66. The Only Way to Save the Earth

This painting reminds us of the awe-inspiring nature of Earth as God's creation. The Christian view of climate change can align with the green revolution and the pop culture idea to save the earth if we keep in mind why the earth was created in the first place.
Noah: The Eve of the Deluge, oil on canvas painting by John Linnell, 1848, Cleveland Museum of Art

I want to save the earth just about as much as anyone else. It’s is all the rage these days. And as I think about it, I probably want to save the earth more than most other people. If you want to save the earth, chances are that your ambitions are actually way too small. You see, I don’t just want to save the earth, I want an entirely new one. This earth seems worn out. Why not replace it?

The major problem in discussing climate change is that the entire climate change argument is rooted in naturalistic, materialistic assumptions, ignoring any Christian or other faith-based view. These assumptions are characteristic of our age and have been the default assumptions, more or less, since the Enlightenment because of thinkers like John Locke.

In my discussion of climate change and how we might “save the earth,” I will include revelation as has been handed down through Christianity so we can take a look at the Christian view. Relegating this discussion to the materialistic arena turns a blind eye to an important source of truth on this matter and thus gives a highly distorted view of what is actually happening with our planet. The assumption of this essay is in keeping with the overall theme of my blog – that truth is found in the dynamic interplay between reason and faith. By doing this, we will find ourselves in a completely different and far better place than where we find ourselves now.

The Creation Reflects God’s Glory

The earth was created for two purposes. Firstly, it was created to demonstrate the power and wisdom of God. Consider what St. Paul says in his epistle to the Romans:

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

– Epistle to the Romans 1:20

St. Paul excelled at propositional truth, but was not so much the poet as King David, who I think captures this truth much better in poetic fashion:

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.

– Psalm 19: 1-4

There are many more such passages, but I will stop for now. Even the ancient Greeks saw beauty and order in the cosmos, long before there was any idea about a green revolution to save the earth; they appreciated it for what it was. It was only after the dawn of the Enlightenment that we have become not only blind to this fantastic beauty, but miserable as a result.

What does this mean for us? Well, first of all, if we are to have any sense of a healthy relationship with our environment, then we must see the created order in a completely different light. The default perspective is that the physical world is a product of time, matter, and blind chance that just all happened to come together at the right time to create objects such as the fish below.

The Christian view of climate change reminds us that beauty and order were a divine creation.

Think about this: As we walk through the natural world, everything we see reflects something of the Creator, His power, wisdom, and glory – everything. Imagine having the eyes of faith to see everything in such a manner, which will eventually allow you to better understand the Christian view of climate change. Suddenly, you are not interacting with an impersonal world that has no meaning, but rather a world bursting forth with the attributes of a Creator, God. The materialistic veneer falls away, and what is revealed is a highly personal creation. We are surrounded by a personal God in whom we “live, move, and have our being.”1

And we are truly surrounded by a personal God, not just His creation, for God is omnipresent. There is no place in the universe where He is not present. In fact, the Bible says that the entire universe cannot contain God.2 It is important to note that God is not His creation, for that is pantheism, but that God is present everywhere and His attributes are reflected visibly through His creation. As we adopt this proper perspective, the first thing that often comes to mind is that we are not alone even when we are alone.

There are two analogies that may help us understand this. The first is a prism. White light is invisible, but when put through a prism, suddenly it is dispersed into the marvelous colors of a rainbow. So too, God’s invisible attributes become visible when dispersed through the handiwork of His creation. The second way we could think of this is that none of us can talk with Leonardo da Vinci, but when we view the Mona Lisa, we have a visible connection to the painter.

The first step, then, in thinking of how we can save the earth is to change our perspective on how we view the natural world. The Enlightenment’s materialistic perspective is fading fast; it has left people empty and their souls bankrupt. What will fill the gap? There are many contenders currently vying for dominance, from the occult to animistic religions. I propose the only perspective that offers hope, simply because it is the truth – the historic Christian teaching on Creation.

