The Cornwall Alliance, in cooperation with our parent non-profit The James Partnership, produced a series of 23 lectures on the Ten Commandments. How do those relate to our usual focus on environment and development? Lots of ways. This is the first in a series of brief posts exploring some of them.
“You shall have no other gods before Me.”—The First Commandment
“The heavens declare the glory of God,” says Psalm 19:1, and He will not share His glory with any other (Isaiah 42:8).
This is important to both environmental stewardship and economic development.
For economic development, it reminds us not to make a god out of money or standard of living. “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?” (Matthew 16:26) At the same time, it reminds us that God promises blessing, including generally (though not always—He has His reasons for making exceptions) economic blessing, to those who obey His commands:
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. (Psalm 1:1–3)
For environmental stewardship, it reminds us not to put the creation in the place of the Creator. Some environmentalists do that. Some, pantheists or panentheists, do it explicitly, worshiping Earth (often by the name of the Greek goddess Gaia). Others, materialists who assert that only matter and energy are real, do it implicitly, since the implication of their worldview is that the material world, which we Christians understand as the creation, is ultimate, not the Creator.
Getting mixed up on the First Commandment always leads to foolishness, as the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 1:18–25:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!
Mistaking the creation for the Creator has serious consequences. As the Indian Christian philosopher and Cornwall Alliance Senior Fellow Dr. Vishal Mangalwadi pointed out in his lecture for our Resisting the Green Dragon series, those who deify the creation tend to become subservient to it. That turns upside down the relationship between man and the rest of the creation that is implicit in Genesis 1:28, where, having created man and woman in His image, God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
The role of the heavens and the earth is not to be worshiped themselves but to incite worship of their Creator.