WHY SHOULD A CHRISTIAN PLANT A TREE?
Christians all over the world are called to pursue relevance—to be ‘light of the world and salt of the earth’. We are called to be leaders and examples of excellence wherever we find ourselves, and preservers of all that is good in this world. We have been called to be lighthouses on the harbour of life, leading returning wastrels back home. If there is any one denomination currently living up to this call in the Ghanaian Christian space, it must be the Church of Pentecost.
The Church of Pentecost has been in the news lately for all the right reasons, albeit not everyone is enthused. The church recently commissioned a prison complex for the Ghana Prisons Service at Ejura, the first of many to come, to aid in the decongestion of existing overcrowded and overused facilities, and to facilitate a more reformative handling of prisoners in Ghana. The said facility has a 300-bed capacity, a church with a baptistery, various skill training centres and recreational facilities. The immense investment the church is willing to inject into rehabilitation of prisoners is not only commendable, but also strategic and worthy of emulation. In my view, there is no gift as priceless as giving a second chance to the quintessential ‘lost sailor’ to rediscover hope, embrace God’s love and ultimately discover his way back home. More recently though, the church has set its sights on planting and nurturing one million trees across the country in a span of two months, and this has also been met with some mixed reactions. How ‘spiritual’ is tree planting? What do trees have to do with the church? Why must Christians plant trees?
The Church of Pentecost has determined to plant one million trees from May to June this year as part of its Environmental Care Campaign. The campaign forms part of its five-year strategic vision dubbed “Possessing the Nations.” An undoubtably commendable step, I strongly believe tree-planting is as every bit biblical and spiritual as any other form of worship we can render to God. The onus thus falls on us as Christians to lead the charge in this regard, as we pursue relevance in a world that begs to be saved. As we seek to preserve all that is good in our world as salt of the earth and light of the world, it is imperative we do not shirk our responsibilities as good stewards of the environment we live in. Doing so may incur unimaginable costs—costs that will be too expensive for future generations bear.
The Bible—the Christian’s principal go-to manual when in doubt— is replete with themes that speak to why a Christian must be a good steward of his environment. Let’s take a look at a few.
1. GOD CREATED ALL THINGS
The Bible begins and ends with the statement that God created all things. Every living thing is an expression of God’s engineering, artistry and planning. As people made in God’s image, we have the privilege to explore our world, and to be awed by its complexity, beauty and elegance.
You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being. (Revelation 4:11)
Being good stewards of the environment—including the planting of trees to preserve it—is thus an expression of worship and respect for God the Creator.
2. GOD PLACED MAN IN A GARDEN AND CHARGED HIM TO TAKE CARE OF IT
The very first commandment to the human race, even before the prohibition regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, involved caring for and protecting creation. Genesis chapter 2 details the creation of the first man, Adam. He was told to work the garden, and to take care of it. The word translated “take care of” includes the ideas of watchful protection, guarding and preserving.
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” (Genesis 1:26)
The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. (Genesis 2:15)
In obedience to God’s command to rule over and manage the earth, it is imperative for the Christian to be a good steward of his or her environment.
3. ENVIRONMENTAL DEGRADATION AS A CONSEQUENCE OF SIN
The pain of the curse, the taint of sin and the stench of death affected not just the first human couple and all of their descendants, including us, but also the entire natural order. The ground itself was cursed. Degradation of the environment in many ways is a direct result of human actions, but at a deeper level is an ongoing consequence of the original fall into sin.
For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Romans 8:20-22)
In many ways, planting trees may serve as a way of reversing the damage to creation brought though the curse on sin.
4. GOD LOVES HIS CREATION
Scripture often uses the metaphor of God as a gardener or herder. God cares for the plants and animals He has created the same way that a farmer nurtures his/her crops or tends his/her herds. Affection for the land, the soil, the crops and the trees, is a deeply held value for the gardener and the farmer.
For every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains and the insects in the fields are mine. (Psalm 50:10, 11)
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. (Luke 12:6)
Planting trees and nurturing them is thus an imitation of the heart of God the Gardener.
5. THE BLESSINGS OF GOD ARE SOMETIMES EXPRESSED IN TERMS OF AN ENVIRONMENT OF LUSH PLANT AND ANIMAL LIFE
In tending creation as God’s caretakers, and experiencing God’s blessings on our faithful labours, we see a glimpse of another dimension of life as God intended it originally, and life as God will restore it in the age to come. The kingdom of God is both present and not yet. God’s present blessings of fruitful trees and herds, and abundant crops, foreshadow even greater blessings yet to be.
If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees their fruit. (Leviticus 26:3,4).
6. GOD COMMANDS US TO LOVE OUR NEIGHBOURS
Environmental concern is one aspect of loving our neighbours as ourselves, as much as caring about the water they drink, the food they eat, the shelter they enjoy, and the physical ailments from which they suffer.
One aspect of love is to cultivate awareness, sensitivity and empathy regarding the impact that our actions have on those around us, both locally and globally.
For the entire law is summed up in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14)
Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper. (Jeremiah 29:7)
Planting and nurturing trees as a Christian, mindful of the ultimate positive societal impact, is thus an expression of love for the people God has made.
7. WE ARE CALLED TO BECOME ALL THINGS TO ALL PEOPLE, IN ORDER TO WIN SOME
Concern for the environment is one of the most commonly held values among millennials who are also the most alienated from the institutional church. Engagement in environmental concerns is a way to build bridges for the gospel and to establish credibility with those who often assume the church has nothing to offer.
I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:22,23)
Planting trees may thus serve as a bridge to prepare the way for sharing the glorious good news that Jesus Christ is Lord of all, and that God in Christ was reconciling the world (including all of creation) to himself.
David Bennett 2021 Why Should An Evangelist Plant A Tree, First Fruit, viewed May 19, 2021 <https://firstfruit.org/why-should-an-evangelist-plant-a-tree/>