Global warming. Sustainability. Endangered species. The impact of global commerce. These subjects are increasingly in the headlines. We need to be able to give a Christian perspective on issues which worry people, or risk seeming irrelevant. So how "green" should we be?
Society believes that our consumption of the world's resources is unsustainable. Future generations face increasing pollution and shortages of key resources like food, water and energy. Some of the effects -- like oil-spills, or pollution driving the Yangtze river dolphin to extinction -- are undisputed. Others are more debatable -- such as the extent to which global warming is natural. Most scientists think it is largely "our fault"; most of us laymen aren't honestly qualified to say. So what's the biblical perspective?
When God created the world, it was "good". This is an understatement. It is still beautiful now, and we can only imagine how perfect it was when the "the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy" (Job 38 v 7). God gave mankind dominion over most of nature ('the earth, and ... every living thing', Gen.1:28), so when we fell, nature ('the creation') fell with us (Romans 8 v 20-22). The earth was cursed (Genesis 3 v 17). So nature's struggles are the direct result of our sin, and we will never be able to fix things by ourselves. We know that one day God will heal this earth again. It will enjoy a wonderful thousand years under the Lord Jesus' reign. Then, when its time is done, God will destroy it by fire (2 Pet 3 v 7) and bring about a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21).
So what are our responsibilities until then? God delivered nature into our hands (Gen.1 v 28; 9 v 2). He has entrusted it to us. It is ours to use, but to use responsibly. For example, we are specifically told that animals are for us to eat (Gen 9 v 3; Acts 11 v 7), but Matthew Henry spoke sense when he said "This grant of the animals for food fully warrants the use of them, but not the abuse of them by gluttony, still less by cruelty." This reflects the general principle of the earth having been placed under our management by God (Ps.115:16). There are other reasons for protecting nature. "The heavens declare the glory of the Lord" (Ps 19 v 1), but if we live in a city with light pollution, we can rarely see them. Most of us feel closer to God when up a mountain than in a multi-storey car park.
Pollution is linked to consumption. For those of us in the West, it is sobering to think about how much we have. In 2004, for every one tonne of CO2 (a greenhouse gas) produced by someone in Malawi, an Indian produced 20, an Englishman 184, and an American 400. We can so easily be caught out by the "deceitfulness of riches" (Mark 4 v 19). Relying on possessions (and particularly wanting more) can quickly damage our Christian lives (Luke 18 v 25). We may need to reassess our priorities. There is another aspect to this. Global trade creates jobs in developing countries. But if the balance is wrong, a Westerner's desire for cheap chocolate or trainers can lead to exploitation of child labour in Ivory Coast or Bangladesh.
For some, "green issues" have almost become an alternative religion. Like Paul (1 Cor 9 v 22), we need to engage with people on their chosen ground. We need to remind them that, while the world is worth saving, their souls are infinitely more valuable. (Matt 16 v 26) So where does this leave us? Should we cancel that flight to visit family (or for teaching opportunities e.g. at Bible camp)? Perhaps not. Should we recycle, think about what we really need, and buy "fair trade" where we can? Yes, probably. But above all, we should remember that God is in control, and while this earth will pass away, His Word will not.