Environmental Crisis? - A Bible Study 
by R Hardy (May '93)

I have been prompted to write this Bible study for two reasons. Firstly because Manchester is to host a two-part Earth Summit in September 1993 and June/July 1994. Secondly, since beginning to seek THE LORD over this event, I have become aware of the nature of the teaching which seems currently popular amongst Evangelicals and Charismatics concerning our responsibilities as stewards of the earth. I will outline my concerns later, but will begin by looking at what I believe the Bible has to say on these issues.

If we are to make a godly response to the current concerns about the abuse of the earth and its resources by the human race, then we must take into account the full counsel of the Hebrew/Christian scriptures. This may result in us reaching conclusions unpopular in today's world. However, the commission given to THE LORD'S prophets was not to be popular, but to stand in the counsel of THE LORD and having heard Him, to speak out and so turn sinners to repentance. [1]

1. The Biblical mandate for stewardship.  

Most biblical doctrines have their beginnings in the book of Genesis and stewardship is no exception. When THE LORD made mankind in His image, man was commanded to manage the earth and its resources. [2] Adam, having been given the task of caring for the garden, was expelled from it because of his disobedience. He was then told that his task of earth management would become far more difficult as the consequence of his sin. Secondly THE LORD said that from then on it would be the way in which he obtained his food. [3] Before this Adam and Eve had lived in a place of abundant fruit trees and these appear to have been their food supply. The work of stewardship had now become both onerous and necessary!

Two other points are worth noting. The first is that amongst the instructions to care for the earth in Genesis 1 is a command to fill it with people. We will return to this in a later section. Secondly, just as Paul was aware that THE LORD had set a limit to his responsibilities, [4] mankind has been given a limited sphere of responsibility. The mandate in Genesis 1 extends only as far as the earth. We have no responsibility for the moon, sun, stars or galaxies. In fact He has only trusted us with a very small percentage of creation to look after. [5] Perhaps we could conclude that THE LORD was under no illusions about how abysmally we would fail with the little He did entrust to us!

2. The consequences of being bad stewards.  

This leads us now to look at what the Scriptures say about mankind's disregard for God's commands. (Remember that THE LORD foreknew all that would happen, including the events of this century). It is important that we look at this, because if we are to prescribe the relevant treatment, we must diagnose the problem correctly. Though neither Old nor New Testaments appear to have much to say on environmental matters, there are some passages which address the issue, and one which describes vividly the course that this planet now seems to be taking.

 Three different prophets speak of how the land, the plants and the animals (wild & domesticated) suffer because of the sin of human inhabitants. [6] It is Isaiah though who foresees the devastation of the earth. The description of what THE LORD showed him begins in Chapter 24, though it is helpful to read through to Chapter 27. Isaiah speaks of the earth being broken asunder, split through, shaken violently, reeling to and fro like a drunkard and tottering like a shack. [7] The reason for this is that its transgression is heavy upon it, so heavy that it will fall, never to rise again.

Isaiah had begun this section with a similar description, but one which more clearly identifies the source of the earth's devastation. [8] He says that the inhabitants of the earth have transgressed laws, violated statutes and broken the everlasting covenant. He says that because they have rebelled against their Creator, a curse now devours the earth. To put it simply, the pollution of the earth's environment is not the result of mankind's technology, but the consequence of our SIN. Therefore any attempt which seeks to rescue the earth without turning people back to its Creator is doomed to failure. (In today's western world such a message is not popular, even though secular humanism is giving way to what has been called spiritual humanism.) The current emphasis is in fact directing people away from God, whilst at the same time Christians are being blamed for the problems. This is a clear attempt to rule out any need to acknowledge the Creator of the universe, because to do so requires repentance. Today the human race is trying to be its own saviour.

