No intelligent and dedicated Christian wants to debate the idea that we ought to be judicious about how we conduct ourselves in the planet that God has given us to inhabit and enjoy. Reasonable conservation is, of course, nothing more than good stewardship of those bounties. We applaud efforts at reforestation, preservation of Natural Wonders, and the like. But our views of the earth ought to collide with those of the environmental extremists who are more concerned about snail darters than about the livelihood of hardworking farmers whose efforts to earn a living are impeded by them. As believers, therefore, it is important for us to consider what God, Himself, has said about the matter. I want to suggest that, in passing, Paul makes an all-important statement in Colossians 2:22a that has been overlooked by many of our people. His words rest upon a world-view that simply is not shared by non-Christians. This dissimilarity in views leads to many of the differences that we find between ourselves and the environmentalists. Here are his words:
“These refer to things that are intended to be used up and perish.”
In the passage Paul is referring to “ascetic” injunctions concerning fasting, various uses of food and so on, that unbelievers and Judaizers alike sought to impose upon Christians. Paul would have us refuse to follow them. So, in passing—as I indicated above—he says that the things that the world holds sacred, to the Christian, are but items that God has provided for our use. His point is that when they are “used up” that’s OK (assuming they were used in a responsible manner). It is no great tragedy to deplete the supply of fossil fuels, for a species of unusual fish to become extinct, or for the wolves to be banned from lands where they attack and destroy herds of cattle and sheep.
“But that is a tragedy,” says someone. “After all, once they are gone—“used up” as your apostle put it—they are gone forever. To lose an animal species or a rainforest is to have suffered an irreparable loss!”
Yes, in that objection, you detect quite a different philosophy of existence. Christians should expect outcries from environmentalists about oil drilling in the Arctic, logging in the West, the use of SUVs on our highways, and similar human activities that they believe will noticeably affect the environment. Such objections to these activities are perfectly in accord with the one-world view of the non-Christian. He would be inconsistent to his basic philosophy of existence if he didn’t raise an outcry.
“What, then, are you saying,” asks a Christian?
Simply this. The unbeliever has but one world. He knows nothing of another world to come. He clings to every aspect of the present world‘s assets because, as he believes, once they “perish” they are gone forever. No wonder he goes to lengths to preserve all that he can. But the Christian looks forward to a new heaven and a new earth that will be so far superior to the present one that he cannot stake everything on what now exists. He looks on the present world as a marvelous creation, in which God had provided all things for us to use and enjoy now—insofar as we can since it is under the curse of sin. Because of that curse, however, nothing will remain forever. Indeed, the book of Ecclesiastes was written to point out that nothing is permanent. And, in that book, like Paul, Solomon tells us to enjoy what we can so long as we are here and the deteriorating world in which we live continues as it is. The clash in opinions that occurs over various environmental issues is, in reality, a clash of a one-world and a two-world view of existence.