All Very Good: A Christian View of Ecology
by Josiah Audette
In todays lecture we will address both the eighth and ninth questions of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. The battle of the last century was the doctrine of the Inerrancy of Scripture, in this century it is that of the doctrine of Creation. Both God’s first decretive act and his specially revealed words are immediately controverted by man, “In the beginning God created…” Man ever since has sought unfalteringly to destroy the Creator. Consequently, man has started that pursuit by destroying his creation. Men who profess themselves to be wise, so became unthankful, vain fools. They bring to pass the evolution of God. From His Creator glory to creature corruptness. They observe nature around them with its division, desecration, and un-benevolence and condemn the God they deny for creating it so and derogate Christianity as having “established a dualism of man and nature, and also insisted that it is God’s will than man exploit nature for his proper ends.” The battle for the doctrine of Creation is on two fronts. The first, we as a church, as individuals, and families are highly educated and aware of, namely, how God created the world. the second battle front, which is often underestimated or neglected by the Christian community, is what it is for. Again, there are two battles in the war waged for Creation. The first is how our universe is created and the second is what it was created for. Last summer my parents encountered an old friend who was was a presbyterian pastor with his masters of divinity. Along the course of their conversation creationism was introduced. Upon being asked my parents’ old acquaintance stated that, “The jury was still out” on its viability. Later my parents told me of his statement and how they wished I was there to give a witticism to this fellows remark. Last night I finally developed a response. Before I share it however, it would be helpful for us to understand the issue at hand and especially its consequences. What has this fictional jury met for in the first place? What consequences do their decisions have? What does Scripture say?
Q. How doth God execute his decrees?
A. God executeth his decrees in the works of creation and providence.
I must say of all the catechism question thus far, this is the most self explanatory. One could very well dive into why God chose the work of creation and whilst doing so address the doctrine of the Providence of God. However, I trust from previous lectures that you already have an understanding that God created the world as a Triune undertaking, not out of a inner deficiency but of the overflow of His glory. That being so, due to recent political and cultural events I would like to specifically devote this lecture to that of creation. For the purpose of this lecture, one must merely remember from this question that creation was the first decretive action or work of God.
Q. What is the work of creation?
A. The work of creation is God’s making all things of nothing, by the word of his power, in the space of six normal consecutive days, and all very good.
BLIND FAITH OR RATIONAL FAITH.
For the purpose of clarity I annexed Spurgeon’s, “normal consecutive” to the shorter Westminster question. I am unaware of any doctrine in Scripture which presents itself so clearly, so authoritatively, and so sufficiently as the doctrine of creation in Genesis 1. The starting point for each and every Christian in receiving this doctrine is firstly that of faith in God and in His word. Our faith in God’s word rests on the objective witness of the Bible to its own authority and secondly to the internal witness of the Holy Spirit in us as believers to the Bible’s authority. As a Christian I have no problem saying that I believe in a young-earth, six literal, six normal, and six consecutive day creation accomplished by the God of the Bible. The accusation immediately received from opponents is that such is a “blind faith.” While I do not deny that it is faith, I do deny that it is blind. On the contrary, I would protest to any who said otherwise that they were functioning off of a blind, irrational faith. Morecraft acutely wrote, “Scientific investigation and human experiences can tell us nothing about the origin of the universe, since no human being was present at the creation of the universe. Therefore the theory of evolution does not have the competence to explain the origin of life. It’s basis that matter in its undeveloped state has existed eternally, is a totally undemonstratable assumption based on blind faith, not on reason, experience or scientific investigation. Moreover, it is fully in accord with the written Word of God.” Christians not the other hand do not take a “leap of faith” as evolution believers do. Francis Schaeffer illustrated the difference between a blind, leap of faith and a rational faith with the following story. Suppose you and I are hiking up a mountain through a dense fog and quickly loose all sense of direction and location. There is no hope for us finding our way back or surviving the freezing temperatures overnight. However, suppose I decide that if I were to leap of the edge of the mountainside and possibly land on a ledge lower down beneath the fog I could survive the night. So, with absolutely no knowledge or any reason to support my decision, I leap of the cliff into the fog. This would be a kind of faith, a leap of faith. Yet, suppose again however that we are once again lost in the fog on the side of the mountain and heard a voice through the fog from another ridge which told us to jump off the edge of the cliff and assured us a safe landing and survival on a ledge below. Naturally, we would want to confirm this voice’s identity and ascertain whether the voice knew what they were speaking about. In our desperation we would ask sufficient questions and become convinced by its answers. And if in the course of our questions we learned that the voice was a local mountain guide who lived from early childhood in these very mountainous parts we would, out of desperation and shortness of time, hang off the cliff and drop. This again is faith, but a faith of a very different kind from a blind, and irrational one. So with regards to the origin of the universe, it is only the Christian who can provide an authoritative, rational, and dependable answer to that event which was unseen by any one but God. So my response to my parent’s acquaintance who considered that the jury was still out on the subject of creationism would be, “Then out with the jury.” Because I agree with the atheist that there is no place for blind leaps of faith. Certainly not with juries.