However we should not read into what I have said any idea that THE LORD does not take notice of how we fulfil the responsibilities He has given us. Scripture says very clearly that He will destroy those who destroy the earth. [9] We need to be clear though on what He sees to be the destructive actions of mankind. The first act which brought a curse on the ground was disobedience to what THE LORD had commanded. [10] Pollution in its many forms, wasteful lifestyles, materialism all occur because men and women do not fear THE LORD. They are part of a whole catalogue of sin which continues to have a destructive effect on the whole of creation. Murder, greed, lying, cheating, immorality, drunkenness, theft and the many other violations of the statutes of THE LORD, all contribute to the destruction of the earth. The Biblical call is therefore that men and women should turn back to THE LORD if the destruction of the earth is to halted. Repentance in the Scriptures is a turning away FROM sin which is followed by the exercise of faith TOWARDS God. [11]

Today the term "Responsible stewardship" has been adopted as a cover-all term for environmental conservation. This is an attempt to encourage people from many backgrounds, including Christians, to come together under the one umbrella on these matters. Some years ago I attended a meeting run by the local Green Party which had the title "Jesus and Radical Politics". It was a very enjoyable evening, by the end of which all present agreed that there was a difference between a secular concern to be responsible stewards and a Christian one. Secular stewardship considers itself responsible to our children and to nature, whilst the Christian mandate, having been given by THE LORD, carries with it responsibility to Him. I would like to suggest at this point that "Prophetic Stewardship" better describes the task of believers today. The majority of genuine Jewish prophets had lifestyles that demonstrated a rejection of the society of their day, in exchange for a closeness to THE LORD. From this platform they were able to announce what they had heard from Him, and although the nation as a whole often rejected the message, many individuals would have been turned back to THE LORD. Prophetic stewardship brings together just living and God's counsel to a disobedient society.

One other point that I wish to emphasise in this section is that I see no Biblical basis for separating our mandate for the care of the lower orders of creation from the command to care on THE LORD'S behalf for our fellow human beings. The many wars around the world, the famines and other forms of human suffering that they precipitate, and the many examples of oppression and injustice are from the same root cause as our misappropriation of the earth's resources. Jesus Himself linked all these things together when He spoke about the early signs of the earth coming to its end. [12]

3. Is there an environmental crisis?

We are consistently being told that our whole environment is at a crisis point. Much of what is being said can be observed to be reasonably accurate. For example acid rain is a problem and our role as Christ's ambassadors demands that we do not deny it. We are to care on His behalf for each other and all that is on the earth, so where we see men and women being simply careless or seeking their own unjust gain, we are to speak out His words of rebuke and not join them in the way they live. Perhaps for Christians much of the difficulty in finding THE LORD'S will for today is that we have continued to live as the world does, bound by material values, unable to perceive our societies with a clear eye. In this sense I would agree that many Christians are part of the problem.

There are some things though which are being said by environmentalists today that I believe we must examine carefully in the light of Scripture. These are in many ways the foundation of their fears. The two most prominent are the over population of the earth and the fact that our destructive actions are bringing closer the day when the earth will no longer be able to provide food for its inhabitants. It is issues like these that make environmental problems into "an environmental crisis". Are they valid fears?

To those who do not actively believe in THE LORD as He describes Himself in the Bible, to those who believe that this earth has taken thousands of years to manoeuvre itself into its present condition, to those who believe that life exists solely by chance, to all these and those like them, the current condition of the planet as it continues to be ruined by a selfish species can only be a great worry. If one believes that all future hope rests on the human race, then fear of the future must dominate.

To the believer though, these worries have to be set against what THE LORD has said. First, concerning the population of the earth. Twice THE LORD has told people to "be fruitful, multiply and FILL THE EARTH". [13] Both these occasions were at the start of a new population of the earth - this must emphasise that it has always been His intention that the earth should be full of people. It must also imply that He knows how to define the moment when there will be no more vacancies on this planet, which suggests that He will act at that time in an appropriate way. I have heard it said that this command has now been replaced by that of making disciples of all nations on the part of the Church. [14] I cannot find any Scripture which supports that claim. It has to be noted too that in Genesis 1, this command is given in the same sentence as the mandate to care for the earth. Surely if one clause is relevant now, both are, or if one has been superseded now, both must have been. If we have a mandate to care for the earth then we have one to fully populate it, and only the Creator has the authority to declare that it has been accomplished!

