It’s quite odd to hear a profound theological truth from the lips of a ribald comedian. This is exactly what happened when I watched a YouTube clip of Louis C.K. He was talking about environmental issues and the attitude of American evangelical Christians towards them. I cannot faithfully reproduce the joke without some choice words but the basic thrust of it was how he marvelled at Christians not caring for the environment. The way he understood it Christians believe God made the world so shouldn’t they be concerned about taking care of something their God has made? As far as I can tell Louis C.K. is an agnostic at best but without referencing any scriptures he was right on the money. Genesis 1 is enough for us to care about environmental issues. The sad thing is what theologians call “creation care” is way down on the list of our priorities.
To be fair environmental issues are not at the top of everyone’s priorities, especially outside Europe and North America. Here in Ghana it has not really mattered to us until recent events which have made today being Earth Day take on new significance. The environmental crisis known locally as galamsey has dominated news coverage over the past couple of weeks. Galamsey is Ghanaian pidgin for “Get it, Sell it” which is the local name of small scale illegal mining of alluvial gold. It has been going on for years but now it has come to the forefront of public interest.
My dad is a soil and water engineer and due to his work as a lecturer he travels around the country quite a bit. He took a trip to the Western Region, one of the ten main administrative areas of Ghana, to do some work. The Western Region is one of the places most profoundly hit by the evil of galamsey because of its rich mineral deposits. Travelling on the major highway through the region all the land he saw around if it was not inhabited had been excavated. All the greenery had disappeared and all the major rivers have had turned to a murky brown from the run of all the toxic chemicals used for mining. The situation is so bad that none of our major rivers throughout the country are clean. My dad told me within a few years, the level of water pollution will be so bad, the current filtration technology will be able to provide us with clean water. Right now, those who work at the Ghana Water Authority tell us the machines and techniques they use to filter the water are currently struggling. My dad continued to tell me that the technology to deal with this level of pollution would be too expensive for the average Ghanaian to have access to affordable drinking water. In about 5 years, if the current trends continue, only the rich can quench their thirst. We are literally turning our country into a vision of hell.
As you can see the situation is very dire and all sections of society from politicians to ordinary citizens are very invested in winning the battle against galamsey. One group of people that have conspicuously been quiet are the Christians. Of course individuals have spoken out and tried to do something about it but the Ghanaian Church has not made a concerted effort against it.
Christians make up one of the largest statistical groups in the country and they are mostly not comprised of the people who benefit from galamsey. That means they cannot be compromised economically like many of the politicians and other affluent people who profit from the business of destruction. Just in terms of sheer numbers, Christians have the power to cause a significant change. Even if we didn’t have the numbers, right from the birth of church, tenacious endurance has been a part of our DNA. Christianity started as a minority of a minority in 1st century Roman Palestine but it is of the few things that outlasted the Roman Empire and also overwhelming flourished to become the truly global religion it is today. Beating the odds is a part of who we are as believers and we have been doing it for thousands of years. If the church decides to apply itself to a problem, by the power of the Spirit in patient endurance, it will overcome. When it came to social and human rights issues like slavery, it was Christians like William Wilberforce and Granville Sharpe who led the fight against such an evil but lucrative business. When it comes to the Civil Rights movement people forget that Martin Luther King was a pastor, named after the most famous Protestant Reformer, and he was motivated and energised by his Christian convictions.
From the 1st century to the 20th century Christians have been at the forefront of social reformer yet for some reason environmental issues do not fall on the radar of our top concerns. There are complex reasons for why the church has adopted this stance which I am not qualified to talk about. However, I will briefly look at what is perhaps the main reason and why we should care.
The first reason is theological. When you have your ultimate hope as going into heaven you will not care about what happens on earth. I have talked about this heaven/earth extensively on this platform so I will not belabour the point. As I have already pointed to, when we look at scripture we have theological incentives to care about the earth. God made the world and gave it to us to be stewards over his good creation. Therefore, the idea that we can plunder the earth’s resources indiscriminately, is completely antithetical to the mandate given to humanity by God in Genesis 1 and 2. If we serve a God who cares for all his creation, who looks after the sparrow and the young raven, and clothes the lily, we should care for all his creatures as well, not only the human ones. Of course there are really no explicit mentions of environmental care in the scriptures but when you step back and take a closer look at the grand sweep of scripture, instead of just looking for proof texts, it becomes overwhelming clear creation care is mandatory. The work of distinguished New Testament scholar Richard Bauckham brilliantly elucidates the ecological vision of God found in the Bible. Other scholars have also written extensively on this topic.
Taking the big picture view further, since we believe God made a good world, we believe he is not going to destroy it but rather renew it in a new heavens and earth. The idea of a permanent vertical departure from the world completely undermines the essential goodness of God’s creation. Our attitude towards the things of God in the present, which includes the environment, has eternal consequences. If we show contempt for the present world, what shows we want to participate in it when it will be restored? After all don’t we believe as Christian’s that humans we will be judged for our stewardship over whatever God has given us? We cannot say we love God yet despise the world he has given us.
The resurrection which we recently celebrated is about God renewing the world, beginning with the reversal and overthrow of death to a new life starting with the Lord Jesus Christ. Just as there was continuity and discontinuity in Jesus’ resurrected body, the new creation will also be continuous and discontinuous with the old. We know in the world to come evil will be discontinued but what is good will continue in fuller, more enhanced way. This means when we protect the environment, it will not be thrown away or destroyed. God will rather preserve whatever good we did for his creation and fully perfect it in the world to come. We do not know how he will do it but our labour in the Lord will certainly not be in vain.
If we believe in God, we should be concerned with what concerns him. God cares for his creatures and so should we. God made us as part of the world and not apart from it, so the things that affect our environment actually affect us. Advances in the environmental science since the mid twentieth century has helped us understand much better the magnificent intricacies of the world he has made and how he has designed all of his creatures to depend on each other. The menace of galamsey has dramatically shown the Ghanaian public that environmental issues do affect us. There are other challenges, the biggest one being global warming, and we can no longer claim ignorance as an excuse for our lack of inactivity. Within a lifetime, if current trends continue, our grandchildren may face the greatest cataclysm the human race has ever faced and it will be our fault. Whether we like it or not, we will soon face the consequences of our actions so it is much better that we act now. The Church has to demonstrate it believes in a God who created a worthwhile world by making every effort to preserve it and make it flourish.