Of Apple Trees and Solar Panels

Christ trumps my solar panels; the good news of salvation wins over my composter.

Gerald A. Klingbeil

Four years ago we were the first in our neighborhood to install a large solar panel array on our roof. We wanted to participate in the budding rooftop revolution that is transforming the energy landscape of many countries around the world—it made both economical and ecological sense to us. Today four more homes in our neighborhood have installed their own solar panel arrays.

My smartphone app tells me that on a great day (with few clouds and little humidity) my panels produce more than 40 kilowatt-hours, providing enough electricity for two single homes and offsetting 62 pounds (28 kilograms) of carbon emissions. If you like gadgets as I do, I enjoy letting the numbers soak in. My panels reliably produce about 9,000 kilowatt-hours every year, which means that our utility company has to write a check to us at the end of each year. We still have to pay a general connection fee to maintain grid and infrastructure, but we have become net producers of energy. In the past four years we have offset about 50,000 pounds (22,679 kilograms) of carbon emissions, which represent planting the equivalent of about 550 trees. I call it the Klingbeil forest.

The county we live in also tells us to separate recyclable materials (plastic and paper) from regular trash—something I had been used to from my home country of Germany. My wife enjoys planting veggies in our garden, and we compost our fruit and vegetable peelings, giving us great fertile earth. Since we don’t like too many chemicals in and around the house, we have so far refrained from fertilizing our lawn, instead opting to mulch—and live with some clover.

By now you may have gotten worried. Is he ready to join venerable Greenpeace or any other hip NGO focusing on saving the planet? Shouldn’t he rather be focusing on saving the world and proclaiming God’s end-time message?

Let me quiet your fears. I am not about to join a movement that, at times, is best described in Paul’s penetrating words found in Romans 1:25: “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator.”

First things first. Christ trumps my solar panels; the good news of salvation wins over my composter. Yet the apparent conflict is artificial and lacks true understanding of what is meant when Genesis speaks of dominion and stewardship. This earth, blighted and disfigured by thousands of years of sin and misery and pain and abuse, is still God’s creation entrusted to humanity. Our relationship to God’s earth is reflective of our relationship to the earth’s Creator.

Some may object strongly. They point to prophecy and postmodern agnostics to remind us that we should not be taken in by “the spirit of this age.” They are, of course, right—and wrong. Spirit-guided stewardship distinguishes carefully between self-promoting activism that removes God from the picture, and God-centered creation care that engages people as they contemplate divine revelation in nature. With some hesitation, I’d like to side with a saying attributed (most likely posthumously) to German Reformer Martin Luther: “If I knew that tomorrow was the end of the world, I would plant an apple tree today.” Even if it’s not a Luther classic, I like its sentiments. While I eagerly await God’s new creation and His return to Planet Earth, I am committed to taking care of God’s marvelous creation.

Gerald A. Klingbeil