Today is Earth Day. I know because my daughter Ariel told me yesterday morning over breakfast. She followed her statement with, “It makes me sad that people litter.”
You have to understand that Ariel and I walk and ride our bikes a lot. We live in rural New Hampshire, so we try to get outside as much as we can. (We just got Nichole a bike as well, so she can ride with us.)
That means we see all the trash people throw out of their cars, clogging up the beauty of nature. If you drive everywhere, then you probably don’t notice litter all that often, but trust me. It is there. According to one estimate, every mile of US highway contains 16,000 pieces of litter.
When Ariel first found out about Earth Day, she and I had a great conversation about it. I asked her, “Why do we take care of the earth?” When she was not sure, we had a talk about how God made the earth and then made mankind as stewards of it.
The Origins of Earth Day
Yes, I know that Earth Day was started by hippies. Or wait. Was it? The first Earth Day was the brain child of a United States Senator from Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson.
You see, in 1969 there was a massive oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara. Nelson grew frustrated by the political inertia of Washington and decided to take his case to the people in a grass-roots kind of way. He began to agitate for a ‘teach-in’ about environmental degredation, which ultimately became Earth Day.
Many of the observers of Earth Day were young people and hippies. It was a peaceful cause – one which people like Denis Hayes gravitated to. Hayes organized Earth Day in New York in 1970, and was key to turning Nelson’s call to action into a reality. (Of course, Hayes was a Harvard graduate student and not much of a hippie himself.)
Unfortunately, the Christian right has long made a point of disassociating with liberals and agitators, so the environmental movement did not find a home in most right wing Christian organizations. There was a turn to almost a giddy apocalypticism about the whole thing. Growing up, I often heard things like “this earth will last as long as God wants it to.”
On the other hand, there were environmentalist pop scientists always crying wolf about the end of the world. Fossil fuels would run out by 1980 – they didn’t. A new ice age would come and kill us all – it didn’t.
In short, environmentalism and Earth Day have often been a divisive subject in the American popular imagination.
Christians Should Care about the Earth
According to the Scriptures, God entrusted the earth to mankind. (Genesis 1:28-30) But God also points out that man is to care for creation (Genesis 2:15-16). Over and again, we are reminded that the earth is God’s (Exodus 9:29, Psalm 24:1, 1 Corinthians 10:26). It is not ours to do as we please.
In fact, when we read the law of Moses dealing with sacrifices and calendars, we discover that much of the life of early Israel was devoted to the earth. The natural rhythms and harmony of creation were recognized as messages from God (Psalm 19).
We must set aside the mentality that says “those people” believe something, so I must reject it. Instead, we should celebrate God’s creation and do our best to care for it as His.
This does not mean we need to join hands with Al Gore and Earth First people. It does not mean we should jump on every environmentalist bandwagon. But it also does not mean we should abuse the earth that God has given us.
If Earth Day helps people realize just how amazing our planet is, perhaps it will help them see our God. And if we set about the work of trying to restore and rebuild the beauty of our planet, perhaps people will think of followers of Christ as restorers and healers rather than as destroyers and haters.
Something to Watch
My favorite author, Bill Bryson, leads a campaign to battle litter in the UK. Here is a series of videos he made to drive home the point.