The second point is the durability of the planet, or rather THE LORD'S oversight of it. When God repeated His command to fill the earth it was after the flood, when Noah offered sacrifices to THE LORD after emerging from the ark. The first population of the earth had become so godless that THE LORD decided not to allow them to continue any longer. In removing that society from the face of the earth, He also destroyed much of the life He put on this planet. When THE LORD smelled the aroma of Noah's sacrifice He made a commitment to Himself never again to curse the ground because of people. [15] He said that even though He knew that "the intent of the human heart is evil from youth", He would not repeat what He had just done. THE LORD then promises Himself that for as long as the earth exists He will ensure that there will be seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter and day and night.

I can understand as I have said above those who do not know THE LORD being worried, but Christians must answer the question, who are they going to believe, people or God? Psalm 1 warns of the dangers of listening to godless counsel. John wrote that to disagree with THE LORD is to call Him a liar! [16] The question put another way is, do we believe that the world is under His control, or that man in his arrogance has wrested himself out of God's arms? It is important for us to understand that when THE LORD made the commitment to keep the earth functioning, it was in the context of Him recognising mankind's total sinfulness. The twentieth century has not taken the God of eternity by surprise.

I want to focus lastly in this section on the fear that is increasing in many people with the thought of there being an environmental crisis. If we trust THE LORD to keep His word then we will not be caught up in this fear. The only fear that is called for in the Bible is the fear of THE LORD. Concerning all other fears God says "Fear not!" - 366 times in all throughout the Scriptures I am told. It is the fear of THE LORD that gives us wisdom and knowledge, [17] all other fears fight against faith in Christ. The antidote to such fear is found in His perfect love. [18]

4. The need for repentance.

We have already seen the need for repentance by mankind in general - a change of attitude in individuals and societies. If we are not to continue piling disaster upon disaster, then we must stop doing what is right in our own sight and turn towards THE LORD and walk in His ways. However I also believe that there is a need for those who bear the name "Christian", including so called "Christian" countries, to change their attitudes towards THE LORD.

The finger is often pointed at "Christians" as a major cause of the misuse of the earth's resources. If we look at history, past and present, we must agree. When U.S.A. President Bush said, around the time of the Gulf War, that his was the most God-fearing nation on the face of the earth I could only respond with sadness. So much of what that nation does, both corporate and individual, is self-centered and godless. Those nations which have carried the name "Christian" over the years need now to turn from greed and the pursuit of personal pleasure which have long been their hallmark. Nations such as our own which have exported a form of Christianity to many other nations, must acknowledge the self-interest that lies behind many past and present actions. We need leaders who will seek God, not personal prestige.

This also applies to the church, those bodies that have considered themselves Christ's representatives on the earth, but have left sin unchallenged. Again the name of Jesus Christ has been misrepresented and today He is cited by many as the cause of earth's problems. How we need as the Church to repent of the dishonour we have caused God's Son.

In the New Testament there is a clear warning to the rich. [19] They are to turn from their wealth and weep and mourn, because it is not riches that they have been storing up for the last days, but retribution. I believe that this passage applies prophetically not only to rich individuals and families, but also to the rich nations of the world. Their riches have been accumulated by exploiting other people and the resources of the earth.

THE LORD is looking for sincere repentance from individuals, nations and His Church. The question has to be asked though:

5. Will mankind listen to THE LORD?  

God's first desire is to make His word known to men and women through His people, the Church. However there seems to be a reluctance amongst believers to stand up and be counted on the need for repentance. Perhaps it is because in many areas we have made alliances with the world and are now afraid of breaking those compromises. [20] The problem is not a new one - not only did the Israelite nation succeed in disobeying THE LORD far more than they obeyed, they were also skilled in placing their fingers in their ears when He spoke to them. However He did not give them up, He made every effort to get His word home to them. When they constantly rejected the prophets He sent, He used the surrounding nations, or drought or some other "circumstance" to try and communicate with them. This is what He promised to do through Moses, [21]. The first chapter of Isaiah reveals how His heart ached as He was forced to resort to these measures. [22]

Has THE LORD now stood back from intervening in human affairs? Are circumstances no longer His visual display for the spiritually deaf? The writer of the letter to Hebrew Christians was convinced that God would not cease to make every effort to show the world what is of value and what is not. [23] Once more the earth is to be shaken so that its inhabitants can clearly see that which is eternal. We may want to ask if God is shaking the earth and its inhabitants out of anger or out of love? If one can read through the book of Revelation without trying to explain every detail, but with the intent of grasping an overview of what THE LORD is saying about the end of this age, then that question can be answered quite simply.

