelling.  And I can't help but wonder, "Could ‘storehouses’ also refer to polar ice?"

 

The Bible is full of evidence of God’s nurturing care for the Earth and its creatures.  And as Genesis forcefully reminds us, God expects us to nurture the Earth with the same level of care and concern.  Like the architect father, God is far from indifferent when, instead of nurturing, we deliberately destroy his creation.  

 

There is another equally compelling reason as well that God is so zealous for the Earth.  God is represented in his creation, as an artist is represented in his work.  It is a portrait of Himself.  Although it is true that sin has marred that portrait, the essential image is still intact.  God’s creation is a means of teaching humans about Himself. 

 

"For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse." (Rom. 1:20)

 

There is much indignation lately among conservatives about disrespect for the flag, which is the visible representation of our country.  But Christians have no qualms when they deface the Earth--the visible work of God--for their selfish ends?

 

So God has made NO promises that he will repair the wanton damage we have done to the Earth so we humans can continue living our wasteful and self-indulgent lifestyle.

 

In fact, the Psalmist says:

 

“In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth,

    and the heavens are the work of your hands.

They will perish, but you remain;

    they will all wear out like a garment. (Ps. 104: 25, 26)

 

Moreover, God proclaimed to ancient Israel that if they violated His laws, including those protecting the earth, their "land will be laid waste, and [their] cities will lie in ruins. Then the land will enjoy its sabbath years all the time that it lies desolate and you are in the country of [their] enemies;... the land will have the rest it did not have during the sabbaths [they] lived in it."  (Lev. 26:34,35)  That's how serious God is about the environment!   

 

While there is abundant evidence in the Bible that God set and maintains the natural processes that allow the earth's ecosystem to sustain and restore itself, there is no biblical evidence that God ever has, or ever will, miraculously step in to reverse the incalculable damage humans have done to that ecosystem.  The natural processes of the earth will allow it to heal itself, like the human body, if we give it the right conditions and cease our destructive behavior.  But if we continue on our current course, God will not wave a magic wand and create a clean new earth.  There would be no point if He did!  With our current mindset and culture, we would be in the same condition again within a few years, or a few decades.

 

God does not avert the consequences of humans’ bad decisions.  Consequences are a function of free choice.  If we continue in the current course, the dire scenarios predicted by eminent scientists will become a reality.  God will not save the Earth.  That is OUR job!  It has been our job from the beginning!

 

But there is good news.  We do have a little time to change course and avert the imminent calamity that threatens.  I think we all know what we can do better to protect the Earth.  Now we have to commit to doing it.  

 

1. https://www.rollcall.com/news/congress/sarah-huckabee-sanders-dismisses-alexandria-ocasio-cortez-climate-change-assertion.

 

2. and 3. Beliles, Mark and McDowell, Stephen; America's Providential History, America Publications, quoted in Hedges, Chris; American Fascists, Free Press (2006)

 

4. https://twitter.com/aoc/status/1088200188089565184

 

5. https://www.mercurynews.com/2017/04/21/what-is-ann-coulter-saying-thats-got-everyone-so-worked-up/ (Referring to Dominionism and Genesis 1:28, on Hannity & Colmes, 20 June 2001)

 

6. https://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/hebrew/nas/abad.html

 

7. https://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/hebrew/nas/shamar.html

 

8. See, Strobel, Lee; The Case for a Creator, Zondervan Press (2004) 

 

9. https://ebible.com/questions/17496-what-is-meant-by-he-gathers-the-waters-of-the-sea-as-a-heap-he-puts-the-deeps-in-storehouses; https://www.studylight.org/commentary/psalms/33-7.html

 

 

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