Why Environmentalism Is an Important Spiritual Discipline

By Stephen Mattson 04-22-2014
Man resting in creation, bikeriderlondon / Shutterstock.com
Man resting in creation, bikeriderlondon / Shutterstock.com

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Earth Day is often neglected by Christians because it’s not seen as an important issue — but what if environmentalism was essential to evangelism? In many ways, taking care of our environment is a direct form of evangelism, but many Christians have yet to realize — and even sinfully reject — this truth.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Romans 1:20 NIV).

This verse is often referenced to justify millions of people being condemned to an eternity in hell. It’s the damning biblical evidence used against non-believers for rejecting God — even if they’ve never directly heard the Gospel message. Christians point to this Scripture passage to show that God’s existence is visibly obvious through the beauty of creation — but is it really?

Theologians have often argued that the splendor and wonder of creation — Natural Revelation — is observable proof of God and God’s sovereignty. But what happens when it’s not visible?

The concept of Natural Revelation is often taught from a privileged and Westernized perspective, where scenes of picturesque mountain ranges, pristine lakes and rivers, beautiful wild animals, and lovely plants are used to portray the sheer majesty of God.

For many of us, this is an easy reality to absorb because we love nature and have access to the outdoors, scenic parks, and unpolluted land. But for many around the world, the idea of Natural Revelation is absurd, and often a theological idea that actually argues against the existence of a God.

The sad reality is that Natural Revelation — as we interpret it to be — doesn’t really exist for millions of people living in horrid conditions.

Human trafficking means that many people never see the light of day in their entire lifetimes, spending their existence chained in the dingy basements of old warehouses, abandoned apartments, and drug houses.

Others are slave laborers, forced to work within the cramped quarters of dangerous factories, where they work, eat, and sleep indoors — pushed to the limits of human exhaustion.

Entire populations struggles to survive in desolate areas where poverty is rampant, and some even continually live within dump sites — spending years roaming and sifting through garbage and human waste.

Others live in highly polluted areas, where smog makes breathing difficult, causes disease, and people are forced to rummage through slums looking for usable refuse.

Still others are surrounded by the rubble of war, where burning buildings, destroyed homes, and dead bodies make up their surroundings.

The reality is that Natural Revelation isn’t equally apparent to everyone, which is why creation care and environmentalism is so important. Because if you really believe that the earth reflects God’s glory, when you don’t take care of it and let it become poisoned — you’re essentially keeping people from experiencing the goodness of God.

Pollution, destruction, and the exploitation of our world isn’t a victimless crime — it’s intentionally hiding God from others. The act of making our earth less desirable is blinding others to the goodness of God.

If Christians are actually serious about God and want others to experience God, they should start making the earth a better place — ultimately reflecting the magnificence of God. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be much of a spiritual priority.

Stephen Mattson has contributed for Relevant Magazine and the Burnside Writer's Collective,and studied Youth Ministry at the Moody Bible Institute. He is now on staff at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minn. Follow him on Twitter @mikta.

Image: Man resting in creation, bikeriderlondon / Shutterstock.com

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