Does Environmental Conservation Matter in the Last Days?

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Published:
August 30, 2022

I recently read an article that asked a very intriguing question. It reminded readers that Revelation informs us with vivid language that this earth is going to be consumed very soon by fire. So why, the article asked, should we bother trying to take care of nature? On the surface, the answer may seem simple. A deeper analysis shows that we are tenets living on God’s land (Job 41:11, Psalm 24:1). The Bible informs us that in these last days, the earth is wearing out (Isaiah 51:6), and God will eventually destroy it with fire (2 Peter 3:10–12). But he continues to sustain it daily and has not abandoned it yet (Revelation 7:1).

We will consume natural resources and use nature. That is one of the purposes God created nature for. But it is not okay to waste large amounts of what God has given. God is not pleased when we waste our talents or our money, and neither is he pleased when we waste the resources of creation that he has blessed us with. We are to be concerned with the plight and sufferings of every form of life. While we may destroy a limited number of creatures to control diseases and preserve human lives, complete eradication of a species without great forethought is not prudent nor biblical.

From a scientific perspective, the complete eradication of a species can have unforeseen and outsized consequences. Some species operate as keystones in an arch. When that species is removed from its ecosystem, the entire ecosystem collapses because that one species somehow supports nearly every other species in the complex web of life. If you cut one link in the chain, the whole ecosystem falls apart. The issue is scientists don’t always know if a species operates as a keystone until it is gone. Biblically, we read that God created every “kind” or form of life and then pronounced it “very good.” A deep reverence for all life is implied in the Genesis account. Therefore, to destroy a “kind” utterly is to destroy something good.

Our modern way of life is causing the extinction of 200 or more species per year, according to conservative estimates. Some see this as simply the cost of civilization’s progress. But for the Bible student who understands their role as a steward, this is not acceptable. Species extinction is not the only negative effect. Manmade pollution results in over nine million premature human deaths annually! Christians can do more to combat this. We can seek ways to reduce our harm to God’s children and property.

This topic quickly becomes a deep philosophical debate. What is evident is that we must strive for moderation in every area of our lives. The message is clear in the Bible that those of us living in earth’s last days still have a responsibility to carry out our duties of stewardship. We are also to call others to be good stewards of God’s creation. After all, it is a revelation of God himself.

Should Christians bother with conservation efforts in the last days? Let us revisit what Revelation says about the second coming. Chapter 11, verse 18 says Jesus is coming quickly and he brings our reward with him. He comes to “destroy those who destroy the earth.” According to the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, this phrase applies to those who have destroyed the earth both physically and spiritually. The commentary goes on to point out how fitting it is that these people will themselves be destroyed.[1]

Is that a surprise? By destroying our earth, humans are destroying our current home. God does not prohibit things on a whim. He only prohibits sin because it will destroy us. If God did not intervene in the course of human affairs, we would destroy our home and ourselves. We should still care for our earthly home while we remain until God comes to take us to that perfect home in heaven.

The German Confessing Church offers a good case study on this topic. During the Nazi domination of Germany, Christians faced persecution of individual religious freedom. Many thought this World War would usher in the end of the world and the second coming of Christ. The Confessing Church opposed the unification of all Protestants under one pro-Nazi Protestant Reich Church and suffered great persecution for doing so. One of their favorite sayings was, “If I knew the world was to end tomorrow, I would still plant an apple tree today.” They used this as a motto to inspire hope.[2] The message is simple. Though the end seems near, we should still plan for the future. We shouldn’t stop getting married, having children, or saving money. Nor should we stop ensuring a good future for our children by preserving God’s creation. Starting with Jesus’s disciples, every generation of his followers have believed they were the last. Yet, here we are 2,000 years and roughly 100 generations later. Every future generation of Jesus’s followers should continue to believe and work as if they are the last. But we also need to plan for the future in case we are not. If a walk among God’s creation points your mind toward him, then you must work to ensure future generations have that same opportunity.

The Adventist Church’s institutions show the dichotomy that biblical wisdom offers us. On the one hand, our pastors preach weekly about the rapid end of all things and make urgent calls for conversion. At the same time, the church operates hospitals, schools, and nursing homes. Our hospitals help mothers bring new children into the world in these last days. Schools train young people for future careers in case Jesus does not return as soon as expected. Our nursing homes provide care for those who grow old while Jesus tarries. Our pastors and other church employees are provided with reasonable retirement benefits. We plan for the future on earth but live ready to meet Jesus every day. While we wait, we are to continue as stewards of God’s property. This is illustrated by the parable of the faithful steward in Mark 13.  

Jesus has promised to return. But we, his stewards, do not know the day or hour of his return. So, we must be faithful in each task he has left us. We must watch for his return and be on guard so that we do not become lackadaisical in our duties. We know this earthly body is despondent and sin-ravaged and will one day soon be exchanged for an incorruptible one. But we are still to steward and tend this body until we retire to the grave or Christ comes again. Likewise, we are called to steward and tend the land until Christ’s return.

The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) offers a good example of how this can be done. ADRA seeks to bring sustainable change and improvement to communities and individuals, according to its website. Sustainability is at the forefront of their operations. They research sustainable farming and building practices and seek to teach those to communities where they operate. This is better for the environment, but it is also better for the people living in those communities. By implementing sustainable practices, they care for the environment so the land will not be degraded or be as prone to natural disasters. God expects us to care for creation while also relieving the suffering of fellow humans.

It would not be prudent to re-task church resources and ministries solely for environmentalism. The great commission is to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not the gospel of environmentalism. However, the principles of biblical environmental stewardship should always be present and influential in our Christian efforts. We must balance the use of resources with the preservation of them. We must seek feasible sustainability where possible. Sustainability should be present in all we do. The operations of our churches and conference offices, our VBS programs and Revelation seminars, our summer camps and church schools all need to strive to be run as sustainably and economically as possible. This is not to be an afterthought but should be at the forefront.

By seeking sustainability in our programs and institutions, money will be saved and waste reduced. Extensive thought or planning is not required. Simply ask these questions during a board meeting or planning session: Does anyone have ideas about how we could do this more sustainably or with less waste? Are there ways we could use less and save money? A short conversation is all that is needed. Sustainability can easily be integrated into all we do. Most importantly, we must garner a proper Christ-like respect for nature in those we disciple. A proper understanding of biblical environmental stewardship will aid us in living out the command of “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20).

All scriptures taken from the World English Bible (updated 2016) unless otherwise noted.

 

Notes & References:

[1] Francis D. Nichol, Revelation 11:18, “Destroy them which destroy,” in Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Vol 7, (Review and Herald: 1980): 805.

[2] This quote has been incorrectly attributed to both Martin Luther and Martin Luther King Jr.

 


David F. Garner is from Tennessee and has been a writer and youth ministry worker for over ten years. You can find youth ministry resources at his blog Outdoorlessons.org.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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