The Earth Was Made for Man, Not Man for the Earth

In the Old Testament’s Mosaic law, God created a Sabbath Day, a seventh day of rest for the people of Israel. They neglected the Sabbath, but by the time of Christ, they had gone to the other extreme and created many overly scrupulous rules in order to keep the Sabbath correctly.

I remember growing up in the ’70s in a steel mill town where the air pollution was so bad, we would often physically choke from the yellow, pungent fog of sulfur dioxide that would settle on our community, often on a weekly basis. And because of out-of-control water pollution, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland literally caught on fire a dozen times in the ’60s until anyone decided to care.3 Just like the ancient Israelites neglected the Sabbath, so too we neglected our duty to oversee the earth that God put in our charge.

But now we have swung the other way. We have become so scrupulous with “saving the earth” that it is no longer the earth existing for our benefit; it is now we who exist for the earth’s benefit. In other words, we have become the earth’s servants instead of the earth becoming our servant as originally intended. As Jesus told the Jews of His day, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”4 I would say, as a corollary of that, the earth was made for man, not man for the earth.

And that brings me to the next point: the magnitude of the task. Think about what we are saying when we bring up the green revolution and how we will save the earth. We are to somehow collectively band together and save an entire planet. The question is – save the planet from what? Earth itself isn’t going anywhere, and if indeed it becomes uninhabitable from our misuse and all of the humans die, it becomes a self-correcting mechanism.

There are two fallacies with the notion of humans saving the planet. First of all, we cannot even save ourselves. Consider the following passage from Psalm 47:

No one can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom the ransom for a life is costly no payment is ever enough- so that they should live on forever and not see decay. For all can see that the wise die, that the foolish and the senseless also perish.

– Psalm 47-7-10

We cannot save ourselves from death, let alone save the entire earth from extinction, which seems to be the end goal for those who promote the green revolution. We are all going to die someday. That is the pressing problem facing humanity.

The second fallacy is similar. If we can’t even care for one another, how are we going to be able to save the earth? In other words, the world is full of violence, war, and exploitation of other human beings. How can such creatures band together for the herculean task of saving an entire planet? This is said best by a comedian, the late George Carlin:

…and the greatest arrogance of all, save the planet. What? Are these f*#king people kidding me? Save the planet? We don’t even know how to take care of ourselves yet. We haven’t learned how to care for one another and we’re going to save the f*#king planet?5

– George Carlin

The True Purpose of the Earth

Besides revealing the attributes of the Creator as described above, the earth was created by God as a home for Him and to meet His needs. This is bringing us even closer to fully expounding upon the Christian view of climate change: Man was placed in charge of the Earth, to care for it and to cultivate it. But rather than population being a threat, it is something commanded by God. In fact, it is the first commandment by God ever recorded.

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over the creatures that move along the ground.

So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.

– Genesis 1:26-28

As those who are stewards of the earth, we can make several mistakes vis-à-vis our stewardship. First of all, we can abdicate our responsibility by neglecting to do the things that we need to do in order to maintain a healthy environment. Secondly, we can exploit the environment for our benefit to the detriment of the environment. This behavior was prevalent in the United States in the 20th century and is still prevalent today in many parts of the world like India and China, not to mention the current destruction of the rainforest in the Philippines to mine nickel for our “environmentally-friendly” electric cars.7

The third mistake that we can make is by turning God’s gift to us, the earth, into a god to be worshipped. As stated above, this turns the earth from servant to master and creates a servile fear of the environment that leads to anxiety and other psychological maladies. The anxiety level among young people today in this regard is a tragedy, especially since it is unnecessary. Unfortunately, Pope Francis himself has abandoned his Catholicism and has fostered this point of view, advocating a form of Gaia worship to the detriment of his followers. On Earth Day 2020, he stated that “nature will not forgive our trespasses.”8 By doing this, he put Earth above God.

The proper view is to look at the earth as God’s gift and as such, to take care of it for our benefit but as someone else’s property. This is the same thing we would do if someone was to lend us their home to live in temporarily. We must remember that the earth was created for our benefit.

The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.

