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Kathryn Applegate
 on April 28, 2018

"Behold the Earth" Day

Before we can steward the earth well, we must first learn to behold it.


Today is Earth Day, and it is also Sunday—the Lord’s Day. That is a beautiful alignment.

For some Christians, Earth Day is about planting trees and raising awareness about recycling. Those are inarguably good things to do; after all, we are called to be stewards of the earth (Gen 1:26). For other Christians, Earth Day is scorned as a secular holiday that ignores God. In an Answers in Genesis article, Ken Ham wrote, “For many people, this day is really a religious service for the New Age movement (and it’s often based on evolutionary thinking). While we may be responsible for caring for the earth, we are not to worship it but to use it for man’s good—and to God’s glory.”

I agree with Ham on this—we must never worship the earth. But I don’t think we should throw the baby out with the bath water, simply because of paganist associations. Instead Christians can use the day to proclaim, in thought, word, and deed, Christ’s Lordship over Creation.

A shepherd once wrote, “The earth is the LORD’s, and the fullness thereof” (Ps 24:1). To honor Christ as Creator, we first have to see that the earth doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to him. And as mentioned above, we have a sacred calling to care for that which belongs to him.

Before we can be good stewards, though, we must learn afresh how to behold Creation. We cannot love that which we do not see. I don’t know about you, but I need help to behold Creation well. My kids are young and still have the ability to be transfixed by nature; they are my daily helpers.

I recently watched a documentary on this subject called Behold the Earth. In fact, it was this film that helped me to make the connection between beholding and stewardship. The film is an invitation to slow down, tune out distractions, and for one hour consider the gift that is Creation itself. The film, directed by David Conover, is beautiful, even hauntingly so, and deeply nostalgic. The folk-style arrangements of hymns and songs by Grammy-award winning musician Dirk Powell are partially responsible for this, but the intentionally slow tempo and settings in pristine forests, fields, mountains, and wetlands reach into the American soul and bring to mind a Wendell Berry-esque vision of what once was and hope for what could be again.

According to the film’s website, Behold the Earth is “an inquiry into America’s divorce from the outdoors, before-and-after the arrival of those known as the digital natives.” Conover made the film to broaden the conversation about our human impact on the environment, and sees the church as a promising force for change: “If church elders are listening to their rising generations, then few movements have more possibility of moving from word to action.” Accordingly, the concerns of Christian young people is a theme in the film. Ben Lowe, one of the founders of Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, says, “I grew up loving nature…but growing up in the church, I never heard a sermon on why we should care for Creation. I never really heard the connection between being a Christian and caring about the rest of God’s creation.” And later, he says, “I know there are Christians among people in my generation who have left the church disillusioned because they don’t think the church cares about the things God has placed on their hearts, like the environment.” (That sounds painfully familiar to us at BioLogos; science is too often a stated reason for why young people leave the church.)

There are several notable scientists in the film, including Cal DeWitt, Katharine Hayhoe, and E.O. Wilson. DeWitt is a conservationist and strong Christian, who has worked for decades to bridge those two worlds. Hayhoe is a climate scientist and committed Christian who frequently writes and speaks on creation care topics, especially climate change. E.O. Wilson is a pioneer of sociobiology and a renowned authority on ants. Religiously he is an agnostic, but he advocates for dialogue between science and religion, what he calls in the film “the two most powerful forces in the world.”

The film has already won several awards. I’m curious to know, however, how it will impact the community it appears to have been made for: Christians. The film uses Christian hymns, makes the case for stewardship using Scripture, and several cast members are very public Christians. It has helped me think more and more deeply about caring for Creation than I have in a long time. Yet will it have traction in Christian communities that already feel deeply distrustful of the conclusions of modern science? Will the idea of rolling up our sleeves alongside unbelieving scientists—who share similar goals but for different reasons—feel like compromise? Will the short but clear declaration in the film that humans are responsible for climate change prevent people from being moved? I really, really hope not.

Just the other day a friend of mine from church sent me a press release about the Kirtland’s Warbler, which was on the brink of extinction in the 1970s, but thanks to major conservation efforts has made a remarkable recovery and may now be removed from the list of endangered and threatened species. Some people might say this was a huge expenditure of time and money for one little species. It is, but aren’t living things worth significant investment? I think this is a wonderful example of what communal stewardship looks like. We can all be stewards individually, but we can also support and take part in larger efforts like this. We can encourage the young people in our lives to consider a career in ecology or conservation biology. There are endless ways we can contribute to taking care of this beautiful home.

This Earth Day, let us bow the knee to the Lord of Creation, and spend some time beholding, and loving, and caring for that which he has made.

About the author

Kathryn Applegate

Kathryn Applegate

Kathryn Applegate is a former Program Director at BioLogos. While working on her PhD in computational cell biology at  Scripps Research (La Jolla, CA), she became passionate about building bridges between the church and the scientific community. In 2010, she joined the BioLogos staff where she has the privilege of writing, speaking, and working with a wide variety of scholars and educators to develop new science and faith resources. Kathryn co-edited with Jim Stump How I Changed My Mind About Evolution (InterVarsity Press, 2016). Among many other projects during her time at BioLogos, Kathryn most recently led the development of Integrate, a new science and faith curriculum for home educators and teachers at Christian schools. Kathryn and her family enjoy exploring the beaches and state parks of Michigan and are helping to plant a new PCA church in Grand Rapids.

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