By Pastor Glenn Pease
David did not need a telescope to consider the heavens and the wonders of God's creation. What he could see with the naked eye left him in awe at the majesty of God. Today we go far beyond the vision of David, not only into the macrocosm of the vast universe, but because of new instruments we know what David could never imagine. We know of the microcosm that God has created that is even more basic to life on earth. Back in the late 80's Sallie Chisholm, a biological oceanographer at MIT made a mind-boggling discovery about how God runs this world. She and her colleagues discovered billions of trillions of zillions of plants that man never even dream existed. Man never dreamed that plants could be so small.
It was only a few years earlier that Bob Guillard, the researcher who built up the famous Bigelow collection of phytoplankton, said of these single cell plants of the ocean that he discovered, "A hundred years of oceanography and the most abundant being in the world wasn't recognized by anybody." But like some kind of sports record it soon fell, and is no longer the record holder, for Chisholm discovered plants and even greater abundance. There are as many as 3 million of them in every ounce of ocean water.
They were not discovered by a powerful microscope, but by a new tool called the flow cytometer. Sea water is compressed into a thin stream and the cells are marched single file two thousand per second past an interrogation point where they are bathed in laser light which causes them to fluoresce. The color of the florescence indicates what pigment a cell contains. The cells then can be separated into species much like you would distinguish a flow of Japanese and Swedes without looking at them if you had information about their size and hair color. If you had a flow of people all of whom had red hair, and none of them over 4 feet tall you would know you had discovered a new people. That is how Chisholm discovered the new plant. They are 30 millionths of an inch across with a unique type of chlorophyll.
You might say, "Who cares, and what difference does this make to us?" First of all, God made them the most abundant form of life on this planet. Secondly, they keep us alive. They harness the energy of the sun, and by the process of photosynthesis they produce the food of life for all the creatures of the sea. They also take out of the air half of the carbon dioxide we put into it. If they didn't do it the planet would warm up by the green house effect, and we would be the ones frying instead of the fish of the sea.
The point of all this is that man is ever learning of the delicate balance of nature, and of how God has made all of life to work together so that every part of nature is dependent upon every other part. If man throws a monkey wrench into this beautiful living machine he makes a mess of it, and he risks serious damage to his own well being. Christians are as likely to throw the system of nature into imbalance as anyone. Christians have been major supporters of the philosophy that says nature exists for our benefit, and so if we want to abuse it and misuse it that is our privilege. Much like the Christian slave owners in early America, they feel they have the right to use what is their property anyway they please. And they feel they have Scripture to back them up.
Here in Psa. 8:6 it says clearly, "You made him the ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet." Man is made the ruler of nature, and he is made king of creation by the Creator Himself. If we go back to Gen. 1:28 we read these first words of God to man: "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves over the ground." The lion is not king of the beasts. It is man, and he was put in charge by God and told to rule. None can argue with this clear revelation. The problem comes because of the fall of man. He did not become the kind of ruler over nature that God intended. Just as many of the kings over his people led them astray from his will, so man as a ruler over nature abused his God-given power, and he became an enemy rather than a friend to nature.
If we look at Adam before the fall we see the proper role of man in relationship to nature. In Gen. 2:15 we read, "The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it." You will note that it is a perfect sin free world, and God has said of everything that it was very good. And yet in this perfect environment nature needed to be taken care of. The implication is clear that even a perfect nature will deteriorate without care, and man was to provide that care. Man was made to benefit by nature's abundance, and to reap a harvest for his labor, but he was made to be a benevolent dictator over nature and not a ruthless tyrant exploiting nature for himself with no concern for it as a part of God's creation. In other words, though it is true that God made man the ruler of nature, he made him to be a benevolent ruler who would cooperate with God in keeping nature good, beautiful, and beneficial in the way God intended.
Man in his fall became a rebel and decided that his will was what mattered, and he would use nature as he saw fit for his own good regardless of how God designed it. In other words, man became an irresponsible ruler. He abused his power and position. It is the same story as in every other area of man's dominion. God gave man dominion over women for the benefit of both husband and wife. But man abused the power of his position and made women slaves. He turned tyrant and robbed women of the benefit of a benevolent leader and perverted the purpose of God. No ruler is ruling as God intended unless the ruled are greatly benefited by that rule. Any ruler who exploits the ruled for himself and does not make those ruled happy to be under that rule is a rebel ruler and not the responsible ruler that God intends.