What John saw was disaster upon disaster coming upon the earth. Disasters of all types. In the midst of this there is a recurring lament, "...in spite of all this men did not repent..." (Good News Bible). [24] The shaking of the world that has begun and which is to escalate is indeed the wrath of God, but it is the wrath of God to turn men back to Him. As prophesied, men and women are trying every available option that avoids turning back to the Creator. Our Heavenly Father's heart is breaking, but He will not draw back His hand of judgement because He knows the dangers they are in. As fear increases with the increased shaking, God's desire is that His people should stand up and be counted, and be those who have insight and can give understanding to many. [25]

Second Chronicles ends with one of the saddest passages of the Bible. [26] THE LORD made every effort to bring Israel to repentance, but they mocked His messengers, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets. The passage ends with the phrase "until there was no remedy." In Israel's case the Chaldeans attacked, killed and deported the people. The warning of Scripture is clear. If men and women do not repent then they force THE LORD'S hand, because they have exhausted every remedy. We need to be crying to God that many people will heed His visual and circumstantial warnings before it is too late for them to repent.

6. The destiny of this universe.

I have said that in secular minds the desperation to save the earth is firmly rooted in the rejection of THE LORD as the God of both creation and history. However many Christians are also unclear on what THE LORD has always planned for this planet and the whole of the universe. This has been confused particularly by the debate over when, where and how a millennium of Christ's government will take place, if at all. It has been said that the best way to interpret Scripture is to take it at its simplest meaning unless there is good reason not to. This has been my approach for many years now and because of this I am looking forward to 1000 years of earth's history during which Jesus Christ will be supreme governor over the whole planet. However, what will happen between now and the end of that time does not affect the eventual destiny of the universe. Scripture is very clear that it is not THE LORD'S purpose for this universe to be eternal.

Three times THE LORD has said in the Bible that this earth and universe will pass away and new ones be brought into existence. [27] Peter warns that false prophets and teachers will arise, amongst whom will be those who scoff at the thought of this universe being destroyed. (It is best to read the whole of 2 Peter to get chap. 3 in context.) Peter says quite clearly that it is only THE LORD'S desire to see as many people as possible repent that delays the end coming. [28] He then makes it quite clear that this universe will be physically destroyed. It is important that we consider how he says this should affect the way Christians live. [29] This is significant because New Age environmentalists and some of their Christian counterparts say that it is this belief which has caused Christians to abuse the planet.

Al Gore, currently the Vice-President of the U.S.A., is a leading environmentalist. He is also, like Bill Clinton, a Southern Baptist. However, in his book "Earth in the Balance" the spirituality he promotes is clearly Pantheism and in the mainstream of current New Age emphasis. In a chapter entitled "Environmentalism of the Spirit" he makes the following statement - "The religious ethic of stewardship is harder to accept if one believes the world is in danger of being destroyed - either by God or humankind." Whilst I can agree with his earlier comment that some have used the prophetic vision of the apocalypse as an excuse for abdicating their responsibility as stewards, I cannot accept that such a conviction makes stewardship well-nigh an impossibility.

Returning to 2 Peter, we find Peter saying that belief in the coming destruction of the universe demands the very opposite response - holiness! [29] Holiness is not earthly uselessness, the result of being lost on some spiritual/religious cloud. Holy conduct and godliness is the lifestyle of those who know that one day they will have to answer to the Creator God for every deed, word and thought. Holiness in its fullness can only be holiness if it brings about right stewardship of the planet. In environmental matters, as in many other areas, the Church has failed to teach that holiness is practical and relevant Monday to Saturday. Materialism is a major factor in the present problems of the earth. If Christians took Jesus seriously, then they would not be caught up by it. [30] It is excusable for those who promote other faiths not to be aware of the Bible's teachings, but those who claim authority as Christian leaders and teachers should be careful to take account of the whole counsel of God!

