Stewardship of Creation – 9 September 2012
The environment: Pinpointing the problem
Aim of the lesson:
• To consider what underlies and motivates the abuse of the environment through thoughtless "progress" even among Christian people.
Study passages: Genesis 1:20-31, Romans 8:5-25, Matthew 21:33-40
• A Christian attitude? There should surely be a very great difference in attitude to the physical world between those who believe that the universe came into being by blind chance and those who believe it was created by God. Christians must surely have a special element of respect in their dealings with human beings, other living creatures and the natural environment in which God has placed us. Yet, sadly, the evidence does not show this to be the case. We Christians seldom show a special concern for our environment. Reluctantly, one has to acknowledge a measure of truth in what Lynn White says: "Christianity, in absolute contrast to ancient paganism and Asia's religions ... not only established a dualism of man and nature but also insisted that it is God's will that man exploit nature for his proper ends".
• Two key words have been highlighted in the quotation -' 'dualism" and "exploit". They can help us understand why we as Christians do not have a good track record where care of the environment is concerned.
• Dualism. This is a way of thinking that creates ad vision between things that essentially belong together. Dualism, for instance, sees a total separation between the spiritual and the material aspects of life, between the sacred and the secular, between religion and politics, and between God and humanity. Dualism was initially foreign to biblical thinking. It was imported from the ancient Persians and Greeks. Its effect has been to set up in us undesirable, unhealthy and, one could say unbiblical, patterns of thought and action, which have led us to believe that concern for the earth has nothing to do with our spiritual lives.
• Exploitation. Lynn White is far from the only one who accuses Christians and Christianity of serving a God who wills His people to exploit and abuse the earth for their own ends. Much of the evidence in recent centuries supports their claim. Civilizations influenced by Christianity have laid waste the earth in wars and industrial ' 'development". We have opened ourselves to the charge in Ezekiel 34:18, that we have taken the good things of the earth and left it in a mess! A criticism often leveled at the Bible's teaching on our relation to the environment is that human beings were instructed by God at the point of creation to "subdue" the earth and to "have dominion over" all its creatures (see 20)
Genesis 1:26 and 28 - This appears to give human beings the license, even the duty, to use and abuse the world and its creatures to suit our whims. A common oversight is that the instructions were given to human beings before they fell away from God. In their first relationship with God, harmonious as it was, the ways in which they would have gone about subduing and having dominion would surely have been in keeping with the love of the creator-God who "saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good" (v 31). There is no place for exploitation here - only for appreciation and care as privileged fellow workers with God in His creation. After all, it is His not ours!
Questions for discussion:
1. Can you think of examples in your own environment in which we are "guilty as charged" by Ezekiel (34:18)?
2. In what ways are we (as Christians) separate from other people and in what ways do we belong together with them?
3. Can you think of other reasons why human beings exploit and abuse the earth as they do?
4. 'Caring for nature is not merely a practical necessity. For the Christian it is a primary spiritual responsibility". Discuss.
5. What does the Romans passage suggest to you about the future of the earth in God's scheme of things?
6. Can you remember an experience in which the beauty of nature and the wonder of creation were brought home to you? Share with the group.
7. Is the saving work of Jesus intended for human beings alone, or do you see it as having some effect on the whole creation?
8. Can you think of some simple ways in which you (individually or as a group) could celebrate creation?