Most humans are earth bound. Unless we have a certain perverse turn of mind and no interest in the future of our children and others, then our concern also rightfully involves the health of our planet. Some of earth’s sicknesses have been given prominence by the media, such as those caused by the Agent Orange herbicide debacle in Vietnam (1961–1971), the Chernobyl nuclear disaster (1986) and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill (2010). These disasters are noted particularly, as they impacted not only the environment but human health, habitations and livelihoods. Impacts of human activity on our planet most frequently are silent and creep upon us in stealth. Take the silent flood enveloping the agricultural lands in Australia. The indiscriminate tree clearing activities leading to dryland salinity have been recognised for more than 100 years, but this event has been characterised with an equally long period of official suppression of information and inaction. But heartening action and innovative solutions are now emerging both in the public and private sectors.1
Adventists are keenly interested in healthful living. We run public programs and variously practise eight fundamental principles. These principles were introduced originally by God through Moses, and some concepts, such as what we eat, have relevance to environmental concerns. Earth Day (April 22) and World Environmental Awareness Day (June 5) are just some of the environmental emphasis days on the world calendar. These are designed to raise awareness and challenge individuals and groups to action and contribute to creating a world that is more sustainable.2
Even though we may not have participated in the activities on these days, Christians have a fundamental interest in the environment. This commences generally with a concern about personal health and then expands to a concern for the health of others.
Called to be Ambassadors
Some Christians argue for the continual exploitation of earth’s resources as long as the end result is more goods and services for the benefit of humanity. They express scepticism about overpopulation, global warming on account of human activities, and doubts about immense species loss. Human fruitfulness and the continued exploitation of the earth’s resources for human benefit are among the key beliefs held.3
Others see little point in exerting much effort on environmental issues since Christ’s coming is soon and everything will be destroyed by fire. In order to avoid the problem of futility, others argue that the world will not be destroyed by fire, giving them licence to be happy to conserve nature now.4 Both ideas appear to be flawed.
Today’s believers in the words of the Bible are spoken of as ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20). As such, they are urged to follow Christ’s example and function as good stewards. Ambassadors appreciate the handiwork and beauty evident in creation. These tell of the character of God. Despite human blindness, all nature reflects glory on the Creator and, to some extent, offers praise to Him (Isaiah 35:1,2; 44:23; 55:12).
Even the humble dwellers in the soil proclaim their presence and activity. Eavesdropping on their activities has revealed their drumming, tapping, singing and slithering activities. Even plant roots add to the cacophony of sound and insect larvae communicate with each other in activities not connected with mating urges. Animals feeding on soil insects are acutely attuned to detect vibrations associated with insect activities underground. Even humble plants appear to show some reaction to sound. All this exotic sound from the underground orchestra is fascinating, particularly as intense agricultural activity lessens its intensity, suggesting a link with lessened biodiversity and to soils showing reduced health.5
Stewards also recognise that the book of nature is the principal means by which some have and continue to gain knowledge about God (Romans 2:14–16). Thus, it devolves on them to preserve it as a witness to their Creator (cf. Revelation 11:18). Human moral failures are responsible for the deterioration noted in the natural world; following God’s ways can lead to restoration (cf. Ezekiel 47).
Preserving the environment is not a wasted effort. The experience of Noah shows that faithfulness is the key idea. Noah preached for 120 years to save those about him. He was only marginally successful (Hebrews 11:7; 1 Peter 3:20). Did he decide to lessen his appeals because few responded? No, he was a faithful steward. Christ’s instruction to His disciples is to “Do business till I come” (Luke 19:13, NKJV). In His parable about stewardship, the individual who questioned the master’s motives and methods and put no effort into the allocated task was condemned (Matthew 25:24–26).
Making Appropriate Comparisons
When Christ was on earth, many ideas were conveyed by example. On other occasions He used words. He upheld the Sabbath, tithing, adherence to the principles of the Ten Commandments by His statements (Mark 2:27; Luke 11:42; Matthew 5:17). In this He was in agreement with the prevailing sentiment expressed by the religious leaders whom He thoroughly condemned in other matters (Matthew 23:14, 23). There is no justification in condemning concerns expressed over environmental matters on account of its support by groups we otherwise do not agree with. This should be evident when God has recorded some rather pointed words on the subject in Revelation (11:18, last part).
God’s invisible characteristics can be appreciated by observing the beauties and studying the workings of nature (Romans 1:20). The task of recognising these characteristics could be commenced by considering that the interesting and exquisite details seen in nature reflect the profound nature of God and the values He possesses. For example, the sun and the rain come on the just and unjust (Matthew 5:45). This illustrates the love and care of God to all without distinction (vss. 46–48). The existence of social insects illustrates the value placed on such arrangements and the existence of meaningful social relationships among members of the Godhead. The homeostasis shown in complex biological systems illustrates rather well the order and precision of God’s thinking. The beauty in the natural world indicates that He is a lover of beauty. The splendour and immensity of the heavens declare the unfathomable riches of God’s mind and abilities and gives us a glimpse of His glory (Psalm 19:1). All this provides incentives for an outpouring of thanks and joy by humans (Psalm 92:4,5). The Sabbath is a memorial and a reminder of creation and salvation. It calls for us to rejoice in the promised new heavens and earth.
We can imagine that Adam and Eve wept as they saw the glories of their Eden garden tarnished. Today many may be less impressed by the destruction of natural resources and the devastation created by diseases rampaging through the plant and animal world. While the care of the environment is not meant to be our primary focus, a balance is required.
The apostle Paul’s statement in Romans (2:14–16) gives us an interesting perspective. Caring for the environment is a form of witnessing. It has been and still may be the primary form of God’s witness to people in isolated and under-provided regions of the world.
The story of Tower Hill in south-western Victoria provides heartening information. Well over a century ago the natural beauty of the volcanic site had been mutilated. Before this happened, one early landowner commissioned a painting by a well-known artist, showing the details of plant cover in unspoiled areas that formed a key part in the restoration efforts commenced in 1961. Government agencies, with the willing help of school children and volunteers, were responsible for the rebirth of the site.6 Each is called to make a personal response that will make a difference in protecting and fostering the flora and fauna in our sphere of influence. This may be as small as being conscientious in disposing of waste thoughtfully or may extend to more substantial enterprises. First and foremost our concern is to function as good ambassadors for God. In so doing, health benefits will flow to us and we can contribute to the wellbeing and joy of others.
4. White RS (Ed.). (2009). Creation in Crisis: Christian Perspectives on Sustainability. London. SPCK, pp. 255–270.
5. <knowablemagazine.org/article/living-world/2022/life-soil-was-thought-be-silent-what-if-it-isnt; Rillig MC, Bonneval K, Lehmann J (2019). “Sounds of Soil: A New World of Interactions under Our Feet.” Soil Systems. Available from https://www.mdpi.com/2571-8789/3/3/45
6. Parks Victoria. <towerhill.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Heritage-story-Tower-Hill-Reserve-history-and-heritage.pdf>.
Warren Shipton is an agricultural specialist, former dean of science and university president, given professorial status in perpetuity by the Thai government.