March 6, 2024


Why Christians Must Care About the Environment

By: Michael Jefferies

The principle of care for creation is not an item that gets much press in Christian circles. However, it is implicitly present in scripture, and great Christian saints have taught it through their lives. For Christians to fully honor God in every area of their life, care for creation is something we must learn to do.

“God saw that it was good”: Scripture and Creation

Biblically, our fundamental posture towards the environment ought to be one of recognizing everything on Earth as a good gift from God, since the opening chapter of Genesis gives us the refrain after each new act of creation that “God saw that it was good” (Gen. 1:4,10,12, 18, 21, 25). As his representatives on Earth, God created mankind in His image and places all creation under their dominion (Gen. 1:26).

Recognizing the intrinsic goodness of nature allows us to see that we should use our dominion with wisdom and care (i.e. stewardship). In fact, Genesis 2 shows us how man’s stewardship helps creation to reach its potential. Before man, nothing is growing because there are no people to work the land and it has not rained (Gen. 2:5b). When man’s work is joined to God’s grace that causes the rain to fall, then the Garden of Eden was filled with “[…] every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Gen. 2:9a).

Just as in Eden, man’s cooperation was needed to help creation reach its fullness, we also see that creation needs our involvement to help creation reach its own redemption. For St. Paul tells us that, just as creation was harmed by original sin, creation is being caught up in the renewal of all things (Rom. 8:20-21). This renewal will reach its completion in the world to come (see Rev. 21 & 22) but when we care for creation, we help it to experience the beginning of its redemption now, fulfilling God’s will that things be on Earth as they are in Heaven (Matt 6:10).

From all this we see that humans are being called to live as image bearers of God and part of that requires us to care for creation and respect it as something that is being renewed by God as well.

In the life of St. Francis

The Biblical principles described above are made incarnate in the lives of the saints, and on this point, we have no better example than St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and ecologists. 

St. Francis’ earliest hagiography St. Francis’ earliest hagiography described the excessive joy St. Francis gained when he contemplated God in nature. This affection for creation extended to the smallest of all creatures, including worms: “Even for worms [Francis] had a warm love […] That is why he used to pick them up from the road and put them in a safe place so that they would not be crushed by the footsteps of passersby.”

I told my wife (who is a children’s minister) about St. Francis’ love for worms and she wisely pointed out to me that this is exactly the kind of thing that small children do. Children are not consumed by hurry and rush as we are, consumed with concerns about time, efficiency & money. By exercising care for creation, St. Francis became more like a little child. Our Lord calls on us to imitate his example, for unless we change and become like little children, we will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt. 18:3).

Stewardship and the Meaning of Life

St. Athanasius famously wrote, “[God] became man so that we might be made god”. This means that all those who are united to God are being transformed by God into a new creation, through the process of sanctification, so that we might become perfect as our father in heaven is perfect (Matt. 5:48). In order to become fully sanctified, we need to allow God to complete a total conversion of every part of our being, so that we may become fully restored images of the One who made us.

We have seen from scripture and the life of St. Francis that part of our sanctification involves a conversion of our attitude towards nature. Care for creation is certainly not the main part. We are called to love God and others first. But exercising a frequent dismissiveness of nature produces a bad spiritual habit, similar to the frequent dismissiveness of a person in need, which weighs us down and prevents us from becoming what we were meant to be.

This, ultimately, is why Christians must care for the environment, for unless we develop a right relationship with nature, we will fail to be transformed fully, and miss a part of the call of God in our lives.