I started defending the environment by arguing with people about the amount of napkins and paper towels they used. “You’re killing my future children!” is a phrase I’d often yell at my friends when I was a passionate, but naïve, teenager. In my mind, napkins were a symbol of our disposable attitude toward the world. Whether or not I was right is debatable, but it certainly helped that I was comfortable enough with being a slob that I could wipe my morally-pure jam hands on my pants.
Looking back, I don’t know if I could have coherently expressed why I felt that this was an important concern for Christians to have. I probably would have stumbled through a statement about how having “dominion over” creation didn’t give us permission to selfishly pillage creation. But I thirsted for a firmer basis for this value in Christianity.
I work with a Christian environmental organization called A Rocha, which strives to see the transformation of people and places by showing God’s love for all creation. Through my work, I’ve come to find there are many diverse and wonderful reasons to steward the environment from a Christian perspective. Even more, these reasons span the political spectrum and the Christian traditions.
God loves and cares for creation, and not just the human part of it. Psalm 24 tells us the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. We can also see that the whole of the trinity is engaged with creation. In Colossians 1:16–20, Paul tells us that Christ Jesus is the creator, sustainer, and redeemer of all things – not just people! Ruach is the Hebrew word for “spirit” and “breath.” We are told of a star breathing God (Psalm 33:6) who also breathes life into all living things (Psalm 104:27–30). My favourite though, is how the Father brags to Job about the eccentricities of the animals: Ostrich is fast – but a terrible parent (Job 39:13–18). God considers creation to have inherent value.
We are part of creation too. It sounds obvious, but we often forget. In the creation story we are told that God spoke many things into existence. But God formed Adam from the adamah, a human from the humus, an earthling from the earth. We’ve been created for and from the world we live in. We are made up of the same elements as the rest of our universe and participate in their exchange through things like eating and decomposing. Although we have created the illusion of distance from the natural world in our current society, we are still ultimately dependent on the natural systems of our world for our basic human needs.
But even if these two foundational points are not convincing, there are many areas of Christian interest that are heavily affected by the ways we steward the environment.
The poorest and most vulnerable people in this world are often affected first, and most severely, by climate change and environmental degradation. Raphael Magambo, the A Rocha National Director in Kenya, talks about how 70 percent of Kenyan communities depend on the soil as farmers. When previously dependable weather patterns change, these communities face major challenges. This is a personal experience for him, as his brother has had devastating losses in crop yields because of changing weather patterns.
A Rocha U.K., along with other like-minded organizations, has created a resource describing a hopeful, Christian response to climate change. This includes an examination of climate change’s impact on the poor. In a video by Tearfund, the story of a man named Andrew, from Malawi. Andrew explains that because of a changing climate, his crop yield is halved. When the rain does come, it often causes flooding which covers his fields with feet of sand.
Here in Canada, a significant obstacle to reconciliation between Settlers and Indigenous peoples is the destruction of the land. David Scott, who is a part of Swan Lake First Nation, spoke to us at an A Rocha event in November. Scott explained that he is one of the last on his reserve who knows the traditional songs for the Sun Dance. The dance had several purposes, but one was to recommit to the land. We can see that this commitment perseveres, as groups of Canada’s Indigenous peoples are often at the forefront of environmental activism in Canada.
Scott is also one of the last of his generation who is fluent in Ojibwe and Saulteaux: “I see young people that are trying to find their way back…. They’re struggling to find their way back but they don’t know their language.” Scott laments the loss of language as an obstacle to Indigenous peoples’ healing. Land has always been a key influence on indigenous languages and identity; Scott suggests that reconnecting with the land can be a step toward healing. He described a profoundly helpful experience his mother had while revisiting the landscapes of her upbringing. If Settlers want to take reconciliation seriously, we must commit to environmental stewardship as a way to express solidarity with Indigenous peoples as well as to support them in healing.
Creation connects us to our neighbours. Creation is God’s and that alone makes it worth caring for. But when we come to understand how our consumer-based habits of use and throw away can have real impacts on others around the world, we see that environmental stewardship is also a way to practice love and justice for our neighbours, both near and far. In my own life, caring for creation and understanding how this fits into God’s work in this world has deepened my faith. It has also helped replace my youthful arrogance with a patient, yet active, hope for our world.