Sarah Bath, Program Associate Center for Applied Biodiversity Science at Conservation International

Summary: As Christians, when we take up our responsibility of caring for God’s creation, our stewardship of this earth will result in many blessings. The author challenges us develop a biblically-grounded approach toward the environment.

A great responsibility

When it comes to ecology, the Christian’s responsibility is even greater than that of the non-Christian. Our calling to environmental ethics begins with the strong history observed throughout the Bible.

We face many global issues today, but some of the most pressing involve our environment. Environmental issues no longer concern a few—they concern many—and they affect everyone. Facing a past in which we have taken advantage of nature and exploited what it has to offer has wreaked havoc on our earth for generations still to come. Advances in science and technology and enormous population increases have placed incredible pressure on our resources. Increasing wastelands and depleted forests, changes in climates, droughts, floods, fires, and threatening pollution are exhausting our natural environment at an alarming rate.

Christians are not known for leading out in conservation projects or environmental education. Most environmental programs and advocacy groups are not affiliated with Christian churches. As Christians, it is vital that we be concerned with the welfare of the individual, but we often overlook the environment in which that individual lives. What happens when he or she gets sick from extreme pollution or from eating contaminated fish? Where should we stand on such issues?

Sadly, it has taken devastating environmental crises like the ever-increasing ?hole? in the ozone layer, the loss of numerous plants and animals, and disastrous climate changes to arouse ?the need to revive a theology concerned with Creation as well as redemption? (S. H. Nasr, Religion and the Order of Nature, Oxford University Press, 1996, p. 192). Yet some Christians believe that direct involvement in environmental issues will detract from Christ’s command to spread the gospel. They argue that government and other specialized organizations, not the church, should deal with these issues.

Dust to dust

Adam was made from the dust of the earth. And God tells us that in this present world, when we have lived life, we will return to dust (Gn 3:19). In that sense, we belong to the earth just as much as the earth belongs to us! Further, the covenant that God made with Noah after the flood was really a covenant with all creation: ?I will remember my promise to you and to all the animals that a flood will never again destroy all living beings ? that is the sign of the promise which I am making to all living beings? (Gn 9:15-17).

God takes stewardship seriously. He loves His creation and He calls us to respect and care for the earth. When He returns He will reward those who have reverence for Him, great and small (Rv 11:16-18). Christ’s return is also designated as the time ?to destroy those who destroy the earth?! That’s quite a consequence for the actions we have become accustomed to in neglecting our natural environment.

A community approach

In his book, God’s World: A Theology of the Environment, Ken Gnanakan uses Christ’s command to love God with all our hearts and our neighbor as ourselves to remind Christians that, ideally, love for God ?should lead us to a deeper dedication to our Creator? and must also ?draw us into a more wholesome relationship with creation? (p. 174). The command to love one another will move us away from an individualized ethic and lead us toward a community approach, where we see the needs of others being as important as our own!

We need to develop a biblically-grounded attitude toward nature (Ibid. 4). We believe God created the world and cares for it and He wants us to be concerned for it. Psalm 24:1 asserts that ?the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof? and, therefore, should be treated with respect for Him. Not only did God establish ownership of the earth at creation, He has plans for a renewed earth. There is a sustaining relationship between God and earth which shows continuing creative and re-creative processes even today (Ibid, 34).

A complete health message

The Adventist church’s concern for and powerful message about health has made it famous around the globe. Many of our hospitals are able to boast ?the best? or ?the most? for issues relating to excellent patient care. In his 1995 lecture given at Loma Linda University—?Conceptual Foundations of Our Health Message?—Jack Provonsha, MD, PhD, speaks of the history of healthcare in the SDA church: ?If one worships God, it necessarily follows that one will respect His Creation, of which the human body is the very epitome. It is an affront to God to abuse His Creation.?*

?Adventists have done well to express their worship of God through taking care of their physical and mental health. But there is another issue these days that has a similar message. Concern for the environment around us, which actually figures so prominently in personal and social health, is also one involving respect for creation, and thus for the Creator. At creation man was given responsibility for his environment, ?to dress and to keep it.’

?The trouble is, most of the world’s environmental problems are too complex for individuals or small groups to handle. Cleaning up earth’s rivers, lakes, and skies will involve enormous expenditures of effort and money, and there are no quick fixes. It will call for massive and persistent effort applied by groups and governmental leaders over the long haul to make a difference.

?The tragedy is, we know what to do to clean things up, to restore our damaged ecosystems, and to prevent further despoiling. What is missing at every level of society is the collective will to do it ? to bring health and healing to our living environment again calls for worship of its Creator. It is an essential part of the Adventist health message.?

Sabbath and the environment

What sets the Adventist Church apart from most Christian denominations is the observance of the Seventh-day Sabbath—the final day of creation week in which God Himself rested. The fourth commandment reminds us ?the seventh day is a day of rest? dedicated to God. On that day no one is to work: ?neither you, your children, your slaves, your animals, nor the foreigners who live in your country? (Ex 20:9-10, TEV). We have been given the seventh day of the week as a day of rest, not only for ourselves, but for the earth as well. The Old Testament calendar allowed for a seven-year cycle where every seventh year the land received a sabbatical and remained fallow for one year— a year of rest (Lv 25: 2-6).

A second and equally significant belief we hold is the importance of each member’s role in Christian stewardship: ?We are God’s stewards, entrusted by Him with time and opportunities, abilities and possessions, and the blessings of the earth and its resources. We are responsible to Him for their proper use. We acknowledge God’s ownership by faithful service to Him and our fellowmen and by returning tithes and giving offerings for the proclamation of His gospel and the support and growth of His church. Stewardship is a privilege given to us by God for nurture in love and the victory over selfishness and covetousness. The steward rejoices in the blessings that come to others as a result of his faithfulness? (Seventh-day Adventists Believe ? A Biblical Exposition of 27 Fundamental Doctrines, Review and Herald Publishing, 1988, Ch. 20).

God asks us to partner with Him to care for the earth. We ought to do everything we can to maintain life on all levels, keeping the ecological balance intact. Stewardship results in many blessings—the blessings of contentment and joy for each member—and it reaps blessings for the Church as a whole, strengthening the body of Christ.

Renewing our vision

?The Seventh-day Adventist Church came on the scene in the latter half of the nineteenth century at a time of great conceptual and social excitement. A time when people were interested in nature and nature’s God in matters of health and disease. Under the guidance of God, a called people were committed to the task of selecting and developing and organizing the best worldwide system of health and healing which gave this movement a voice of authority in this dimension of the movement’s ministry? (Provonsha).

It is again time for God’s ?called people? to commit to the task of environmental stewardship—to assist in the development of systems of conservation and education that will be a testimony to our desire to care for God’s creation.


*Dr. Provonsha’s lecture is available online at: http://www.llu.edu/llu/bioethics/prov98.htm.

To learn more about Sarah’s work, visit http://www.biodiversityscience.org or email her at s.bath@conservation.org.