This is an important question in light of the current debate over global warming and climate change. Is man responsible, is God responsible, or is just some random occurrence according to laws of chance?
To answer this we need to fully understand the nature of our creation, our God given responsibly and the consequences of the fall.
First of all, we know that God could not be responsible for the degradation of our environment for he viewed all of Creation to be “good.” After the Flood God said, "Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done” (Gen 8:21). Since we believe in a God centered world, neither can our destiny be due to some law of chance.
This leaves us with Man as the most likely culprit. Letʼs examine the nature of our creation to see if we can gain further insight. We know from the Church Fathers that the condition of mankind at the time of our creation was radically different from what it is now. Saint Symeon says, “Adam was created with an incorruptible body... and was established by God the Creator as the immortal king of an incorrupt world...”1 Before the fall our Church Fathers say that Adam and Eve were free from all bodily needs of shelter and clothing, sleep, sexual relations or passions, tears, bodily waste, sickness or physical ailments, all difficulties, sorrows,hunger or pain.2 St. John Chrysostom says they “were living like angels.”3 All of creation was in a different state than what we experience today.
In the beginning, all of the cosmos was incorrupt. The animals were not predators but ate plants. All of Godʼs creation was created for the pleasure of man and made subject to the his control. God had made him ruler of all things on earth. St. Maximos the Confessor says, “man unites heaven and earth, making the whole of sensible creation one with itself and undivided...”4 Man was not viewed as distant or separated from the rest of creation, but instead an integral part of it with a leading role to maintain harmony.
Moses reports to us, “Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground" (Gen 1:26). “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it...Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name...” (Gen 2:15, 19-20)
Before the fall, man was the king of creation. He had dominion over all creatures, he had the responsibility to care for the Garden of Eden, he had the superior intelligence to name the animals (a sign of superiority for times of old due to the common use of slaves who were named by their masters), and was made in Godʼs own image. Man was the pinnacle of Godʼs creation, connecting the lowest part of Creation with the highest. With His obedience to God, it was up to him to maintain harmony.
After the fall manʼs physical condition was changed and he was separated from God and banned from Paradise. He took on a grossly material body and now lived under the fear of death. He was now inclined to act sinfully, no longer centered on God, but on his own needs and desires. When man fell, all of creation fell and became susceptible to death and corruption. Paul writes, “For the creation was made subject to futility, not willingly, but by reason of him Who hath subjected it in hope” (Romans 8:20). Reflecting on this passage, Saint John Chrysostom points the finger clearly at man asking, What is the meaning of “the creation was made subject to futility”? That it became corruptible. For what cause, and on what account? On of account of you, O man. For since you took a body mortal and subject to suffering, so also the earth received a curse, and brought forth thorns and thistles.”5 It is the sin of man that has resulted in the loss of harmony in our present world.
Through the Incarnation, Jesus Christ came to redeem mankind and to restore his original position. This He accomplished though His victory over death. The gates of Paradise were again opened and Mankind was shown the way to reunite with God according to Godʼs plan. Since man was responsible for the fall of creation, this means that when man is restored to his original incorruption that all of creation will also be resurrected and transformed. Again man is in a leadership role. Chrysostom writes addressing mankind, “Because of you, it [the creation] suffered evils and became corrupt, but no injustice has been done, for because of you it will become incorruptible again. This is what “in hope” means.6 As Paul says, “the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom 8:21). So you see that man was the leader in the fall of all of Creation. Likewise He is the leader for its restoration.
Saint John Chrysostom says, “Do you see how man leads the way in all things, and how everything has come about for his sake?...creation is suffering on account of you...”7
So who is responsible for the condition of the environment? You be the judge.
1 First Created Man, p 103
2 Hieromonk Damascene, Created in Corruption, Orthodox Word, Nos. 258-259, 2008, p.14-15
3 St. John Chrysostom, On Virginity 14.3, 5
4 St. Maximus the Confessor, Ambiguum 41; PG 91:1305D-1308A
5 St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans 14; PG 60:530A; cf. NPNF. 1st Series, vol 11, p. 444
6 St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans 14; PG 60:530C; NPNF, 1st Series, vol 11, p. 444
7 St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans 14; PG 60:530D-531A; cf. NPNF, p. 445