Growing up Jewish, it was not unusual to hear about humanity’s mandate to care for the environment in synagogue, in addition to hearing about God. In fact, I learned more about basic ways of caring for the earth in Sunday school than I did in public school. To be Jewish and an environmentalist was treated as one and the same.
In Genesis, Adam and Eve were given dominion over the animals and the planet. Humans were tasked with picking up their baton, to ensure that the world would be in good condition for future generations to come.
Which is why it baffles me that so many Christians are in complete denial of climate change, the amount of plastic in our oceans, and carbon footprints. More mind-boggling is how these concerns get dismissed as some kind of liberal, secularist propaganda — as if we don’t all share the same planet.
With every subsequent generation, the issues of climate change and global pollution are getting worse, not better. I’ve always been under the impression that God made us stewards of this planet. Just because climate change isn’t mentioned in the Bible doesn’t mean it isn’t real.
One concept of Judaism I’ve held on to from my childhood is tikkun olam, literally translated as “mend the world.” Tikkun olam is a euphemism for social justice and is believed to be a responsibility of every human being, regardless of belief.
Christians often hear in church about how to be good stewards of finances and time: why should our collective responsibility for the planet be any different? How did something as simple as keeping the air, the oceans, and the land free of pollution and degradation become a liberal agenda?
Romans 8 calls humans to be involved in the restoration of creation. This has lead to condemnation of smoking, drinking, and tattoos as things that can degrade our bodies, and therefore “sin.” But failure to live a more sustainable lifestyle? Not so much.
I can’t help but worry about the future of this planet within my lifetime, and I’m not alone. Some Christians would say this indicates a lack of faith on my part: that I don’t believe God is in control. The problem is, God being “in control” does not mean we are exempt from the consequences of our actions, and that innocent people won’t suffer as hurricanes and tsunamis wipe away entire cities. Our free will to do as we please is both a gift and a curse.
Some Christians are not as invested in saving the earth because it is not directly related to salvation: we are supposed to be more concerned about saving souls instead. But it’s difficult to save souls if the planet is not sustained well enough to support human life in the not-so-distant future.
Christians can liken tikkun olam to Jesus’ words command to care for “the least of these.” That not only includes the impoverished, but the planet we all share, which is increasingly in danger.
For more information on global warming and activism from a Christian perspective, I recommend giving a listen to my friend Anna Jane Joyner’s podcast, No Place Like Home.