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Will There Be Green People In Heaven?

April 22, 2011

The "awe" of God's creation ... flora, fauna and "man"

 (March 2011)

In the past few decades, in business and political realms as well as the media, more and more attention has been placed on the environment with the admonition to live and work “greener.”  Unfortunately, in some circles, these green initiatives are perceived as “left-wing” political ploys by those who take a more conservative mindset toward business and politics.  Such a growing animosity has reared its head even on the religious front, as some Christians believe that environmentalism or “green initiatives” are nothing more than worshipping the Earth rather than the Creator of the Earth.   The polarization that these thoughts and initiatives have created amongst friends, neighbors, co-workers and church members, warrants a personal study to discover exactly what the Bible says about “green living” and more specifically, “stewardship of the Earth,” and to answer the question, “Will there be GREEN PEOPLE in heaven?”

From a personal standpoint, several years ago I was confronted by a fellow church member with the notion that one cannot be Christian and “green” at the same time.  I am certain that this well-meaning saint took this stance because she associated environmentalism with the Democratic platform, without any considerable amount of critical thinking to what she was actually saying. To give her the benefit of the doubt, I know that she was a woman who supported community recycling efforts by placing those items in a separate bin on trash pick-up days.  She was mostly disturbed by what she deemed as “tree-huggers” who were extremists.  They “scared” her, she often said. Ironically, this woman and her husband were heavily involved in the evangelism efforts of our church and it was a burden on their hearts to accomplish the GREAT COMMISSION and see as many people as possible “go to heaven.”  This “green” stuff only served as a distraction from their task of reaching a lost and dying world.  On the same point, she felt that those who were overly concerned with recycling, reducing and re-using were “as lost as lost can be” and selfish in their message that others should adapt to their environmentally-friendly resolve.

Another perspective to be considered here is if Christianity is anti-environment? According to Lynn White, Jr, a professor of medieval history at Princeton, Stanford, and University of California-Los Angeles, the responsibility for this ecological crisis on Earth can be blamed on the “Judeo-Christian tradition.” (Lynn White, 1967)  In this article, he cited numerous biblical references where good stewardship of creation is proposed, but at the same time recognized that man’s economy and God’s economy are not the same. Furthermore, some publicized statements or sound-bytes made by professing born-again Christian politicians support the idea that “green” and Christian cannot go hand in hand and has proven White’s point.  An example of such a statement comes from James Watt, who became U.S. Secretary of the Interior under Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s. In his article, “Ours Is the Earth,” his perspective was that the earth is “merely a temporary way station on the road to eternal life…The earth was put here by the Lord for His people to subdue and to use for profitable purposes on their way to the hereafter.” (James Watt, 1982) (Deem, 2011)

An article in ONEARTH by Christian environmentalist, writer and speaker, Bill McKibben, states that in many conservative Christian circles, “Environmentalism [was] a dirty word.” (McKibben, 2006) That’s not to say that Christian people are really not concerned about the environment, but rather that there’s been a certain “taboo” to giving critical thought to these issues. The fact is, there are many Christians who reduce, reuse and recycle all the time.  But at the same time, one could visit most church parking lots on Sunday and discover an equal number or more Christian families who drive all three of their SUVs to church. Another obvious contradiction to good stewardship are the hundreds and hundreds of church bulletins that are printed each week and left in the seats or floor, only to be thrown away. These practices are not good stewardship of money or natural resources.

As I pondered these attitudes toward stewardship of the Earth, I started asking myself why there was such a gap in the philosophies relating to environmentalism and if it could be true that being good stewards of the Earth and being a good Christian is “oxymoronish.”  Then I realized that in more than thirty years of church attendance, I have heard very few sermons or lessons on our responsibility in caring for the Earth. However, I’ve heard a great number of sermons on stewardship of financial resources and GIVING.  This realization brought me to the conclusion that the gap comes from a lack of understanding in the relationship between economics and ecology, and perhaps each of us have succumb to the worship of an even lesser, but obviously powerful god … the almighty dollar.

Ironically, Christians and environmentalists alike are interested in the same end-goal: SAVING THE EARTH. In fact, if one looks at Jesus’ Great Commission to His church, thinking globally and acting locally began right there on that mountain near Galilee. Now of course, Jesus wasn’t referencing environmental issues. He was telling His disciples to go forth, teaching and preaching, baptizing and making other disciples. That’s the GREAT COMMISSION.