– Genesis 2:9

Notice the twofold role of creation: to provide physical sustenance and to be a source of beauty. When dealing with the physical world, we should always keep in mind the tension between functionality and aesthetics. This is why the 20th century is one of the ugliest in regard to art and architecture. Without God, we are reduced to an existence devoid of beauty, characterized by functionality.

Population – A Good Thing

Concerning overpopulation, if God not only desires a lot of people but actually commands it, then we must surmise that He is more than capable of taking care of His children. As St. Paul said to the Greeks, “We are all God’s offspring.”6 He meant this in a general sense. This is part and parcel of the Christian view of climate change.

As the argument goes, God certainly can take care of the physical needs of the people that He created. The most unmistakable evidence of this is the Green Revolution of the 20th century, where we saw increases in crop yields across the world to the tune of 44% between 1965 and 2010.9 This just so happened to coincide with the exponential population growth that everyone back then was so terrified of. As a point in fact, below is a graph of population increase from 1950 to 2010.

A major part of the Christian view of climate change is that God has commanded humans to reproduce; therefore, there is no overpopulation issue nor can there ever be.

Compare that to the worldwide wheat production increase at about the same time:

The green revolution has led to increases in crop yields, but we should not forget that the earth is man's to care for as he sees fit.

Coincidence? I say not.

In the book of Genesis, God makes a covenant with Noah after the Flood that contains the following promise:

And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.

As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.

– Genesis 8: 21c-22

So, this promise cements the Christian view that until the end of human history, the natural cycles of the earth will continue without interruption and thus there is no man-made climate change crisis. This revelation alone, if received with faith, should allay any fears of a catastrophic ending to the world as prophesied by the doom and gloom environmentalists. Besides, none of their predictions have come true anyway, which should tell us something. The above promise actually destroys the foundation of the man-made climate change argument. Of course, this still doesn’t negate our responsibility of being good stewards of the earth, but at least we can be clear-headed and not always running ’round in a panic about it. And ironically, God confirmed the above promise with a rainbow.

The Morally Fallen State of the Earth

The preceding discussion begs the following question – if God is taking care of us as His children, then why are there natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, famines, and other calamities causing death and destruction, often on a large scale?

For the answer to that, we need to once again go back to the book of Genesis. In addition to creating man as a steward over the earth, God also created him with free will, having the ability to choose to obey God or not. Genesis 3 tells us that man chose the latter. As a result, he was cast out of His paradise and into an earthly existence that was more inhospitable. The ground would still yield its produce, for God takes care of His creatures, but now it would be with much more difficulty. As a punishment for disobedience, God cursed the ground so that it would be only through difficulty that man would till the soil:

Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.

– Genesis 3: 17b-19

So rather than pure blessing, we have a blessing mixed with the curse, and this curse is twofold. First, the environment would become inhospitable, and second, that man, made in God’s image, would now experience death. The curse of the Fall then affects not just man but extends beyond man into his environment. The point here being that the reason that the earth is the way it is does not have a purely naturalistic explanation, but actually has a moral explanation as well. That is not to say that every time a natural disaster happens, God is punishing those specific people for their particular sins. Jesus explicitly denied that.10 But it does say that the reason the earth is in a less than perfect state is because of our fallenness. A materialistic view of the earth leaves this out entirely and gives us only a part of the picture.

St. Paul summarized this very well in the book of Romans:

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (italics mine)

– Romans 8: 18-22

The implication of this is simple. As the earth fell with man, so it will be redeemed with man. Until the return of Christ, the earth will continue in its fallen state; no green revolution can change that no matter how hard we try. Of course, we can add to those problems by failing to be good stewards of the earth, and conversely, we can improve upon those problems by doing the opposite. The green revolution is a testament to the effects of good stewardship, as well as other things like antibiotics, indoor plumbing, and water purification.

