“Environmentalists say ‘Don’t use it.’ Conservationists say ‘Use it wisely.’” This maxim from my youth stuck; it was a favorite of the leader of my county’s soil and water conservation district. This week, when the pope visits Washington, D.C., you will no doubt hear many pleas to battle man-made global warming by limiting the use of fossil fuels. Christians who know their Bibles should be leery when leaders like President Obama and the pope endorse forced restrictions on the use of the earth’s resources – especially when more people will go hungry and perish as a result. God has not called us to embrace a “Don’t use it” or even a simply “Use it less” mindset.
God called Adam and Eve to the wise use of creation for the good of mankind and the glory of God when he said,
‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’ And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food’ (Genesis 1:28-29).
As Dr. E. Calvin Beisner and his colleagues remind us, man-made global warming is almost certainly insignificant and unproblematic. They also highlight that efforts to fight it divert resources from other legitimate needs that the Lord calls us to meet. God has given us every plant yielding seed that is on the face of the earth for food. In the postdeluvian era, he has given us fossilized plants for fuel to bring forth more food from the earth. As we look to use these resources more and more wisely, mankind benefits, the creation is more faithfully stewarded, and the Lord who gave these gifts gets more glory.
Those who focus on limiting the use of these gifts and stifle those who would use them wisely lose sight of God’s plan. The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board notes,
As for the environment and climate change, Pope Francis is sometimes given to an almost Malthusian, anti-modern pessimism. In his recent encyclical, “Laudato Si,” Francis wrote that “the earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.”
Well, he should have seen East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall, or the air in Beijing today. Coercive governments are the worst befoulers of the environment. Democratic capitalism has created the wealth and electoral consent to clean the air and water, and only continued economic growth will create the resources to deal with climate change if it does become a serious threat to the Earth.
Certainly, it is only the grace of God that has allowed such wealth to be created and stewardship to be fostered. But in his providence, he has used principles of biblical capitalism to bring it to pass. We should not be surprised; we should strive for more. We should pray for the dissolution of policies standing as obstacles to the fulfillment of the creation mandate. Of course, good stewardship employs boundaries but always with an eye to faithful productivity.
We should also look for opportunities to support those giving themselves to the advance of the gospel and to economic development for the sake of people around the world. Sometimes the best antidote to bad policies and practices is to look to example of positive stewardship. One such example about which I have written before is that of Travis and Gina Sheets. Travis and Gina understand agriculture and biblical economics more than many. Travis gave up his Indiana farm and Gina gave up her post as Indiana’s Director of Agriculture to give themselves to the nation of Liberia through the ministry of Hope in the Harvest. Liberia fights hunger at every turn after decades of civil war, a crisis of depleted agricultural goods and knowledge, and most recently, the Ebola crisis.
The Sheets’ mission reports make for exciting reading – both in terms of worship of the Creator and care of his creatures. Readers wonder each month what new innovation the Sheets will be leading Liberian students to implement. They are looking to save the earth, in a sense, and they are praying desperately for a climate-change of epic proportions. It is a spiritual climate-change of productivity and stewardship. They are not seeking to reduce the use of fossil fuels; they are looking to produce fuel for living bones to the glory of God. Simultaneously, they are speaking the word of God to spiritually dead bones, and those bones are coming to life. These kinds of efforts to use earth’s resources wisely deserve our attention and resources far, far more than misguided calls to restrict the productivity of the cleanest nations on the face of the earth.
Listen carefully to anyone calling for imposed restrictions on the use of the earth’s resources. It does not require a degree in science or agriculture to recognize that such a call usually stands opposed to the call of the Creator. The Lord did not look at the earth and its resources and said, “Don’t use it!” He calls us to use it wisely by being fruitful and multiplying, by filling the earth and subduing it. Beware of those who say otherwise.
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