It was over in another part of the Bible that we can find the commission to care for the Earth.

In Genesis 2, the Bible says that “God took the Man and set him down in the Garden of Eden to work the ground and keep it in order.” (Peterson, 1993) Earlier in Genesis 1, God tells His creation (male and female) to “Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge! Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of the Earth.” (Peterson, 1993) This was (is) a lot of responsibility for mankind — but God looked things over and evidently thought it was a good plan … for indeed He said, “It is good.”

As I have conducted more extensive research into this issue, I have found that throughout the Bible (God’s Word) there are numerous circumstances that demonstrate God’s intention that the environment should be a concern for the whole earth … even those who follow after Him and His Son, Jesus.

For example, one might consider Noah an ancient environmentalist. He was following directions from God in building the big boat, and was considered quite radical in foretelling the “coming doom” of the flood, and by collecting two of every specimen (male and female) to preserve life on Earth.  The movie “Evan Almighty” places this biblical story in modern-day perspective in direct correlation with current issues of corporate, governmental and individual abuses of the environment.  Surely, God intends man to be responsible and not just a capitalist!

There are other references in the Old Testament where Jewish laws mandate a Sabbath for the land every seventh year, giving the Earth time to rejuvenate in areas that are overused. Farmers carry out this practice even today through the practice of crop-rotation and no-till drilling. And obviously, from David, Solomon, Job and many others, there is a consistent wonder with God’s creation and His Divine revelation through nature. It’s obvious that He does not mean for His Creation to be taken for granted.

Many read the Bible daily but perhaps there has not been enough direction or admonition to read it with any kind of an ecological perspective, and therefore, Christians have indeed missed the importance of human responsibility of being “good” stewards of the earth. From Genesis to Revelation, there are stories of people using the Earth for good pleasure and livelihood. As humankind has followed the directive to “replenish and reproduce,” the implications that come with more people (more garbage, more technology, more use and abuse) have become more prevalent and publicized in the past 50 years.

There are many issues that are taken up by political activists that are simply not “political issues.” They are people issues. That’s why it is important for people to lay aside their politics and think more critically about the why’s and how’s we can come together on a common cause — especially one like the environment that is essential to the existence of all human-kind (Republican, Democrat, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Black, White, or GREEN).

The term “tree-hugger” has been used derogatively in certain “Christian” circles, implying that people with environmental concerns worship the Earth rather than God. In 1982 while living abroad, I traveled to Southern Germany and while driving through the Alps I was in complete AWE of God’s creation. I said to my husband, “How could anyone ever be an atheist after seeing such a sight.” Then a few years ago, I was privy to what I believe is a miracle and phenomena of God’s creation. Serving on mission trip in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, after a rather sudden rainstorm swept across the town, as I watched the storm clouds roll on by, there appeared a perfect double rainbow. In this rainbow, I saw God … I saw His glory … and I KNEW that Earth nor any part of creation is by random existence. As stated, how can one keep from worshipping God in His Creation?

It is imperative that each of us take heed to the ways of our lives that are infringing upon God’s creation. To blow off this responsibility is not only appalling, it’s possibly down-right ignorant and it is selfish. We’re a wasteful, indulgent, extravagant people. While this may be contradictory to what many believe is essential to productivity and successful business and life, it is not too far-fetched to say that we worship our technology, amenities, conveniences and money more than we worship God.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: If we don’t pro-actively and collectively care for this place that God has provided us to “have dominion over,” soon enough we will be able to answer the question, “Will there be GREEN people in heaven?” This idea is supported by the visionary writing of John the Revelator in Revelation 11:18, “The angry nations now get a taste of your anger. The time has come to judge the dead, to reward your servants, all prophets and saints, reward small and great who fear your Name, and destroy the destroyers of earth.” (Peterson, 1993)

Works Cited

Deem, R. (2011, March 13). Evidence for God. Retrieved March 13, 2011, from God and Science: http://www.godandscience.org

James Watt, U. S. (1982, Jan-Feb). Ours Is The Earth. Saturday Evening Post , pp. 74-75.

Lynn White, J. (1967). Historical Roots Of Our Ecological Crisis. Science .

McKibben, D. B. (2006, Fall). The Gospel of Green. Retrieved March 13, 2011, from OnEarth: http://www.nrdc.org

Peterson. (1993). The Message. Colorado Spring, CO: Navpress Publishing.

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