Sunday, June 27, 2010
Question: Shouldn't we spend our time and resources helping poor people rather than animals or plants?
Vinoth Ramachandran once remarked that the question is like asking a poor mother not to bother about her child’s education because feeding him is more important. Of course, both basic needs should be our concern although in some contexts, saving lives would have higher priority than environmental conservation.
In most situations, however, it’s not an either/or choice. The well-being of rural poor is often dependent on a sustainable ecosystem. The natural resources are their ‘pharmacy’ (from which they gather medicinal herbs) and ‘local supermarket’ (from which they are supplied daily needs) and water supply system. Environmental degradation disproportionately affects the poor. Since there is close interdependence in the ecosystem, animal and plant extinctions would ultimately be unhealthy to people as well. Helping people to manage and develop their natural resources in a sustainable manner would in turn alleviate poverty.
Therefore, we must care for both people and for non-human elements of God’s creation.
Obeying God’s commandment to be responsible stewards of His world is also an expression of love for the Creator and for people, especially the rural poor.
The main challenge to creation care is to start with ourselves. None of us likes to change our lifestyle if it involves perceived inconvenience. If each of us care enough to act in the light of what we discover, we can begin to live a simpler lifestyle, reduce pollution load and free up more resources for those really in need.
Dean Ohlman wrote, “We must not prioritize our ethical obligations to such an extent that we excuse the plight of animals made to suffer unnecessarily by our neglect or cruelty.”
Question: Isn't this business about ‘saving the earth’ a distraction to the church’s task of ‘saving souls’?
This question is best addressed by asking a similar question – “Is parenting a distraction from our Christian task of evangelism?”
For those of us with children, parenting is a time-consuming responsibility we carry out daily. It’s part and parcel of living in obedience to God. We rarely need to choose between caring for our children and witnessing for Christ. We perform each duty when it is required and doing either one does not contradict the other.
In the same way, Dean Ohlman observed that “earth-keeping is a natural and integral aspect of our day-to-day decision-making regarding spending, work, consumption, transportation, waste management, and so forth. The problem is that not until recently have we come to understand how irresponsible we have been regarding this foundational aspect of daily living.”
A Christian analysis of environmental degradation sees its primary cause in our broken relationship with God which leads us on a futile quest for fulfillment at the expense of the earth. Instead of purveying more gloomy news and passing more laws, lasting progress can only come about when people have a radical change of heart. And the fruit of gospel witness should result in transformed hearts and reordered lifestyles towards God, other people and the creation as part of our discipleship.
The conservation movement today is in dire need of hope that the good news has to offer.
Not only that. Every time we care for creation, we are really witnessing to the Creator.
We are demonstrating to the community the practical outworking of the gospel with our lives.
For instance, A Rocha, a Christian conservation movement, took a piece of unkempt land in West London and turned it into an oasis for wildlife called Minet Country Park. It raised questions among the neighboring people, “Why are they doing this?” It gives opportunities for them to find out that our ecology is based on the gospel and our gospel is centered on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Question: What’s the point? The ecological problems are so huge. What I do won't make any difference.”
Environmental stewardship is a loving response to God and turning away from consumerist lifestyles. As Christians, we can do what is right not primarily because of the perceived usefulness, but as an act of worship. This perspective frees us from the despair that secular environmentalists face – to act rightly while trusting in the sovereignty of God for the results even when the circumstances look bleak.