Many people think of sustainability as a modern movement, something that emerged precisely as a response to decades or centuries of overuse, degradation, and a simple lack of knowledge about how to best use the resources available to us. Those who understand the Bible, however, know that sustainability has been our responsibility since the first days of creation. Genesis says so.
Man was created in God’s image and directly positioned by God not just to make use of the plenty found in Eden, but also to protect it. That meant caring for the plants and animals, the water and air. As postlapsarian society grew and became more complex, Biblical law even gives instruction for city planning. When it comes to sustainability, God is in the details.
Much of what the Bible says is still, at its core, applicable to modern sustainability initiatives, but as modern Christians, how are we fully realizing environmental stewardship? Are we building our churches on sustainable principles? Are we developing environmental stewardship skills that we can share with others? It’s time we turn more of our attention to caring for the world our gracious God has given us.
A Sense Of Scale
When asked about sustainability, many individual Christians are quick to say, “What am I supposed to do?” The implication is that, because they aren’t the owners of oil companies or farmers responsible for plants and animals, that they don’t have a responsibility to the movement. It’s a way of saying, “There’s nothing I can do. I can’t make a difference.”
Of course, if the Bible teaches us anything, it’s that we all have a responsibility, no matter how much or how little we have been given. We are not all given equal resources, but we are all expected to be productive with what we are given. If we’re going to realize this expectation, then we need to be aware of the small things we can do to contribute to sustainability efforts.
One example of doing what you can with what you have is putting solar panels on your roof. Solar panels are a great way to become less heavily dependent on gas, oil, or coal as energy sources and can help us protect these limited resources for years to come. While solar panels can be expensive, many parts of the US offer incentives for adopting solar at home.
Need to think smaller? The principles of non-consumerism can help low-income Christians participate more fully in sustainability projects. At the heart of non-consumerism is the saying, “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” The idea is that we should fully use what we have and refrain from buying things we don’t need. Lower rates of consumption, when adopted by millions of people, can lead to decreased manufacturing waste, fewer items funneled into landfills, and other global benefits.
A Community Of Conscience
As Christians, we tend to privilege the concept of conscience, of doing right because it’s what God wants, because we feel guilty if we don’t treat others as we should. What about treating the environment as we should? If we extend this idea of conscience to the natural world, we can more fully live our faith.
Having a conscience is technically a secular term. When a corporation like Chipotle is billed as having a conscience, it’s not because it’s a Christian company; it’s because they do business based on principles that align with particular ideas about doing right. In this case, those ideas have to do with everything from how they source their food to how they treat their employees. They’re doing business in a way that is viewed as positive.
As Christians, we need to be a people with a conscience, not just the people who view ourselves as the arbiters of ethics and right action among others. So when we say that we are stewards of God’s creation, it’s important to ask how we’re living that message. In adherence with this idea, Lutheran Church of the Cross in Nisswa, Minnesota installed solar panels on their church to reduce their energy dependency. Other churches have started community gardens. How we live out this call varies, but we have to live it or it’s meaningless.
God created the earth and all living things, Adam named the animals, Noah protected creation from destruction on the ark, and it’s our job to continue this legacy. As Christians, we must live with respect for all creation and act as protectors of all living things and all created resources. And we must do so according to what we have been given and according to our abilities. How will you care for all creation?