GLORY & DOMINION
Again, as we are already well educated on the doctrine, science, and evidences for a six literal day creation of the universe I will succeed quickly to the next battle-front. Namely, what God’s decretive act of creation is for. I would phrase my answer just as John Piper phrases the answer to the first catechism question. The chief end of nature is to glorify God by the dominion of mankind over it. St. Ignatius of Loyola stated, “Man is created to praise, reverence and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul. The other things on the face of the earth are created for man to help him in attaining the end for which he is created. Hence, man is to make use of them in as far as they help him in the attainment of his end.” Dominion, as Dr. R.C. Sproul put it, is, “all about conquest, that’s what were made for, man lives for a cause, and this is the cause of the crusade of which we have a call, to make manifest the reign of Jesus Christ.” Man was created for God’s glory, and creation was created for man’s dominion. Possession of the earth is the privilege of God’s grace, and as man reflects God’s glory, the earth and all things therein reflect God’s glory. Because the glory of God prevails over man, His glory prevails thereby also over man’s dominion. When man forsakes his dominion mandate over the earth, the earth then gains a dominion and judgment over man. Just as when man is holy his dominion will likewise be holy, when man is profane so is nature. Nature becomes profane when fallen men abandon the development of the Kingdom of God on earth to instead exploit the earth for the Kingdom of man and the tower of Babel. Francis Bacon gave this marvellous statement on dominion, “Man by the fall fell at the same time from his state of innocence and from his dominion over nature. Both of these losses, however, even in this life, can in some part be repaired; the former by religion and faith, the latter by the arts and sciences.”
ENVIRONMENTALISM VS DOMINION
Francis Schaeffer, who I will often be quoting in this lecture from his book, “Pollution and the Death of Man” wrote the following, “As Christians we should know the roots in order to know why those who speak and act against Christianity are doing so, and in order to know the strength of the Christian answer in each area.” So who are the antagonists which speak out against the content of the Westminster Catechism question concerning God’s work of creation? Additionally, what our antagonists saying when the speak out against it? Furthermore, what is the strength of the Christian answer to them? When it comes to the Catechisms question regarding God’s work of creation debate often in focus is that of creationism vs. evolutionism. Nonetheless, at this point in our lecture we are going to observe the debate when it comes to the purpose of creation or nature, namely, dominion vs. our antagonist party, environmentalists. The latter, environmentalism, is becoming an ever increasing rancorous attack on dominion, and thereby, an attack on God’s work of creation. Dominion is a mandate given by God the Creator to man for his dominion over nature, to take ownership and responsibility, stewardship and care, where cultivation, utilization, and development of the earth is a necessary aspect. Environmentalism is a mandate given by atheists, pantheists, and panentheists, to society for their domination under nature where political, legal, and economical domination is a necessary aspect. We have to recognize environmentalism, not merely as a movement, nor just as a political capaign, but as an antithetical worldview to the Biblical doctrine of creation.
Why has this word-view risen to such heights in our society? What is it’s origins? Environmentalist, Lynn White, acutely wrote the following, “What people do about their ecology depends on what they think about themselves in relation to things around them. Human ecology is deeply conditioned by beliefs about our nature and our destiny – that is, by religion.” Summarily, men do what they think. Environmentalism is a strong ethics based worldview as Richard Means wrote, “The great fault of all ethics hitherto has been that they believed themselves to have to deal only with relation of man to man. The notion that man’s relation to nature is a moral one finds very few articulate champions, even among contemporary religious writers.” Up to this point Christians can very much concur with the statements of these men. How we treat ecology, the balance of living things in nature, does pivot upon our religious beliefs and is an ethical decision to make. Furthermore the decisions we make concerning nature and ecology today are becoming increasingly important. The environmentalist is witnessing every day a drastic upsetting in the balance of nature. They realize that nature is divided and it is a matter of upmost importance, of quality of life, and of future survival. Their only theory for this division in nature is the greed and haste of pollution and only plan redemption is social control. The Christian too witnesses great division in nature with every day but knows the reason for its “groaning and travailing in pain” as the apostle Paul wrote. The reason is the Fall of Man. When man fell, man was decidedly divided from God. Man was also divided from other men. Man was divided from nature, and nature was divided from nature. Now the environmentalist seeks to heal this division in nature, but not through God’s provided way of redemption.
