I am not Catholic and I am not overly concerned about Pope Francis’s encyclical. But even us Protestants should remember that the Bible does have an ecology theology in it.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Gen. 1:28 (ESV)
There are five imperatives in Genesis 1:28
(1) Be fruitful and (2) multiply and (3) fill the earth and (4) subdue it, and (5) have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.
- Procreation. Man is told to be fruitful and multiply again after the flood.
- Colonization. There is a frontier mentality. Don’t simply stay in paradise or within sight of it, but go to every corner of the earth. There is a civilization component.
- Fill the earth.
- Work and keep the earth.
- Subdue and have dominion. This is a royal figure of speech “to have dominion, to subdue, and to rule.” Man is a representative of God. This is a world and life directive including culture and spiritual realms. Man is to be the earthly overseer.
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. Gen. 2:15 (ESV)
Notice Genesis 2:15 that we are to “work” the garden and “keep” the garden. It’s not that there weren’t weeds in paradise. After the fall, we lost our efficiency in dealing with the soil.
There is a Biblical tension between an agrarian and urban society. God’s people, after the fall, stayed away from cities while those who hated God built cities into which they ran to defy him. When God’s people take up residence in cities it is first as slaves then, in the promised land, they become servants of a king.
There appears, repeatedly in the Bible, including in the New Testament, a preference for the rural and wild. Christ wanders in the wilderness, but dies in the city. There is no coincidence, theologically, that even today the loudest voices against the church and people of faith are often in cities concurrently demanding that everyone move into cities to stop sprawl, waste, etc. They’ve made the earth their god.
Regardless, the Bible makes clear that we are custodians of the soil. It is a mutual arrangement. If we look after it, it looks after us. Likewise, labor does not begin with the fall. There will be labor in the new heavens and new earth. There is pleasure in work. Unemployment is degrading and inhuman.
Christians have to remember that it is not our world, but God’s world for us. We are stewards. So it requires us to love our neighbor because we share the world with them and tend it together. Though exiled from the Garden itself, we are still to tend the planet as stewards. It does, in fact, suggest a required level of responsible capitalism, which necessitates a commitment to safeguarding our environment and the local economy around us.
Remember though Gen 8:22: “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”
Arguably this makes the case against global warming as something we must genuinely fret about. We have to be responsible, but remember we are to have dominion. We do not serve the earth. The earth serves us. We are to take care of it as a master is to take care of his servant. That means we must not abuse it, but that does not prohibit us from commanding it.
Christians, according to John Stott, should avoid the extremes of deification of the planet and the full exploitation of the planet. We should be concerned about excessive waste disposal, deforestation, etc. Yes, we should recycle when we can. What we should not be concerned with is the idea that we will destroy ourselves or the planet. That is not so and the Bible contradicts that. The end of civilization comes when the return of our Lord Jesus to create the new heavens and the new earth, not with mankind creating artificial intelligence that exterminates us, or wiping ourselves out through environmental catastrophe, etc. The people who have set the world up as our god are idol worshippers.
Christians should show their care of the planet through their care of each other and their faithful stewardship of world resources.