It’s April 22nd, which means it’s “Earth Day.” Much of the hype over this annual day seems to have dissipated in recent years, but I think it’s a crucially important day if you’re a Christian. In fact, every day should be “Earth Day” if you’re a Christian.
Growing up, the culture around me seemed to be highly suspicious of those who were advocates for the environment. Often they’d be labeled as “environmental extremists,” “tree huggers,” or some other term that let one know right from the start that they were completely outside the norm. Beyond a skepticism in the Christian community, environmentalists were often vilified by a certain secular political ideology popular among Christians, resulting in the previous generation often missing the boat on an issue that is absolutely central to the life of a God-follower.
You don’t have to read far into the Bible before one realizes the centrality of environmentalism to the life of one who wants to fulfill God’s purpose for their lives- it’s actually on the first few pages. In the Genesis narrative, as soon as God creates humanity he gives them their purpose for existing and their primary task: caring for the environment. Before anything else happens in God’s story, he tells them to care for the environment, the plants, the animals, the oceans… everything. In theological terms we call this the “Original Mandate” because it’s the first thing God mandates humanity to do.
God’s original, primary purpose for his people was and is to be environmental caretakers- environmentalists.
And yet, somehow this primary role God has assigned to us as the pinnacle of his creation gets not only overlooked, but outright discarded.
Out of all the roles, tasks, or purposes for our lives here on this Earth, scripture shows us that being environmental caretakers is at the absolute top of our list. Environmentalism isn’t the secondary mandate, it’s not a footnote, and it’s not optional– it is the original mandate and central to our entire reason for existence. And this is why every day should be Earth Day to a Christian: it’s the first job God assigned to us before anything else!
This means that any efforts to care for and protect the planet should’t be left to those we’d call tree huggers– any effort to care for, preserve, and protect the environment, should be led by Christians.
Every time Sea Shepherd loads their boats to head to the Southern Whale Sanctuary to protect the whales against illegal Japanese poaching, the boat should be overflowing with Christians.
Every time there is a challenge to the practice of fracking which is damaging the planet and our water supply, that challenge should be led by a Christian.
Every time you find a person standing in front of a bulldozer protesting destructive deforestation, every time you visit an animal sanctuary and see a person nursing a wounded animal back to health, every time you find a group of people picking up garbage on the beach, advocating a reduction in harmful carbon emissions, or anything else to defend, protect, or preserve the environment and animal kingdom… you should find Christians.
Because that’s our job. It’s the original and primary job that God gave us. To ignore it, or worse– to defy it– is to defy the creator who assigned us the beautiful task of protecting and preserving His creation. In fact, God doesn’t simply articulate this mandate in the first few chapters of the Bible– he reiterates it in the last few chapters of the Bible with a stark warning: those who damage the environment will be destroyed when he returns to judge the living and the dead (Rev 11:18). So, if you want to talk sins that will keep one out of God’s kingdom– let’s not limit that to talk of sexual immorality– let’s talk caring for the environment.
For too long Christians have sided with big businesses (who don’t give a rip about the environment beyond financial profit) instead of God’s mandate for our lives, and this has led us into a chapter of human history where the future of our planet is actually in jeopardy– but it doesn’t have to stay this way.
The solution? Christians can rediscover and reclaim our chief purpose for existence: to be radical environmentalists who view protecting and preserving all of creation to be a central aspect of our identity and purpose.