CHANGED THE TRUTH OF GOD
Environmentalism as I stated previously is a radically antithetical worldview to the Bible. Firstly, its primary doctrine is the denial of a Biblical Creator. To the environmentalist, as E. Calvin Beisner wrote, “If there is no personal Creator distinct from the universe, who created the universe out of nothing, then the universe effectively takes God’s place, since it turns out to be the Supreme Being. If all of nature is part god, it becomes impossible to distinguish sacred from profane. Consequently, environmentalism tends to define all of the earth and all that dwells therein as holy.” Of course then, when everything is holy, nothing is. Why do they hate God so? We as Christians realize that the word as it is today is in an abnormal state from the normal state it had in the Garden of Eden. However, the environmentalist in denying God’s original perfect creation, sees the world in its abnormal state today as normal, that is to say, the way it has always been. They see its pain, its groaning, its travailing and say only an evil creator could create the world in such a state. The Christian answer is simple, He didn’t, but you did. Now it stands to reason that since the first environmentalist lie is about the Creator’s existence, the second would be about His creative purpose, dominion. “The Lord gave; man hath taken away. Cursed be the name of man.” This is a statement concerning the ocean written on a tombstone on a beach in California. The teaching of environmentalism on the Christian dominion mandate can be summarized in Lynn White’s remarks, “Christianity, in absolute contrast to ancient paganism and Asia’s religions, not only established dualism of man and nature, but also insisted that it is God’s will that man exploit nature for his proper ends.” The second lie of the environmentalist is that dominion is simply and excuse for exploitive domination. Now that the environmentalist has summarily dismissed God and his overpopulating capitalistic Christians, they proceed to lie about the redemption of our fallen world.
The first indoctrination of the environmentalist is the romanticizing of nature. Incessantly in media, films, and papers you see this romanticizing of nature. Romanticizing simply means that one looks at an object of nature and projects into it human reactions, emotions, and feelings. The pure fabrication and mysticism of the trees and the birds and the bees having feelings, thoughts, reactions, and even souls as we humans do. As ludicrous as it sounds it is a logical conclusion which follows from the denial of the Creator. If God did not create the word, then mankind was not created in His image, and if mankind is not created in his image we have no inherent difference than the animal. Romanticizing is also the attempt to evade the reality of fallen nature. It is a futile attempt to explain the benevolent and un-benevolent sides of nature. Rather than the division in nature being a indictment and judgment against fallen man, it is simply romanticized. But this leaves the environmentalist with a series dilemma. As Francis Schaeffer put it, “To project our feelings and thoughts into a tree would mean that we would have no base upon which to justify cutting down and using the tree as a shelter for man.” The sane and Biblical response of the Christian is, no, to romanticize a tree is to invade the true reality of nature. While we are not to romanticize the tree or nature, Christians must also realize that God made it out of nothing, just like he did us, and therefore it deserves from us the same value, respect, and use as God endowed it with when he created it. Once again the root of the environmental debate is origins. Environmentalists have a wrong sense of origin; and in having the wrong sense of origin, they have no categories sufficient to treat nature as nature any more than they have to treat man as man. Could their be an any more extreme and grievous example of this severe confusion than the saving of unwanted pets and the murder of unwanted children? Francis Schaeffer encapsulated this misconception, “So if nature and the things of nature are only a meaningless series of particulars in a decorated universe, with no universal to give them meaning, then nature is become absurd, the wonder is gone from it. And wonder is equally gone from me, because I too am a finite being.” Environmentalists have now fully worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator by synthesizing humanity into nature via romanticism. As Dr. Vishal Mangalwadi observed, “Once you being to worship nature, you are making yourself inferior to nature, which is paganism. If I am responsible to take care of nature then I am the ruler over nature. That is why environmentalists are destroying the very basis for environmentalism, which is man has a unique dignity as being made in God’s image and created to govern nature. Pagans believe that mother, mother earth, is to take care of them, not them take care of her.” To the environmentalist nature is best untouched by human hands. Nature is no longer to be ruled by mankind but mankind is to be ruled by nature.