7. Summary of previous sections  

I believe that the human race, individually and collectively, is being held accountable by THE LORD for how we have managed the earth. This is not limited to physical care, but includes the ways we have polluted the land with sin. [31] Genuine disciples of Christ Jesus are those whose lifestyle is shaped by the knowledge that one day they will meet Him face to face and give account for all their actions and attitudes. Therefore as they mature they have less and less to do with those things which pollute the land. Collectively the voice of the Church should be proclaiming this message to unbelieving neighbours. If we do not, we will be held guilty of allowing well-meaning people to run around in fear trying to repair the superficial damage, whilst we have been told that the real structural failure is in the foundations! There is both a great opportunity and a greater need for this message today. I fear though that many Christians want to remain friends with the world and so are seeking to develop a "Christian" message that is basically secular in nature. [32]

8. Current teaching.  

My previous point brings me to one of the reasons for writing this Bible study. There seems to be at present an emphasis within evangelical and charismatic teaching which claims that the death of Jesus was for the redemption of the universe as well as that of men and women. This is then being extended to say that the earth is waiting for Christians to rescue it from environmental crisis. Amongst those who are teaching this is Tony Campolo and where I quote him below I am referring to his article in TEAR Fund's, TEAR TIMES (No.57, Summer 1992).

It is being said that because the Greek word "kosmos" is used in John 3:16, the implication is that God's love is for the whole Cosmos. To quote Campolo, "God not only loves you and me, he loves the rivers, oceans, the atmosphere, fields, trees and animals. Jesus came into the world to rescue the entire kosmos from demonic influence and destruction". Besides ignoring that the Scripture plainly says that this universe is being kept by THE LORD in reserve, for the destruction of ungodly people, [33] there seems to me to be a clear attempt to manipulate what has been written. True, "kosmos" is the root word for our "cosmos", but its meaning is not exclusively "the universe". With the exception of one place [34], everywhere the word "world" appears, in English translations, in John's gospel or letters it is the Greek word "kosmos" which is in the original. I would therefore suggest that John's own usage of the word gives us his meaning for it. At the beginning of his account of the gospel, John wrote that Jesus was the true light, which coming into the world enlightens every person. He carries on to say that He was in the world and that it was made through Him, but the world did not know Him. [35] Jesus once said that if the people did not praise Him, the stones would cry out in praise.  [36] Does that sound like a universe that did not recognise its Creator? More strikingly John says that we are not to love the world or the things that belong to it. All that belongs to the world, he continues, is not from the Father and those who love the world do not love the Father. John ends this paragraph by saying what it appears some Christians do not know today - that the world is passing away, but those who do the will of God will last for ever. [37]

In the book of Revelation, THE LORD is prophetically recorded as saying "Behold I make all things new." [38] I have heard it said, in another attempt to manipulate Scripture through playing on an ambiguous Greek word, that it really reads "I am renewing all things." The inference being that this universe is not to be destroyed but renovated, and that by the Church. Again this interpretation chooses to ignore the rest of the Scriptures that refer to these things, (both the immediate context [39], and the other references I have made). We are looking for a new heaven and a new earth, the nature of which I will refer to below.

This brings me to the final passage I wish to look at as I examine current trends in teaching. Romans 8:18-25 is not the easiest passage to understand. Campolo expands it as follows. "God saved us that he might rescue the whole of creation. The earth is groaning and waiting for the sons and daughters of God to be redeemed and filled with the Spirit. Why? So that they can invade the planet and rescue it from the demonic destruction that has played havoc with the atmosphere, the ecology balance, all the things that we see around us. Our call is to be God's agents, to rescue not only the human race but the whole creation." It seems to me that here we have a classic case of someone with a "new" doctrine seeking a "proof text".

