Christians have witnessed a real change of hearts and lives, both in the Bible and also personally. Knowing that Jesus was the promised Messiah should have been enough to inspire radical behavior change in the disciples, and yet—almost cringingly from our perspective—we can see how long it took for that head knowledge to become a conviction of heart which gave them the courage to change their lives and proclaim that truth to others.
Mercifully, God sent the Holy Spirit to take hold of their hearts and strengthen them for all that lay ahead. He thoroughly transformed them—and it changed the world! His Spirit now drives us forward every day, helping us overcome all the potential stumbling blocks to which our hearts cling to resist change.
The Gospel for Conservation
My ultimate encouragement to stay in conservation science rests in my hope for the church. If we, as his church of transformed and Spirit-empowered hearts, engage with the needs of a groaning creation, can we show his will and goodness here on earth as it is in heaven?
I look to Margaret W. Miller as an example of belief in action. Miller is a Christian coral ecologist, who works in Florida and faces the discouraging task of conserving coral reefs in a polluted world. She works with reefs where—like the Great Barrier Reef—increasing bleaching events have left large areas of coral severely compromised. She laments that throughout her career, “much of what we observe them doing in the world is dying.”
Every day she stubbornly continues in her work. Her efforts to help the coral reproduce even go as far as coral midwifery and coral gardening, which involve assisting egg fertilization, nursing young colonies, and spreading fragments to new areas. She believes that this work is an important extension of her discipleship, because a healthy reef's fruitfulness and examples of interdependence demonstrate God's provision for all. The task at hand is “a very humbling and scary prospect,” but she continues in this field because of her understanding that God loves his creation and wants ecosystems to flourish and function in the way he intended. This idea gives the system an intrinsic value as God's creation. It also connects us to God's command to care for the vulnerable and marginalized of his creation—in this case, his coral ecosystems and the human communities who depend upon them.
As I reflect on this as a Christian and a conservationist, I've been challenged by words I say quite often. “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…” I am quick to pray but slow to let it sink in. Am I really willing to be the hands and feet through which God works for his restored creation to be glimpsed, even partially, here in our world? When Jesus’ brother James described Abraham, he said, “You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.” (James 2:22).
In this hyper-connected world, with so much news at our fingertips, the overload can stop us from acting. So very often I let my environmental concern be momentary and head-based. I read an article, feel sad for a moment, wish I could change things, and then scroll on to news items that are going to affect my life more directly. Yet it is the equivalent of telling a naked, starving neighbor to “go in peace; keep warm and well fed” (James 2:16), while making no attempt to help them. James calls Christians to move beyond empathy to action.