This can be applied to nations, tribes, and families, or as we are considering in this message, to nature. God's intent was that man would rule nature in such a way as to make man and nature mutually beneficial. Unfortunately, Christians often feel that power means that you have the right to do as you please. If we rule nature, then we can do whatever we want to it, for it has no rights whatever, and it is our slave. Francis Schaeffer in his book, Pollution And The Death Of Man: The Christian View Of Ecology, agrees with the critics that say Christians have been a major cause of the problem in our world today. Christians were duped into believing the philosophy of Plato was more Christian than the Bible. Plato said that the material world is not important. All that really matters is the spiritual. This sounds so good to be anti-materialistic and pro-spiritual that Christians felt it was the superior view of life.
What this led to was Christians who felt no responsibility for caring for the material world that God created. Christians became notorious for their indifference to the balance of nature. What do we care about nature was their attitude. "This world is not my home, I'm just a passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue." So why should I care if we pollute and damage the ecosystems that keep the earth in balance so that all life can thrive? Under this false world-view man was permitted to destroy the handiwork of God. Christians did not care for the world, for it was all going to be burned up anyway, and so why bother to protect and preserve what was going to pass away? The whole idea of nature having any rights was as foreign to Christians as was the idea of blacks having any rights to Christian slave owners in the old South.
Schaeffer said that he sighted with the hippies in the 60's, for they had a biblical view of respect for nature. Christians, on the other hand, linked up with modern technology, which said that man has the right to exploit nature regardless of the damage. Nature is not a friend we need to respect, but a slave we can use or abuse as we please. Schaeffer wrote his book to get Christians off that wrong track of following Plato and back to a biblical view of nature and ecology.
God created all things and said that it was very good. Creation is the handiwork of God, and just as we respect the works of men, so we are to respect the work of God. We have something in common with all of nature. We are the handiwork of God. We are one in our origin, and one in our ultimate destiny, for God will create a new heaven and earth to replace this fallen world, and all creation will be a part of God's eternal kingdom. This means that a biblical view of nature is not one of indifference to it, but it is one of respect. Our dominion over nature is not just so we can exploit it, but like Adam, care for it. We are to keep it operating according to the laws God has built into it so that it benefits man and is a piece of art for God to enjoy.
Matter is not evil as Plato taught. It is a good work of God. Matter is so good that God sent His Son to become flesh to redeem flesh and take the fallen body of man into the kingdom of God where it will be made new, pure and eternal. God did not reject the material world in favor of the spiritual world. He sent His Son to become a part of the material world that it might be saved and be a part of the eternal world. It is heresy to reject the material world, for God made it co-equal with the world of spirit. It is anti-Christ to reject the material world as evil, for nothing God has made is evil. The whole physical world is an object of His love and plan of redemption. Nature is good, and a biblical view of it leads to responsible rule where man cooperates with God to care for it and respect it. Schaeffer wrote, "A Christian is a man who has a reason for dealing with each created thing on a high level of respect."
Only after man came to realize that he was poisoning his own environment by his disrespect for nature did Christians begin to realize the sinfulness of their disrespect. Only in the last few decades have Christians begun to address the theological issues for respect for nature. The first Earth Day was on April 22, 1970. Since then there have been many conferences on the theological issues in environmental ethics. Christians are becoming more and more aware that if God needed Adam to care for a garden in a perfect environment, how much more does nature need care in a fallen world where sin, corruption, ignorance, and pollution abound?
Bruce Allsopp wrote the book, The Garden Earth: The Case For Ecological Morality. Ecology and religion newsletters were started and terms like geopiety were born. The religious concern for ecology has changed the history of ecology in recent years. The concern at first was just for the economic issues of being nice to mother nature. It was costly to be abusive of her. Now there is what is called Deep Ecology, and it goes beyond the shallow self-centered concerns to a concern for nature herself. In other words, deep ecology says we respect nature, not just because we can make more money if we do, but because she is worthy of respect as God's creation, and it is right to be nice to her whether we profit by it or not. It says nature is a living thing, and like all living things, it has a right to be respected. It goes even further and says that even non-living things have a right to be respected as God's creation. Everything God made has a right to be respected for what it is, and to be treated in a way that is consistent with the laws God gave to govern it and its purpose.
In 1973 Congress passed the Endangered Species Act that guarantees the right to existence of any species threatened by extinction. You have a right to make a buck, but if by so doing you send a part of God's creation into extinction you are now forced to seek another way to get your buck, and respect the rights of nature. Many creatures have been saved from extinction because of this new respect for nature. Christians are not always on the side of nature, and have often taken the side of the humanists who say that man is the measure of all things. If it is good for man, then let nature perish. Man is made in God's image, and his good should take precedence over any other creature.
