Eight billion reasons to celebrate
The human population is a blessing, not a curse
Birthdays are usually joyous occasions. Balloons, cake, and gifts commemorate a memorable day as a unique person’s life is honored. But a recent birthday was marked by consternation rather than celebration by many of the world’s elites.
No one really knows who this person is, but we do know that he or she was born somewhere in the world around Nov. 15, 2022, when for the first time the world’s population surpassed 8 billion people. A healthier global culture might have seen a worldwide birthday celebration of this landmark event. But instead we were treated to the hectoring of elitist scolds who would rather see fewer—far fewer—people born each year. Just recently, the doomsday prophet Paul Ehrlich was featured on CBS’s famed 60 Minutes, decrying the negative impact that people have on the planet. “Humanity is very busily sitting on a limb that we’re sawing off,” warned Ehrlich.
The best approaches to the challenges of environmental stewardship do not revolve around reductionist truisms that simply passing laws, international treaties, or banning fuel sources would solve the world’s problems. Instead, they recognize the complexity of the created order, and humanity’s proper place within it.
When we read the creation account in Genesis, we see that humanity was made as part of God’s good creation with a unique status and task. Man was formed by God “from the dust of the ground,” and he shares with animals this material body and the “breath of life.” But human beings are also uniquely created in the image of God. Human beings and other living creatures in Genesis 1 are blessed with the mandate to “be fruitful and increase in numbers,” but human beings are singled out for the task to “fill the earth and subdue it” and to “rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves along the ground.”
The fall into sin corrupts this created relationship, with lasting consequences. Death enters the world with sin, and the harmony of the created order is disrupted. As God says to Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you” (Genesis 3:17). And as the Apostle Paul writes, “Creation was subjected to futility,” and “the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Romans 8:20,22). The world doesn’t work like it was intended in creation, but God’s preserving grace has allowed human beings to fulfill their mandate in some limited but real and partial way.
Eight billion people now live on the planet, and human beings have discovered more and more ways to feed, sustain, and develop communities in the intervening millennia. There are more people alive now than ever have been at one time, and at the same time the generations living now enjoy the greatest material prosperity of all time. Great gains are being made to wipe out extreme poverty even as the human population increases.
There is no doubt that more people bring more challenges and opportunities for conflict and discord. Already with the conflict between the sons of Adam and Eve we see the complications of a growing human population. But along with more problems, more people also bring more solutions. A biblical worldview has always affirmed that new generations of human beings are a blessing and a gift rather than a curse.
In a fallen world sometimes there are conflicts between human beings and the rest of creation. Sometimes those conflicts are the direct results of human sin, and other times they are the unavoidable consequence of scarcity. The divine mandate to be good stewards of this world means that we are neither to abdicate our responsibility to develop the created order and human civilization nor to do so in a way that ignores the task to care for God’s creation.
No one alive today knows all the answers to all of the complex, concrete challenges facing humanity. But we do know that human beings, created in God’s image and to serve him, have been blessed to be called as means of addressing problems, even as fallen humanity’s sin is the source of creation’s ills.
A proper valuation of the human person, as “a little lower than the heavenly beings” (Psalm 8:5) and “of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:31), is a good place to start. And that status of the human person is reason to celebrate rather than to mourn the birth of more people and new generations of human beings, even as we seek to live up to our calling to be faithful stewards of God’s creation.
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