Earth Day won't save us

Allison Backous Troy

Allison Backous Troy
April 21, 2015

Even as we celebrate Earth Day, Christians should remember that our efforts are not the complete answer to creation’s ills.

Jeff Ross Johnson
April 20, 2011

Our efforts can't save creation...but they can be an expression of the redemption begun in Jesus. :)

April 20, 2011

<i>But it is also sinful to believe that my efforts, or the efforts of collective humanity, are the answer to the creation’s ills. If, as Paul writes, the creation “groans” for redemption, part of our work as disciples is to see our efforts as part of that groaning, that yearning, for Christ’s return.</i><br><br>I'd argue that things like the Deepwater spill, the massive environmental damage done in places like Congo, climate change, brownfields, mountaintop removal, etc. aren't "creation groaning," as that describes the state of nature... those things are places where we <i>make</i> God's beautiful creation groan by abusing it. And we can <i>stop</i> that abuse. I don't think it's about being "the answers to creation's ills," as if we were going to fix something inherent to nature itself; I think it's about taking responsibility to fix the problems we ourselves created with our irresponsibility.<br><br>The first key for Christians is to start calling the abuse of our planet for what it is—<i>sin</i>. You've clearly taken that step. It is a <i>sin</i> to blow the top off of one of God's millions-of-years-old mountains to get at the coal inside, polluting the water supply by dumping the (often radioactive) remains. It is a <i>sin</i> to cut corners on safety when drilling for oil a mile beneath the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, where a disaster could cause untold damage. And as people who benefit from these things, who enjoy the cheap energy these things afford us, <i>we are complicit in these sins</i>. You've unpacked that well, I think.<br><br>Next, I think, are the individual actions we can take... and I think you've engaged this well as well. Things like using reusable shopping bags, walking or biking or using mass transit instead of driving, paying more for sustainable products and practices rather than going with the cheap and polluting ones, etc. By themselves, these actions are discouraging, though; when I'm biking to work and I'm passed by a massive gas-guzzling Hummer occupied only by its driver, it's hard to avoid the thought that what I'm doing isn't completely pointless. Which is why I think we need to go further.<br><br>The next step, I think, is to use the avenues for direct collective action we <i>do</i> have; what are our churches doing about their own environmental footprints? How can our churches move toward more renewable and sustainable practices? Solar panels on the roof? Tear up parking lots and turn them into community vegetable gardens (to feed members of the community who live without outdoor space, or to feed the needy, either one) and encourage churchgoers to walk, take mass transit, or carpool? (That would also go toward eliminating the negative social ramifications of car culture, which separates us into atomized individual car-driving units and disconnects us from those around us.) Even something like converting church lighting from incandescents to CFLs can help (and save the church money too). How can the church collectively integrate sustainable practices into the life of the church <i>and</i> encourage its members to do the same in their own lives?<br><br>After that, of course, is indirect collective action; how can our churches be advocates for local, regional, national, and international environmental sustainability? What coalitions can our churches form denominationally, or locally, and what kind of pressure can we exert on decisionmakers in government, business, etc. to engage in more sustainable practices? What does the church have to say about highway widening vs. building a rail or bus system, or about developers taking more natural land and turning it into another luxury housing tract? How can the church partner with churches in places like West Virginia and Kentucky where local citizens are suffering from the craven greed of the coal companies and their desire to make money even if it means blowing the entire top off a mountain to get to it? How can the church form international coalitions with churches overseas to bring the stories of those in the global south whose lives are being affected by climate change or by environmental damage caused the overwhelming Western thirst for oil to the attention of people in the US? If all the churches in the USA united and said "we are going to protect the environment and we are going to do our part to stop climate change," we could change the world and undo a lot of the damage the human race has done to our world.<br><br>Like I said above, I don't think this is about thinking that "my efforts, or the efforts of collective humanity, are the answer to the creation’s ills," at least not insofar as Romans 8 is concerned; that verse refers to the effects on nature itself as a result of the Fall (i.e., predation, decay, death, etc.). I do, however, think that it's about taking responsibility for what we ourselves have done to creation; not solving <i>all</i> of creation's ills (because obviously we can't), but doing whatever we can to solve the ones <i>we've</i> caused as humans through our wastefulness and selfishness.

April 20, 2011

If Jesus were to return to the field, he's know that the work he did years ago would have been for nothing – wrecked human lives, sin, oppression, and rebellion would be everywhere. And to be honest, maybe he wouldn’t care that much. The sin of the creation looks huge, a problem that is too big for his absurd attempts at making a difference--the cross, it appears, cannot face up to the world's love spill.

April 21, 2011

Beautifully stated. And might I add that maybe if the author returned to the field, instead of bags and trash, she might just find an urban garden, planted by someone with the attitude of jamesggilmore. You never know.

