We have but only one earth, one home. When we die, the earth remains. We are only visitors in a place. We have been entrusted to keep this world by God until we leave. Let us not fail Him.
And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:10b)
Materialism and the culture of now are old enemies to humanity and the earth. People who subscribe to a materialistic view are always looking forward, towards the next new movie release, the next paycheck, the next whatever. They cannot wait for anything and will do anything to get to the front of the line, both literally and metaphorically. This worldview is held not only by individuals, but also by businesses. What matters most is the bottom line. Who suffers does not matter (much) as long as individuals see themselves as most important and superior to others. This is the centuries-old religion of materialism.
Something else, maybe more insidious, lurks in Christian theology and is the reason why environmentalism is a non-issue for many evangelical Christians. I see evidence that our belief in heaven after death blinds us to the suffering of our current home. Now, I am not going to get into a theological debate here about the existence of heaven or soteriology. What I will argue, however, is that believing our final heavenly reward is all that matters is both damaging and completely contrary to much of the Judeo-Christian tradition. The world was meant to be saved, not something we are saved from.
Seeing the earth as temporary and replaceable is a selfish way of seeing everything. Those who follow this new religion of materialism, which is sadly, many people, create two spheres of religiosity: the sacred of God and the secular of the World. These two spheres are now seen as divided in the modern world. Environmentalism tries to combat this by showing that business is not just a secular way of living; protecting our earth is a sacred duty. John Calvin was one of the primary theologians who discussed how priests are not the only ones in a God-ordained position, as laypersons are also placed for God’s purpose. This means the businessperson and the factory worker need to see their work as holy, not just a means for their next paycheck.
Nearly all Native American tribes have a very sacred view of nature, and much truth exists in this understanding. The world was created by God. God, after creating the world and everything in it, said that it was good. Who are we to say that what God has called good, we can call it bad, or nothing? Or yeah it’s pretty good, but I am more important? Some believe that our souls are what really matter, and damn the body and earth, because they will be damned anyway. This isn’t just about reducing pollution; it’s about preserving earth’s beauty. I am saddened when I go outside, even at my father’s farm, and cannot see the stars because of light pollution. It is sad that expansion—needing more stuff, even if it’s “green”—takes precedence over natural beauty. This is exactly what is happening at Standing Rock and across the country. The good news, though, is that people are fighting back. People are beginning to see, with clearer eyes, that land is sacred. The earth is sacred. To protect it is not simply good politics, but a divine responsibility.
This world is not our earth, but it is God’s earth. We are by no means entitled to abuse the earth in order to make an extra dollar or to make life easier. We should respect our beautiful world and understand that we need to be frugal with what we are given and how we live. People quote Genesis and say that we have dominion over the world, but what God also is implying is the responsibility to keep it. A landlord has dominion over his property, which means a responsibility to keep the building running and tenants happy. We are not entitled to destroy what God has created, but we are entitled to protect and keep it thriving.
A previous version of this blog was first posted on “Blog of a Once Dead Man” in 2010 and has been updated for this publication. You may view the original here.
Evan J. Stark is a graduate from University of Dubuque Theological Seminary with a Masters of Divinity. He provides pulpit supply around Eastern Iowa and works in social services. Evan is an amateur theologian who focuses on the works of Karl Barth and church doctrine. Evan and his wife, Jess, have a loving dog and a one-eyed cat. He spends his free time playing board games and video games or enjoying a good beer.