Several years ago, my family had the opportunity to vacation at a friend’s home in the Rockies. As we walked into the house, we collectively gasped. It was more extravagant than any place else we had ever stayed. We were more grateful for the beautiful views and the craftsmanship each day. We cleaned with a surprising enthusiasm and thoroughness when it was time to pack up out of respect and appreciation for our owners.
According to the Creation account God gave humanity the keys to a home that was more beautiful and grand than any architect could have imagined. Much like our vacation experience, when we receive permission to stay somewhere that we do not own, we must understand and accept the owner’s conditions. Genesis 1:28 spells out God’s terms:
Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth with your life and rule it. Over all animals on the ground, including the birds in the sky and fish in the sea, you can reign supreme.
These verses are essentially God’s first commandments to mankind. All creation bears fruit but humans have the unique responsibility of filling, governing and ruling over all things on the planet. These days, it’s difficult for us not to associate reigning and governing with abuse and corruption, but remember, this command was issued pre-Fall. God intended that all life on Earth should be protected and nurtured by men and women.
Author argues that the first commandments are part our spiritual legacy from the beginning. Wendell Berry, “Modern Christianity has stood silently by while a predatory economy has ravaged the world, destroyed its natural beauty and health, divided and plundered its communities and households.” Rather than unifying Christians, stewardship of the environment has polarized us.
At one end of the spectrum are believers who interpret certain biblical passages as permission to exploit the earth since it’s all going to burn anyway (“For this world as we know it will soon pass away.” 1 Corinthians 7:31). Extreme environmentalists who believe the earth is God and advocate strict population control, biological egalitarianism, and see the earth and humans as equals. The former can lead to apathy and neglect, while the latter can lead to fear and despair. As time goes by, more and more fruitful conversations are rare.
Leah KostamoAuthor of Planted, believes, “Polemic arguments have a short shelf life as far as transformation is concerned. What lasts and what changes hearts is wonder: a wonder born of a first-hand experience of creation.” Far too many of us spend our days disconnected from both wonder and creation. We don’t need to get dirt under our fingernails in order to eat. According to the author, we spend less time in nature. Richard Louv to coin the term “nature deficit disorder.” By losing our connection to creation, it’s all too easy to dismiss our sacred responsibility to care for and sustain this world.
Are we guilty of sin when we neglect to care for the earth’s environment?
Thankfully, in the past decade, increasing numbers of Christians seem to be responding to God’s call to action. No matter if you are actively involved in the world or just watching, we all have to confront the potentially dangerous question: Are we guilty of sin when we fail to care for the earth? To answer this question, we must not narrowly define stewardship or sin. If we equate good stewardship solely with eating organic, biking to work while wearing fair-trade clothing, and having solar panels on our roof, it feels pointless to even try—so many of us don’t.
And if we limit our understanding of sin to committing adultery or coveting our neighbor’s fuel-efficient hybrid, we refuse the redeeming—albeit painful—role of conviction. Richard Slimbach, Professor of Global Studies at Azusa Pacific University, expands the definition of sin: “We sin when we understand the moral obligations that come with our relationships and we ignore them.” That echoes the apostle James’ words, “Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it” (James 4:17). My family stayed at a vacation home and if we had left the doors unlocked, windows open, and the jacuzzi blazing, we would have sinned against their owners. We had understood the moral terms and obligations of using their house.
We don’t have to work for Sierra Club or live off the grid but we must all do something.
In the case of stewardship, I think it’s fair to say that we sin when we dismiss God’s obvious call to wisely and lovingly govern and reign over creation. We don’t have to work for Sierra Club or live off the grid but we must all do something. One thing that might be done is to install a composting container in the backyard. This can reduce household waste by between twenty and thirty percent. It could be refusing to submit to the consumerism idols that demand we spend our resources on unnecessary goods. Others might find it necessary to put pressure on government officials to prioritize global climate change.
According to an article in Acton Institute, “Our stewardship under God implies that we are morally accountable to him for treating creation in a manner that best serves the objectives of the kingdom of God.” As with any of the commands in Scripture, we can view stewardship as an invitation to partner with God in bringing his kingdom to earth, or decline the invitation. All of creation is waiting for our response.
- This TED Talk is by Katherine HayhoeThen, order Saving Ourselves from our library.
- Earth-WiseCal DeWitt.
- Planted, Leah Kostamo
- Save the Planet by serving GodMatthew Sleeth,.
- Our Father ’s WorldEd Brown,
- Sweet Corn, Turn HereBy Atina Diffley
- The Art of the Commonplace: Wendell Berry’s Agrarian EssaysBy Wendell Berry
Dorothy Littell Greco is the author Marriage in the Middle Making Marriage Beautiful. Dorothy enjoys long walks and lazy kayaking with her husband of thirty years. You can see more of her work at her website. Website.