Archive for ‘Environmentalism’

July 27, 2015

Who Owns the Earth?—“The Earth Is the Lord’s”

by Aaron Dunlop

One of the great gaps in the theology of the evangelical and Reformed church is with respect to the environment. In the early days of the movement, radical environmentalists accused Christianity and the Bible of causing the perceived ecological crisis. Christianity for the most part gave the environmentalist movement the platform, ignored the accusations, and allowed it to develop without forming counter arguments or a proper “theology of creation” relevant to the debate.

If we are going to develop a Christian perspective on the environment, the first question we need to ask is, who owns the earth? Since ownership implies responsibility, we are really asking,  who is responsible for the earth? It might be assumed that to answer this question one would turn to Genesis chapter one and the “creation story.” But the first passage we need to turn to is Psalm 104 for a number of reasons: first, Psalm 104 “presents a more fully developed picture of the relationship that exists between God and creation” (Michael A. Bullmore. Trinity Journal, Fall 1998, 144); second, Psalm 104 presents a broader picture of ownership through the various stages of the earth’s existence and forms a foundation for a holistic view of the earth. This psalm appears to be a simple recounting of the creation story, and some commentators see the psalmist following the order of the Genesis record:

• Day 1, Gen. 1:3–5; cf., Psa. 104:1–2 (light)
• Day 2, Gen. 1:6–8; cf., Psa. 104:2b–4 (firmament divides the waters)
• Day 3, Gen. 1:9–10; cf., Psa. 104:5–17 (land and water distinct, vegetation) 
• Day 4, Gen. 1:14–19; cf., Psa. 104:19–23 (luminaries as time-keepers)
• Day 5, Gen. 1:20–23; cf., Psa. 104:25–26 (creatures of the sea and air)
• Day 6, Gen. 1:24–31; cf., Psa. 104:21–28 (animals and man)

As you consider the psalm as a whole, however, it is clear that the entire span of God’s creative power is spoken of: the first creation in perfection, the post-fall world of catastrophe, death, and hard labour (vv. 21, 23, 32) sustained by His power, and then the time of the restitution of all things, when God will make the new earth (Acts 3:21; Romans 8:18; cf., v. 30) and remove all that corrupts and defiles (Revelation 21:25; cf., v. 35). No matter what order of the creation you consider, the earth is still the Lord’s. He created it, He sustains it, and He will restore it.

Psalm 104 teaches us a number of things. First, it teaches that the earth and all in it is the possession of the Lord: the earth is “full of [God’s] possessions” (v. 24; KJV “riches”). The reason for this, of course, is in the fact the He created it; “how manifold are thy works, in wisdom thou hast made them all” (v. 24). When the Psalmist said in Psalm 24:1, “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,” he was speaking specifically of the order of creation as we know it—fallen and cursed (Genesis 3:17). There is not a detail of our environment that God does not possess in power and that He is not interested in. He knows the hairs on our heads and every sparrow that falls (Matthew 10:29–30), and He rejoices in all His works.

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August 21, 2012

Exercising Our God-Given Dominion over the Earth

by Aaron Dunlop

A few months ago we dealt with the question, who owns the earth? In that article we considered the words of the Psalmist—“The earth Is the Lord’s” (Psalm 24:1). You can download the PDF of all three articles on environmentalism here.

The second part of the answer to this foundational question is that the earth belongs to mankind; it is his “domain.” In Genesis 1 we read that the first assignment the Creator gave to Adam in the Garden of Eden was to “subdue [the earth]: and have dominion.” Man was given the earth to live on and he was to make it his home in the same way a tenant makes his apartment his home.

In Psalm 8:6 the psalmist states clearly that although the Lord is the sovereign, yet He has graciously endowed mankind with the honour of being vice-regent over the earth. In this psalm the psalmist celebrates in poetry what the author of Genesis records using other literary techniques. In Genesis, immediately after giving the account of creation in chronological order (1:1–2:3), Moses begins another account of creation. This second account of creation has an ingenious layout which focuses on the creation of man and his environment. Had Moses been interested in man only he would have simply rehearsed the work of the sixth day, but instead, he breaks into his subject at the beginning of the third day (1:9) after the universe was created but before the plants and herbs and animals were created: “These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, and every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew” (2:4–5, emphasis added).

This important arrangement of the text highlights the place that mankind has as the apex of creation. But it also focuses on the environment in which man exists with the reference at the beginning to the vegetable kingdom (vv. 4-5). This reference to the plants and vegetation highlights the fact that all the activity of the first five days of creation was preparatory for the creation of man—the Lord was building an environment for him.

If the earth was created for the benefit of mankind as we have seen, it is not surprising that when man was created, God “blessed him” and gave him the command to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (Genesis 1:28). There are three distinct elements in this first assignment to the newly created humanity: first, fill the earth, which addresses the population of the earth; second, subjugate the earth, which was the command to make the earth subservient for survival and comfort; and third, rule the earth, which was the command to rule that which is conquered.

Leaving aside for now the closely related subject of population—for this is a big factor in the mind of the environmentalist—let us consider the God-given command to subjugate and dominate the earth. This is a very potent command and it is not surprising that some environmentalists see it is a threat to their movement—for it is indeed a threat. The word subdue means to bring into subjection or into bondage (as in Nehemiah 5:5) to the needs of mankind, or to force (see Esther 7:8) the earth to serve mankind. Dominion is the result of this subjugation; having prevailed (Lamentations 1:13) over the earth, mankind is to rule it. 

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