There are many court cases where it is man versus nature, and it would hard to give a vote for nature and save a bird, or some other creature, at the expense of man's right to build condos and make a mint, but it is happening, and creatures are winning because more and more people are agreeing that nature has rights that are God-given, and man does not have the right to trample them under his feet. In spite of the growing number of victories for nature, and a growing ecological awareness, the world is getting worse. Man is still an irresponsible ruler, and his abuse has lead to widespread pollution that is casting thousands of species into extinction, and is killing people as well.
Some feel that man has gone so far in his irresponsibility that we can expect an ecological Armageddon. An unknown poet laments-
I was born in the last years of comfort,
And I'll die in the first years of dearth,
When the fullness of plenty has vanished,
And poverty darkens the earth.
My grandson will wrestle with problems
That only a madman would crave,
And meet them with measures so ghastly
I'm glad I'll be snug in my grave.
Others are optimistic and say that man can still become a responsible ruler. He can work with nature to overcome the problems he has created. Garbologists who do archeological digs in the garbage dumps of our nation have proven that the idea of biodegradable is largely a myth. Trash that is buried and compacted so air and moisture does not get to it remains trash. They have dug up newspapers buried in the 40's and they are as good as new. Newspapers are the largest percentage of all landfills. The American people are responding to this waste and are now recycling, but millions of trees need to be cut down each month unnecessarily because of the waste. All of us can make some difference by recycling. It is the least we can do to show respect for the world of nature that we help to rule.
When God said to Adam to fill the earth, he did not mean to fill it with newspapers, beer cans, and toxic waste. He expected the world to be filled with people who could care for His creation. As American Christians we have a greater obligation than most to develop and ecologically helpful life style. False views of Christians have been a major cause of the present problems, and a more honest biblical view compels us to do a better job in obedience to God's will. A world is a terrible thing to waste, and if we are responsible rulers, we can help keep even this fallen world a place where man and nature cooperate to the glory of God, and provide an environment where men can discover the abundant life and gain the assurance of eternal life in Christ.
The ark of Noah was going to be abandoned by both animals and man, but do you think they were careless with it while it was their only environment for living? Do you think they chopped or drilled holes in it, or lunged against its timbers to see if they would hold? You can count on it that they took care of their environment for their survival depended on their doing so. We need to see our whole world as the ark, and see it as our responsibility to treat it with respect as the source of our survival until God makes a new heaven and new earth.
Dennis Hayes was 25 when he founded the first Earth Day. He drove a Honda and often road a bicycle. He took his reusable bags to the grocery store. He was very conservative in his use of natural resources. As chairman of the 1990 Earth Day Anniversary he knew his small efforts would have little effect on the global crisis, but he plugged away because he had a 14 year old daughter and he cared about her future. The Christian is to care about future generations also, for it is the golden rule to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. You do not want the people who lived in your house or apartment before you to leave all their garbage behind, and have poison and toxic waste all over the place to hazard the life and health of your family. The next generation does not want this earth left that way either, and it is our responsibility to see that they have a world where healthy living is possible.
Even if we had no obligation to people, we do have an obligation to God. Psa. 24:1 says, "The earth is the Lord's and everything in it, the world an all who live in it." As good stewards of God's world we are responsible to use it and care for it so that it works as He made it to work, and so that it will be a place for the good of man and the glory of God. A polluted world where life is being killed and degraded is not for God's glory. It is sinful abuse, and a Christian is to have no part in it. The Christian is to work to maintain the health and beauty of all that God has made.
Professor Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University, who is a leading writer in the field of ecology, says that one American does 20 to 100 times more damage to the planet than a person in the 3rd world. The problem is not poor people but affluent people who are wasteful and who do not care that their waste robs the rest of the world of a better life. Some might argue that there are greater issues, and there is much to support this, but John Alexander writes, "In my experience people sensitive to the beauty of nature tend to be sensitive to justice and compassion." He also felt that the issues dealing with race and poverty were more important for Christians to pursue, but he had to admit that people who do not care about the world they live in usually do not care about anybody else in that world. People who care about ecology care about the whole of God's creation, and that includes plants, animals, and people.
We are born to rule. Our eternal destiny is to rule and reign with Christ over a redeemed universe, but we are made to rule now in this fallen world where the only hope of the good life is responsible rulers. Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something, and the greatest something any of us can do is to be responsible rulers.