ECOLOGY AND MISSIONS GO TOGETHER
Dr. Valson Abraham
When God created man in His image, He mandated him to “subdue” the earth. What does “subdue” mean in today’s world?
In India, the Bhopal disaster of 1984 still haunts us more than 30 years after leaks from a pesticide factory emitted toxic gases that spread far over the surrounding area to injure nearly 600,000 people and kill outright many thousands of people. To this day, many people continue to suffer from the criminal negligence of a few who failed to take seriously their responsibilities to others.
Everywhere, it seems, human society faces dangers of air and water pollution, destruction of rainforests, animal, fish and plant species, resulting in poverty and disease for millions. A recent National Geographic article describes an ecological horror in Africa where poachers destroy 30,000 African elephants a year to supply their tusks to an illegal ivory market in China. They kill anyone who tries to stop them.
From time to time, we hear of great oil tankers that lose their cargoes into the oceans and destroy all manner of sea life and animal life, and permanently destroy the delicately balanced ecosystems over vast areas.
Is this what God meant by “subdue”?
Nearly fifty years ago, American history Professor Lynn White said, “We shall continue to have a worsening ecological crisis until we reject the Christian [italics mine] axiom that nature has no reason for existence save to serve man.” Dr. White represents many secular ecologists convinced that belief in the Bible caused today’s ecological crisis.
God could not have meant what Professor White thinks He meant. He created the earth in all its complexity. He declared it “good,” independent of its usefulness to human beings. God has compassion upon all He makes (Revelation 4:11).
When He assigned humanity to care for creation, they were, at that time, without sin. He intended them to care for creation as He would care for it Himself. Those who seek to become great in the kingdom of God must become servants of all. That means to serve both humans and the environment He has created.
When God commanded humanity to “subdue” the earth, He did not command the first humans to selfishly exploit the earth for profit but to treat it as benevolent rulers. Benevolence toward His creation reflects His image in us.
The Fall produced not only hostility toward God but also toward His creation. Human beings began to treat environment as an instrument to serve our own ends independent of God’s intent.
Today, most corporations do not invest in eternity but care only about gaining profit. They care little about stewardship, even if it destroys the environment and ruins the lives and livelihoods of others. Too many corporations have become servants of greed rather than servants of God, and millions of us pay the price, even with our lives. For such people, “subdue” has come to mean “exploit,” but exploitation was never God’s intent.
Jesus Christ came into the world He created, not just to redeem fallen humanity but to redeem all creation (Romans 8:21). His kingdom is already at work in our fallen and polluted world, and we who are called by His name are called to become His agents in renewal.
One of those avenues of renewal is care for His created world. Environmental exploitation and human poverty go together. As believers in Christ, we care for others by caring for the environment in which they live. We help needy and exploited people to recover their water supplies, fish stock, soil and other resources destroyed by exploiters. In our acts of restoring the environment, we also express Jesus’ concern for the oppressed.
When we help others to recover from ecological destruction, we also open doors among many of them for the Good News of Christ who will ultimately and perfectly redeem all His creation in the New Heaven and New Earth.
Ecology and missions go together. God came into the world to participate in and rescue our lives and redeem His world. We must follow the pattern of Jesus, and like Him, depend upon the Holy Spirit to help us meet the great needs around us.
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Father God, thank you for the great beauty of your creation. Help us to see your glory in all the things and in the people you have made. Give us wisdom to become your agents of renewal and transformation in all of your creation, changing lives and improving the environment around us until you return once again to make all things new.
In Jesus’ Name. Amen