Friday, January 19, 2007

The Problem Planet

I'm something of a news junkie. After the BBC News at Ten, I will often switch channels to watch either Newsnight on BBC2 or the ITV News at 10.30. This week, BBC news has been running daily features on the most polluted places on the planet. Linfen in China was the worst culprit. The town was slowly choking to death on the toxic fog generated by coal burning steel works and other factories. China's economy is booming, but the environmental costs of rapid industrialisation are very high.

Over at ITV, the news has featured "The Big Melt". Newscaster Mark Austen and Science Editor Lawrence McGinty reported daily from Antarctica on the problem of global warming. We cannot keep on polluting our world and expect that nothing will happen. On Wednesday 17th January, scientists moved the hands of the symbolic Doomsday Clock two minutes closer to midnight. The clock was originally set up to chart the danger of all-out nuclear war. But scientists now think that environmental catastrophe is the next big threat to life on our planet.

It seems that something is badly wrong with our world. Has the Christian faith any answers? The first thing to say is that God created our planet and declared it "very good". We can see the goodness and wisdom of God in the order and beauty of the earth. But that is not the whole story. Human beings were made in God's image that they might enjoy fellowship with him. They were charged with looking after the earth. But we chose to rebel against our Maker and go our own way. This had catastrophic consequences for humanity and the planet. Sin always results in decay and ultimately, death.

Human greed leads to more and more consumption. This leads to pollution which leads, in turn to environmental problems. We should not take the earth and its God-given resources for granted. But what can we do about all this? The Christian faith emphasises personal responsibility. We can all do our bit to cut down on consumption, recycle waste and try to make our homes more environmentally friendly. Yes, governments have a role to play on an international and national level, but that does not let us off the hook. Our Maker will hold us accountable for the way in which we have treated his world.

The Christian thinker Francis Schaeffer wrote Pollution and the Death of Man in 1970, long before environmental issues were fashionable. In this groundbreaking work, the philosopher/theologian rejected the Green Movement's often pantheistic thinking and argued for a thoroughgoing Biblical approach to ecological issues. He drew upon the doctrine of creation to remind us that we are not autonomous beings who can treat the earth how we like, "What God has made, I, who am also a creature, must not despise." (p. 36). God has affirmed the goodness of the created world in the incarnation and resurrection of Christ. Because of this, Christians should work for a substantial healing of creation,

Surely then, Christians, who have returned, through the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, to fellowship with God and have a proper place of reference to the God who us there should demonstrate a proper use of nature. We are to have dominion over it, but we are not going to use it as fallen man uses it. We are not going to act as though it were nothing in itself, or as though we will do to nature everything we can do. (p. 41)
In a beautifully written passage, Schaeffer reflects on his relationship to the buttercup:
There are things before me which I now face, not as a cow would face a buttercup - merely the mechanical situation - but facing it by choice. I look at the buttercup, and I treat the buttercup the way it should be treated. The buttercup and I are both created by God; but beyond this, I can treat it properly by personal choice. I act personally, I am a person! Psychologically I begin to breathe and live. Psychologically I am now dealing on a personal level, not only with men and women, but also with the things in nature that God has made which are less than personal in themselves, and the old hang-ups begin to crumble. My humanness grows, and the modern technological pit and pendulum is no longer closing in on me.
When we have learned this - the Christian view of nature - then there can be a real ecology; beauty will flow, psychological freedom will come, and the world will cease to be turned into a desert. Because it is right, on the basis of the whole Christian system - which is strong enough to stand it all because it is true - as I face the buttercup, I say: "Fellow-creature, fellow-creature, I won't walk on you, We are both creatures together". (p. 54-55)
God is concerned for this planet. He sent his Son Jesus not only to save us from our personal sin, but to rescue the world. Jesus' resurrection from the dead is the pledge of a new creation. God will act to renovate the earth, banishing all the effects of sin and death. This is the great Christian hope. What is your hope for the world as the Doomsday Clock continues to tick?
All Schaeffer quotes from:
The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: Volume 5, A Christian View of the West.


Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Schaeffer was one of the earliest to be concerned about this in Christian circles. He is often, mistakenly, referred to as the first evangelical environmentalist. That honor should be shared between Eric Rust, Nature: Garden or Desert? (1969) and Henlee H. Barnette, The Church and the Ecological Crisis (1972 with many chapters published beforehand). But Schaeffer is still ahead of where most evangelicals are today, sadly.

Exiled Preacher said...

We evangelicals have a lot of catching up to do as far as the environment is concerned. But I was heartened to see Frederick Leahy address the issue with some passion in his final book, The Hand of God, recently published by the Banner of Truth Trust. If the Banner is going green, perhaps there is some hope!