The passage itself never refers directly or indirectly to demonic activity. In fact it says clearly that it is THE LORD who has subjected creation to futility (:20). I pointed out earlier that our mandate for stewardship is limited to the earth and the things on it. Paul here is referring to the whole creation, not just the earth. Campolo, in using this passage to support environmental care, has to extend the Biblical mandate beyond its Biblical limit. Further, it seems very clear to me (:23) that believers are to be the recipients of the redemption creation is looking forward to, not the agents of it. So what might Paul be meaning in this passage? First, the futility to which creation has been subjected. Paul calls it slavery to corruption (:21), which I understand to be the effect of sin throughout the whole universe and the decay that set in following the fall. This is probably what physicists call "entropy", the observation that the universe is running down and becoming more and more disordered. This would have been a major problem for creation in Paul's day as well as now. It seems that Paul is saying this universe has nothing more to do than to wait for its own end - but in that lies its hope. He says that whole creation, not just the earth, is groaning because it is suffering labour pains. This suggests that it is pregnant and near to the point of giving birth. A baby, it must be noted, whilst it may resemble its parents, is not a renewal or reincarnation of them, but something new which has come from them.

In closing I want to consider briefly what the nature of this new heaven and new earth will be. Little is said directly about it in Scripture, Revelation 21 & 22 giving the most direct description. (Ezekiel 40-48 may be a parallel passage). What John saw is clearly described in language that makes our mortal minds boggle when we try to imagine it. Paul however gives us a clue to the nature of the new universe when he writes at length about the nature of our resurrection bodies. [40] First he says that the seed must die before it brings forth a new plant. He is talking here about the mortal body giving way to the heavenly body. The picture though has some parallels with child-birth, the new coming from the old. He goes to great lengths to explain the different natures of the pre and post resurrection body, concluding with the statement "If there is a natural body there is a spiritual body". [41] Perhaps it is because what John was looking at is spiritual that we find his description of the eternal universe so hard to comprehend. When the natural earth dies it is to give way to a spiritual one, one free from the corruption that is in the "world" because of sin. [42] That is something to look forward to! The new Jerusalem, the mansion that Jesus is preparing for us, is to come out of heaven (God's dwelling place, not the heavens of this universe) onto the new earth. [43] Like resurrected believers, this new city will be heavenly in every sense of the word, the first things having passed away. [44]

Environmental Crisis? - A Bible Study:
Bible References:

(Please read in full context).
1 Jer. 23:16-32;
2 Gen. 1.26-27 (& 2:15-17);
3 Gen. 3:17-19;
4 2 Cor. 10:13ff;
5 Ps.115:16;
6 Jer. 2:7, 12:14, Hos. 4:1-3, & Joel 1:15-18;
7 Isa. 24:19-20;
8 Isa. 24:3-7;
9 Rev. 11:18;
10 Gen. 3:17-19;
11 Heb. 6:1,2;
12 Mat. 24:6,7;
13 Gen. 1:28 & 9:1;
14 Mat. 28:19,20;
15 Gen. 8:21,22;
16 1.John 1:10;
17 Prov. 1:7, 9:10,15:33, etc.;
18 1.John 4:15-19;
19 James 5:1-6;
20 Josh. 9;
21 Lev. 26;
22 Isa. 1:1-9;
23 Heb. 12:25-27;
24 Rev. 9:20,21 & 16:8,11;
25 1.Chr. 12:32, Dan. 11:33 & 12:3;
26 2.Chr. 36:14-16;
27 Isa. 65:17-25, 2.Pet. 3, & Rev. 21:1-8;
28 2.Pet.3:9;
29 2.Pet. 3:11,12;
30 Mat. 6:19-34;
31 Num. 35:33,34;
32 Jam. 4:4;
33 2.Pet. 3:8;
34 John 9:32;
35 John 1:9,10;
36 Luke 19:40;
37 1.John 2:15-17;
38 Rev. 21:5;
39 Rev. 21:1;
40 1.Cor. 15:35-49;
41 1.Cor. 15:44;
42 2.Pet. 1:4;
43 John 14:1-4 & Rev. 21:1;
44 Rev. 21:4.

This study is aimed at providing a basic treatment of the topic, as a stimulus to personal bible study. Every effort has been made to be accurate, but the reader should test everything (Acts 17:11; 1 Thess 5:21). Please report errors and omissions, and queries unresolved after consulting THE LORD to the writer: Email Randall Hardy

© R Hardy, May 1993. This paper may only be copied in its entirety for private non-commercial use. All other usage requires the written permission of the author.

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