Creation and Environment 4: The ball’s in our court

Posted on September 26, 2009 at 6:40 pm,

Continuing our series on reasons that Christians should care about the environment, today we deal with a bit of the Bible that has sometimes been misinterpreted to justify environmental destruction, but which actually means that we have a responsibility to look after the environment.

But before we begin, here’s a list of links to the rest of the series:

Part 1: Environment: Who Cares?
Part 2: Environment: Who Owns it?
Part 3: Environment: It is Good

At the end of Genesis chapter 1, the Bible says:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

In the past many Christians have interpreted this passage to mean that we can do whatever we like to the planet and the life that exists upon it. And whilst it may seem, reading this in isolation, that it is a valid interpretation, I don’t think that it remotely reflects the relationship God intends us to have with the rest of creation.

The main point of this passage is clearly that human beings are made in the image of God – and this has to be the context in which we interpret God’s command to humanity that we should be in control of the rest of nature. The question of what being made in God’s image means is far too big for a single blog post to adequately cover – especially as it would be a digression. However, one thing it must mean – according to this passage – is that our relationship to creation is to mirror God’s.

So how does God rule over creation?

Firstly, He delights in and enjoys it. This is evident from the way He talks about creation in, for example, Genesis 1 or Job 38-41. I covered the implications of this in the last post in this series.

Secondly, He cares about it. Jesus, whilst explaining why His followers need not worry, said this:

“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? ” (Matthew 6:26-30)

If God’s style of ruling over creation is to take care of it, then surely a care for creation should characterise our attitude to it. The way modern society subordinates care for creation to the “need” for more resources to fuel our capitalist, consumerist lifestyles is light years away from the sort of attitude to creation that reflects the image of God.

Our Responsibility

Authority comes with responsibility. Knowing that God has given the human race collective authority over the planet, we also need to realise that He will hold us collectively and individually accountable for exercising that authority wisely. This is the principle of stewardship. It is best illustrated by a story Jesus told that is usually referred to as the Parable of the Talents, found in Matthew chapter 25.

The story goes that a man went away on a long journey, entrusting three very large sums of money (measured in talents – hence the title) to his servants. Two of his servants used the money they had, invested it wisely, and had twice as much when their master returned. The third servant buried it in the ground, squandering the responsibility entrusted to him. The first two servants were rewarded, but the third was punished.

In its context (it is right in the middle of a section dealing with being ready for the second coming), this passage clearly shows that God will hold us accountable for what we did with the things He has given us. This holds true for our skills and abilities, as well as for our material possessions, and our collective ownership of the Earth. God has given us custody of the planet Earth and all the species that live upon it. The principle here is clearly that God will hold us accountable for whether we look after it wisely or foolishly.

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