© 2017 Robert Osburn
Several nights ago, I watched The Privileged Planet, a 2005 film that makes the case that our planet is perfectly positioned to sustain life. Afterward, Sue, one of our small group members, raised the question, “If, as many atheists and others claim, the earth is an insignificant speck of dust in a vast universe, then why are we humans putting massive energy and money into saving it?”
How do we juxtapose Al Gore’s environmental film An Inconvenient Truth (2006) with Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (a 2014 television series that updated Carl Sagan’s famous 1980 series that made the case that we are living in a cold, dark universe where “the Cosmos is all there is or was or ever will be…”)? What’s the big deal with global warming when our home is nothing but a “pale blue dot” (Sagan’s memorable metaphor for our earth)?
A pitiless universe surely will make us question biking our way through a Minnesota blizzard just to save the environment (believe me, there are many folks in Minneapolis who do just that every winter!). Bottom line: Everything living ends up cold, dead, and stiff, whether saving the world or enjoying one last hedonic romp in the hay.
“What a great poke in Al Gore’s eye,” I thought, and then I realized the log in my own and that of many fellow believers.
How many of us, while declaring that “He shines in all that’s fair,” heedlessly abuse God’s good gift of this earth? This past summer I have spent several days in the beautiful facilities of several well-known Christian universities, only to nearly freeze to death in both because the air conditioning was cranked down to freezer-like temperatures. Not only did some of us need hours outside to thaw, but the tragedy was hundreds, if not thousands of donor dollars wasted because those in charge of facilities were irresponsible…and certainly could care less about the impact of wasted energy on our environment.
If we expect our atheist materialist friends to be consistent with their materialist presuppositions, then we must be, likewise, when it comes to our full-bore Christian theism. What’s good for the skeptical goose is also good for the gospel-loving gander.
While Carl Sagan was never convincing when he argued that we have a “responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot,” God’s case for earth care is far more compelling: He has given human beings the primary responsibility to manage what first belongs to Him. Having established our identity (as His image-bearers), then God tasks us with our purpose in Genesis 1:26: “Have dominion (wise, stewardly rule) over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the wrath and over every creeping things that creeps on the earth.”
Rather than meaningless slugs whose only satisfactions are power, prestige, sex, and drugs, every one of us are invested with a two-fold purpose: 1) Wisely steward the natural resources God has given us in the first place; and 2) Apply God-given rationality and creativity in order to create, out of those natural resources, new products and services that can further enhance God’s glory and ensure human flourishing. To one degree or another, everything that humans undertake is either a fulfillment or a rejection of God’s command to “have dominion,” whether writing accounting textbooks, taking out the trash, building houses, restarting refineries in floor-ravaged Houston, teaching students in Alaskan villages, studying environmental science, designing and making dresses, farming our great American prairie, designing computer chips, writing this blog, or bicycling through another snowstorm on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis.
Now, lest the account in Genesis One (often called the “creation mandate”, or the “cultural mandate”) seem like some utopian fairytale, we ought to remind ourselves of a three-letter word that shadows our souls: sin. Not only has sin (see Genesis 3) loaded us with guilt and laced us with evil, it has distorted our capacities to properly and wisely steward the planet. Under the tutelage of sin, we are prone to waste what we ought to conserve, while creating life-destroying systems (such as Marxism, reckless forms of capitalism, and tyrannical dictatorships) that undermine those two purposes for which we were created. That means that sinful humans can and do put our planet at enormous risk, regardless of what you think about global warming. We have, sadly, been alienated from our planet by our sin.
That means, of course, that Christ’s redemption, accomplished through the Cross on which He gave His life, restores our proper relationship to the planet as wise stewards. Rather than poke out the eyes of a presumptuous environmentalist who wants to argue that we live in a purposeless, random universe on an earth that we must desperately make plans to save, let us arise, humble ourselves, and engage in our grand, God-given human mission to care for creation and to create those products and services that make our hearts and lives pulsate with life and a love for our Creator.
So, get back on that bike and save the earth if that is one way you feel called to live out Genesis 1:26. And, if you are called to add that nice addition using methods and materials that demonstrate wise care and concern for our God-created planet, rejoice. Some of us, no doubt, will have to build higher sea walls and find better ways to protect ourselves and our neighbors from extreme weather events.
At least we are doing it for a privileged planet that owes its existence to our Creator, not for a pale blue dot that has none.