The Christian Case for Sustainability

On December 14, 2010, in Denver, Uncategorized, by Nathan

And He Put Them In the Garden To Tend It
By Gregory Robertson

In the Book of Genesis, the creation of man and the rest of the universe is recorded. After the world has been created God’s final and greatest creation, humankind, is set in it and given the awesome duty of watching over it. Man was created to tend the whole of the cosmos and when we, by disobeying our Creator, do not the world groans under the weight of our sins. Therefore, the degradation of the environment, not to mention the death that results from it, is the consequence of human sin.

The origins of this sin include: misunderstanding and misuse of dominion, greed, pride, or a combination of them all. These sins are an important part of why our environment is suffering and in disarray.

Dominion is the concept of taking care of something, as a steward. It does not mean that man is free to run roughshod over the planet, exploiting its resources for selfish purposes and desires. Dominion is not domination. If it is held properly in Christian thought and practice it is one of the most important roles God gives to mankind.  Our role however, is more than this. In his book In the World, Yet Not of the World, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew states:

“Humankind is seen as the nexus of creation, the point of convergence that mediates the cosmos, which was created as “very good” (Gen. I.26), for the glory of God. Humanity has a meditative and, indeed, eucharistic role in exercising dominion over the earth. This is a far cry from the domination and exploitation that have characterized the technologically capable, post industrialist era” (43).

Therefore, if we misuse dominion we sin against God, the planet and one another.

Greed often results from the misuse of dominion. We begin to believe that the gifts given to all of creation are our own property to be used for our own selfish desires. We see the world, not to mention each other, as something to be exploited for our own personal enrichment, or to stoke our already bloated egos. We see the gifts we are given as our due or as an entitlement and as such we demand and desire more, often taking from those who already have little in order to fulfill that desire. Our present day greed directly threatens the human rights of future generations. The book Facing the World Orthodox Christian Essays on Global Concerns by Archbishop Anastasios Yannoulatos addresses this profound possibility by saying:

“Many of our overwhelming problems, such as environmental pollution, pollution of the seas, contaminated food supplies the squandering of energy sources among others are issues that concern the human rights of future generations” (75).

God entrusts humankind to care for the earth so that future generations will have what is needed to sustain them so they may grow and become the people that God intends them to be. It is our responsibility today to look out for future generations so that they will have what is needed to care for themselves, create healthy relationships with one another and have a relationship with a loving and caring God. This is something that we have no right to deprive others of and it is a sin to do so.

Human pride makes humankind believe that we have all the answers. We believe that our technology and our science give us license to do what we want without regard to the serious consequences of our actions. Often our pride in our technological creations blinds us from seeing the harm that they are causing our environment. Conversely, humankind far too often believes that our technology will fix every problem we confront. Therefore, we do not prevent the careless exploitation of the world that God has given us. Our pride gets in our way because we believe our technology is good or is even a savior, despite the fact it is killing us. Stanley S. Harakas spells this out plainly in his book Contemporary Moral Issues Facing the Orthodox Christian when he says,

“There is ecological sin; and modern industrial, technological men commit it every day” (163).

Elizabeth Theokritoff points out in her book Living in God’s Creation that all of mankind benefits if we assume responsibility for the ecological well being of the earth when she states:

“In the accounts of holy lives, we sometimes encounter the idea that everything exists for man’s benefit. But we also discover that what this means to the saint is very different from what it means to someone who does not see himself as the creator of all things. Certainly, the world around us is to be used as necessary to serve man’s basic physical needs. But there is also another benefit to be derived from other creatures, less obvious but vitally important: we grow spiritually by perceiving how God’s beauty and wisdom is reflected in them, in adjusting our own lives accordingly” (129).

In other words, the whole of creation is iconic. It is a window to our creator, not to be used as a commodity to our own selfish ends. Rather it is a template for our own relationship with our creator and by extension our relationships with each other. Our relationships with each other and with God grow when we identify with and are responsible for all of creation.

All of humankind is called to a life that is filled with service to our environment, each other and to God. This is the true reason we were created; to serve with joy and thanksgiving our Creator and all that he has made in our universe. However, we can only do this if we cease serving ourselves and strive to become the servants of all.

Misuse of dominion, greed and pride are sins that not only destroy our earth but also impair our relationships with one another and God. They destroy not just the individual, but also the entire human race along with the planet and the whole of the cosmos with which we are deeply connected. They threaten the human rights of others, and impair their ability to grow and become who and what they truly are meant to be. However, as we have seen, our relationships and our world do not have to be this way. We can be the mediators of the cosmos who tend and nurture God’s gifts. We can take responsibility and live up to our calling as eucharistic stewards by tending and nurturing our planet and each other, or the world can continue to groan under the weight of our sins.

Gregory Robertson is an iconographer and is currently studying Theology while discerning his vocation. He resides in the Rocky Mountains.


Bibliography:
  • Harakas, Stanley S. Contemporary Moral Issues Facing the Orthodox Christian. Minneapolis: Light and Life, 1982. Print.
  • Yannoulatos, Anastasios. Facing the World Orthodox Christian Essays on Global Concerns. Crestwood: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2003. Print.
  • Theokritoff, Elizabeth. Living in God’s Creation Orthodox Perspectives on Ecology. Crestwood: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2009. Print.
  • Bartholomew, Ecumenical Patriarch. In the World, Yet Not of the World. New York: Fordham University Press, 2010. Print.
 

7 Responses to “The Christian Case for Sustainability”

  1. Jac says:

    Well said Nathan. It is so important that we understand this passage of Genesis. Before the flood animals weren’t given as food to humans. That should be a clear sign as to how important agriculture was supposed to be in God’s perfect creation and original plan for our lives. If you are a Christian, you are a Planeteer, or should be. Go Planet!

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