Allison Backous
April 21, 2011

I definitely affirm James' comments in a variety of ways, which (I believe) my essay affirmed - it is part of our repentence to look at the many ways in which we, individually and corporately, need to address creation care. And it's part of our hope as well - we plant the urban garden, not out of the "look at how trendy and green I'm being" attitude, but with square, rooted belief in the fact that our decisions to live differently, and counterculturally, are part of our witness, and our hope. <br><br>What I think also matters is that it is easy to assume that human ingenuity is the answer to human sin, and its effects on the environment. I'm not advocating any sort of escapism here, but I do think that we can be fairly triumphalist. If we believe that Christ's redemption involves the whole world, what I think is said here is that my action is only good if it is empowered by the Spirit - and the options that James lays out for us are ways that the Spirit does work, and amen to them.<br><br>But part of our action needs to be fueled by our lament over what has happened to the earth, and what we have done to it. Part of the answer to injustice is to mourn it, and to name it for what it is. And if we look at that chapter of Romans, the groaning of creation is not simply a cry against pollution and environmental decay, but a "yearning for the children of God to be revealed." For true liberation, which will come only with the fulfillment of God's kingdom, in Christ. It is a groaning that we share with creation for the kingdom, and I think that it's an incorrect reading of that chapter to say that the creation simply groans b/c of what we've done to it - this is a larger groaning and hoping, one that we share with the world, as it waits for God.<br><br> We are very quick to assume that our efforts are the totality of God's action in the world, and I think that's dangerous - the creation groans for a fuller redemption, and our efforts are pictures of what that redemption will look like, not its full effects. We care for the environment, and stand up for it, because we look for the life of the world to come. Our efforts are good, but they are also incomplete, and I long for the day when our imaginations, weak and limited as they are, will behold the world made new.<br><br>And with whatever ways we can pick up - gardens, confessions, and conversations - I hope that we live into that repentence fully, and that the effects are truly good.

April 21, 2011

Please don’t throw a brick at me, I know my opinions may not be popular here but I really do want to dialog and learn from smart, reasonable believers like yourselves. I have read several books on creation care (Our Father’s World, E. Brown, etc) . I can find no justification for creation care being a primary mandate of the church. I have always considered environmental stewardship as common sense, wise behavior. Reduce, reuse and recycle just makes sense. Most of my clients are organic and sustainable companies and I volunteer on water quality issues, salmon habitat restoration and GMO issues. Though I regard this activity as important, I feel it can be a distraction to the primary purpose of the church. Not only is the mission of the church made abundantly clear by Jesus, we can read further revelation by His disciples New Testament writings and study the behavior of the first century Christians who knew Him best. In my mind there is no question that we should be healing the sick, casting out demons, preaching the gospel, baptizing, disciplining, edifying one another, supporting the poor and the orphan and spreading the good news of the gospel that Jesus has brought us into right relation with the father. Compared to eternity, we are on this planet (cursed by weeds and work) for the briefest vapor of time. Biblical writers liken our duration here to a puff of smoke, dew that disappears in hours or vapor. While I think its important to live responsibly in our environment...and even enjoyable and satisfying, I think our primary responsibility is to be ambassadors for Christ, reconciling men to God and filling the halls of heaven. If we don’t perform this unique service, who will?

April 21, 2011

Thanks Rick, we can so easily be sidetracked into so many 'Good' things &amp; miss the Best. The Great Commision was to see people saved --not the planet. How we live as Christians being good stewards of this planet is part of our changed lives.

April 25, 2011

I'd think that besides treating the creation with utmost care and respect ("This is My Father's World"), with good stewardship and thankfulness for the gift, that earth-keeping is a way also of loving your neighbor. Wasteful use of resources makes them unavailable or costly for others; irresponsible industry pollutes the air down-wind and the water down-stream; etc.

Jonathan Downie
April 22, 2014

I would like to offer a story that illustrates my take on this.

There once was a man who knew the Bible well. He had read that Jesus said that the top two commandments were to love God and love his neighbour. He also read in Ephesians that he should love his wife, so he set out to do just that.

One morning, he got out of bed, dropped his nightwear in the middle of his bedroom and headed for the bathroom. He started singing praise songs while going to the toilet and missed. Oh well, he thought, what a pity.

He didn't shower. He did, however, do his teeth, as there was a bit of spinach bothering him from last night's meal. While brushing his teeth, he was praying hard and splattered a bit, all over the bottom of the mirror. He laughed and made a note to add a yellow sticky note to the mirror telling his wife how much he loved her. He did not, however, wipe up after himself.

He went to work, in an old beat-up car, which spewed choking fumes behind him. Of course, it had at least three evangelistic bumper stickers on the back.

At work, he dropped papers and didn't pick them up, stuck chewing gum under his chair and ate his lunch at the desk. Since he loved burritos, that's what he had. His boss was slightly upset to see a proposal handed to him covered in salsa. Still, he didn't complain as it was unpleasant to have this guy in the office for too long (remember the shower thing?).

When he got back home (wondering why people he drove past covered their mouths as he went by) he wondered why his wife was none to happy, even though he had left her a lovely note and made sure flowers and chocolate got delivered. In fact, she looked pretty mad.

If we were scoring him out of ten on his obedience to the top two commandments, how would he do?

Of course, the top two commandments are the most important ones but they do not exclude other things, in fact they include them. As JCarpenter put it, caring for the planet is part of loving our neighbour since, at the end of the day, others have to put up with our mess. It is also good stewardship and harks back to Genesis 2. Part of our witness is how we treat people and the places where we live and work. People see our actions and read them before they hear our words.

Aron Reppmann
April 22, 2015

Think Christian, thanks for "recycling" this article.

Allison, your discussion of earthkeeping as lament -- especially because you include _hope_ in that lament -- makes me think of another way of framing this. I'm thinking by analogy to Calvin's "third use of the law," which also shows up in the Heidelberg Catechism's treatment of the law. If the first use of the law is to justify us (massive failure there on our part), and the second use of the law is to convict us of our failure (roger that), the third use of the law is as the guide for our grateful living. We won't get it all right -- our following the law will never be enough to overcome our brokenness on our own rights -- but our gratefulness for God's saving us is channeled through the pathways of the law, of listening to it and trying to follow it. That sounds a lot to me like your suggestion about our stance in earthkeeping: we will not get it right and completely fix the problems through our efforts (like the first use of the law), and understanding the demands of earthkeeping certainly calls forth our lament (like the second use of the law) -- but it also (like the third use of the law) provides channels for our meager-but-grateful efforts.

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