I recently drove to Hilton Head Island, making my way down a backwoods road in the low country.

It was serene and special, lined with live oaks and cypress trees, dripping with fluffy tufts of Spanish moss blowing in the gentle breeze. It was a beautiful ride, looking up at the massive trees, blue sky breaking through, and the feel of being somewhere quite separated from the everyday life we occasionally need to leave behind.

Then I looked out my window at the side of the road, and the beauty was gone.

Cups, bags, bottles, and every other imaginable type of refuse whizzed by my window, tossed carelessly into this space that God has made. “Why?” I asked, much to my wife’s confusion, as it was a question with no context and no introduction. After another moment of silent contemplation with no resolution in sight, I said, “Why would people care so little for the beautiful earth that God has made? How could a human being disregard the gift that God has built here by trashing this place like this?” “I really don’t know,” she said. I agree. I don’t know either.

Today is Earth Day, and that means different things to different people.

Here’s how the website describes it:

Today, Earth Day is widely recognized as the largest secular observance in the world, marked by more than a billion people every year as a day of action to change human behavior and create global, national, and local policy changes.

I highlighted my favorite part of that description for emphasis. Because, wow, that really makes it sound nice, doesn’t it? It’s not that simple, unfortunately.

It’s simply amazing that humanity has been able to turn the concept of caring for our planet into such a radically polarizing issue. But just like seemingly every other “crisis” that the world faces today, there are three sides to the story—a side, the other side, and the truth.

What Is Earth Day?

On one side, and for ease of identification, we’ll call it “the right,” Earth Day is the day where the “tree-huggers” get together, eat granola, wear tie-dyed T-shirts, and protest about how we need to save the whales!

On the other side of the coin, and yes, we’ll call it “the left,” it’s the time when we tell these oil spilling, polluting, fossil-fuel guzzling, toxic dumping, raw sewage making, climate-destroying factories and their ilk that we’ve had enough and we’re shuttin’ em down!

I want to go back to that description above. What if Earth Day really was nothing more than “a day of action to change human behavior”? More importantly, for the sake of maintaining the beauty of what God has given us here, what if we were really interested in and committed to changing our behavior? I’m not talking about our driving habits or increasing our aluminum can recycling. I’m talking about changing us. Both sides.

First, let’s borrow David’s ancient words that could fit nicely on an Earth Day T-shirt:

A Psalm of David. The earth is the LORD’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who live in it. (Psalm 24:1 NASB)

God made the world for us and gave us dominion over it, but in the end, the earth is the LORD’s and all it contains. We have a responsibility to protect what He has given to us. It applies to all who needlessly, no, better phrased, selfishly trash the planet and do nothing to demonstrate that responsibility to keep it clean and beautiful. Yes, that applies to large corporations who carelessly pollute and endanger lives, all the way down to the careless and lazy litterers who drive down Highway 278 toward Hilton Head, South Carolina, and throw out their garbage without a thought for the planet that God has given to us. There’s no excuse.

Earth Day’s greatest success won’t be in the legislatures of the world. It must be in the hearts of humanity. If we could change human behavior as it relates to honoring our commitment to exercise dominion over the earth with responsibility, it would help.

Someone is thinking, this guy is nuts. There’s so much more that must be done! I know my perspective is simple, maybe naive. But it’s a start. I’m not an environmentalist (just being honest), and I’m sorry to say, I think there are more existential threats to our world than climate change. However, I do think a radical change in our climate is necessary, and it’s the second realization we need to internalize on this 51st Earth Day.

Paul says in Romans 14:19, “So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” Tragically, we can’t fix much of anything until we fix ourselves. Until the climate of current human interaction is significantly improved, we are doomed to fail in just about everything we attempt to do, other than those things centered on division and destruction. We’ve gotten very good at that.

So here’s as political as I’ll get about Earth Day. We can’t take away everyone’s car and tell them they can’t get gas anymore. At the same time, we can investigate alternative energy sources, as God has given us remarkable ability to create technology through the ages.

Man, if on Earth Day, we could get a billion people to tame their tongues, unclench our jaws, lower our fists, and open our ears, we might make progress. It will take everybody to do that, but sadly, everyone won’t see it this way.

However, we’re not everyone. We’re disciples of the Messiah, so strive for peace with everyone and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. If nothing else today, treat someone with extra kindness and pick up some trash. Then, rinse and repeat. The Maker of heaven and earth will be happy you did!