For most of human existence, life expectancy has hovered around the thirty- to forty-year mark. In the 20th century, it more than doubled. It has been estimated that fifty 20th century inventions are responsible for saving over four billion lives.11 If this isn’t evidence of God’s care for us in the midst of a fallen world, then I don’t know what is. And if that is the case, in the face of such evidence, why do we all run around like the sky is falling? I, for one, have refused to participate in such foolishness and am all the better for it. I enjoy living a life without fear and anxiety over some future cataclysmic climate catastrophe that will never happen. The Christian view of climate change allows me to delight in enjoying a creation that reflects God’s wisdom and glory and I take comfort in the fact of His promise to preserve the earth. Laugh at me if you want, but if you prefer to continue to live your life in fear, then that is your prerogative. In fact, God actually commands me to not be afraid. Any such fear on my part would be disobedience towards Him.

A New Heavens and a New Earth

Based on the parameters in which we live as humans, we have latitude to improve our earthly lives, the attempts at which led to the Green Revolution in the first place. Having said that, we will never create a utopia, but we also do not have to worry about a humanity-ending climate crisis (Aristotle’s golden mean to the rescue). It is up to us to labor in conjunction with God to improve our lot as viceregents of the planet that He owns, knowing that one day He will redeem not only humanity, but also the earth itself.

See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.

– Isaiah 65:17

Once man is redeemed spiritually and morally, the earth itself will follow suit. The earth will be reborn, either through the cleansing of the old or the creation of an entirely new one, and not due to anything we did as humans, much less a half-hearted attempt at a green revolution in a single country. This is because the physical state of the earth is linked to the spiritual state of man. According to St. Paul, we look forward to a time when “the earth will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” Earth Day for Christians should be Easter, for when the final Resurrection occurs, the earth will be recreated anew as well.

Just like we cannot save ourselves, so too we cannot save the earth. Only God can save the earth. We are arrogant if we think that we can do so as a human race. The important thing to note is that this will happen with or without any particular individual. The question is not whether the earth will be saved, but whether you will be saved in order to participate in the new heavens and the new earth.

As I stated above, in a general sense, we are all God’s children. God sends rain and causes the earth to produce crops for all to enjoy. He is like a great king who rules over a kingdom. He takes care of all of His subjects, but treats those of the royal family in a special manner. These are the true children of the King, who will participate in the new heavens and the new earth. As Jesus stated in the parable of the sheep and the goats:

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.

– Matthew 25:34

How does one become a member of the “royal family” and participate in the kingdom to come? St. John tells us, concerning Christ:

Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.

– St. John 1:12

So really, the important question is not whether the earth will be saved, for God will take care of that. Rather, the important question is whether you will be saved.12 The earth has many years left, but we all have a limited time.

The only way to save the earth is to practice good stewardship of your spiritual and moral character through following Christ and waiting for his return.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea…God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning, or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

– The Revelation of St. John 22: 1, 3b-4

 

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Dr. Ron Gaudio examines the Christian view of climate change and how it might relate to the green revolution and the idea that the human race must save the earth.

Deo Gratias

Footnotes:

  1. Acts 17:28
  2. 1 Kings 8:27
  3. Boissoneault, Lorraine, “The Cuyahoga River Caught Fire at Least a Dozen Times, but No One Cared Until 1969“, Smithsonian Magazine, June 19, 2019
  4. Gospel of Mark 2:27
  5. George Carlin on Global Warming
  6. Acts 17:29
  7. “How the rise of electric cars endangers the ‘last frontier’ of the Philippines.” by Karol Ilagan, Andrew W. Lehren, Anna Schecter and Rich Schapiro, NBC News, December 7, 2021.
  8. Pullella, Philip, “On Earth Day, pope says nature will not forgive our trespasses,” Reuters, April 22, 2020
  9.  Gollin, Douglas; Hansen, Casper Worm; Wingender, Asger Mose (2021). “Two Blades of Grass: The Impact of the Green Revolution”. Journal of Political Economy. 129 (8): 2344–2384.
  10. See St. Luke’s Gospel 13:4.
  11. Desjardins, Jeff, “The 50 Most Important Life-Saving Breakthroughs in History,” Technology, March 26, 2018
  12. Mark 8:36

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