CREATION & DOMINION
The Church has not gone unadulterated by the murderous heresy of the environmentalist. Modern Christians have been notorious for imagining a dichotomy between the spiritual and the natural. Even among us young earth creationists we have the tendency to reduce nature to merely an academic proof of the existence of God with otherwise little value in itself. We have come to accept a platonic conception of the natural as having less value than the spiritual. Of being so heavenly minded we are no earthly good as the saying goes. This again comes down to a wrong sense of origins and a mistaken belief of the future redemption as well. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” There is no place here for any sense of “lowness.” To think of any created thing as intrinsically “low” or “inferior” or “menial” is to insult the God who made it. This truth rests upon the reality of creation being ex-nihlo, that it to say, out of nothing by God. It follows then that since all things, including man, are created equally out of nothing by God that they are equal in their origins. Nature does have intrinsic value, the value that God endowed each thing with when he created it. If we deny value to these created things it not only insults God but it degrades us. If we treat nature as having no intrinsic value, our own value is diminished. God did indeed create things in a sense of order and category, but for us to imagine the spiritual being superior to an inherently evil or deficient natural order is to reject God’s first decree of creation. On the side of God’s infinity and eternality, everything, the man, the animal, the plant, and the machine are equally separated. To say that we are closer to God’s infinity and eternality than an animal would be like a tall man boasting he’s closer to the sun than a child. But on the side of God’s personality, man, unlike all else, is created in His image. Therefore man’s relationship is upward rather than downward. He is united to God in his image; but he is united to all other creatures as being created. Man must not diminish or deny the proper relationship he has downward on the side of him being just as equally created out of nothing and dependant upon God as the fowls of the air or the lilies of the field, or the grass of the field clothed by God. The second reality which corrects the misconception of the spiritual having some superiority over the natural is Christ’s ascension. We often emphasize his resurrection but neglect that Christ ascended into heaven as the incarnate God-man. Therefore the material and the spiritual are not opposed. In fact our bodies are going to be raised as Christ’s body was. Much to the chagrin of those who embrace the dichotomy of the physical from the spiritual Christ sits at the right hand of God in incarnate human form. This is the line of serration between the Christian and the Environmentalist. The Christians relationship is primarily upward. The Environmentalists relationship is totally downward.
DOMINION VS DOMINATION
So, having reviewed both the creationists and the environmentalists view of God, origins, dominion, and the fallen world let us observe how each worldview seeks to heal the divided world we live in. For the environmentalists as stated previously, “Environmentalism is a mandate given by atheists, pantheists, and panentheists, to society for their domination under nature where political, legal, and economical domination is a necessary aspect.” For them nature is divided due to the the sin of a society having an overpopulating, capitalist word view of historic Western Christian civilization. Redemption and healing is achieved through reversing the decree of God. No longer does man have dominion of nature, but nature has domination over man. The saviour is national government controlling our laws, economics, property, and population. Dominion on the other hand embraces a proper view of origins. God created everything equally out of nothing. He created everything in its own sphere and category and treats them throughout redemption history in their respective categories. He treats his creation with integrity; each in its own order, each in the way he made it. So it is that the Christian is a man who has a true reason for dealing with each created thing with a high level of respect. So it is that the Christian can rationally refuse to mythologize and romanticize nature as much as he can refuse to dichotomize it. So it is that the Christian can not only say that one day there will be healing to the that which the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain, but that substantial healing can be attained now. It is the Christian that knows that his division from God is healed by justification. That their division from other men is healed by reconciliation. That their devision from nature is healed by stewardship. That nature’s division is healed by godly, holy dominion. As Schaeffer wrote, “The Christian is called upon to exhibit this dominion, but exhibit it rightly: treating the things as having value in itself, exercising dominion without being destructive.” As Francis Bacon observed, the first fruits of this is a new sense of beauty. No longer with the natural by romanticized or minimized, but recognized with the sense of beauty that God has created all of nature with. So practically how is this realized. When it comes to the proper treatment of nature mankind is faced with two choices. The first is an economical one and the second is a matter of timeliness. These are also the two leading factors of destruction, money and time, or to say it otherwise, greed and haste. We can take the extra time and extra money to develop the Kingdom of God here on earth or we can choose the greed and haste to build the Kingdom of Man. Our decision between the two ultimately comes down to our view of origins. That God created the world, all out of nothing, all by his power, all in six normal consecutive day, and all very good. Our duty as Christians is to keep it, by exercising godly dominion, all very good.