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Stewardship of the Earth

You are Needy

Everything you eat, drink, breathe, wear, or in any way use belongs to God’s creation.  You were born into this world naked and possessing nothing.  The first thing the doctors, nurses, and your parents learned about you was that you were needy.  You needed air (hence your first gasp and first bellowing cry).  You needed nourishment, specifically the food that your mother lovingly supplied.  You needed to be wrapped in clothes made from some plant or animal.  You needed gravity to keep your tiny body rooted in this world that you had now come to inhabit.  In short, you were and are a creature in need of other creatures for your very existence.

This fundamental and Biblical fact, called the Creator/creature distinction, differentiates the Christian Faith and its approach to life from all other philosophies and religions.  But there is more.  Man is a creature among other creatures.  He is also profoundly different.  Man, unlike trees, stars, dolphins, and all other creatures, is made in the image of God.  Man is given authority over creation under God.  The Biblical term for this idea is “stewardship.”  Man is given provisional rule and ownership under God.  To God man must give an account for the way in which he exercises that stewardship.

Private Property Ownership of God’s Stuff

Christian stewardship rightly understood and rightly applied establishes firmly the right to private property.  This may not seem apparent on the surface.  But consider: If God grants you stewardship over a house and other property, that property becomes yours in a definite way.  You don’t own it ultimately; only God owns all things.  But God gave the property to you to watch over and care for.  Those rights and responsibilities do not belong to the government, to the community, or to your neighbor.  The stewardship is yours.  Herein we find an example of the beautiful balance between God’s gifts and man’s obligations.  By requiring stewardship of a man, God sets up a wall of protection around what that man possesses.

It must be remembered as well that the Bible clearly teaches that creation is now fallen and made corrupt.  This explains the clearly observable twin features of the universe.  The universe is both beautiful and beastly.  The Bible teaches that God created everything very good but that our first parent, Adam revolted against his Maker and brought down the curse upon himself, his progeny, and all the cosmos.  At the Fall, creation was, as the Apostle Paul teaches, “subjected to futility.”  This means that Christian stewardship over the created cosmos must always be redemptive.  We are charged by God to remake the universe better than we found it (Gen. 1:28).

A Cure for the Common Error

This Biblical perspective on our interaction with the created universe protects the Christian from several perennial and hurtful mistakes.  First, it shows that man is not a meaningless accident.  He has purpose, and his use of the created world is defined by that purpose.  God created men, animals, and the elements of creation with a clear meaning, a definition, a purpose.  God knew what He intended in making all things.  His divine intention makes the world meaningful.  Contra the materialists and all those who hold to some variant of evolutionary theory, the Christian finds the universe, even in its fallenness, a beautiful and meaningful place.  He is therefore freed from the disastrous conclusion that the world is ruled by chaos.  Second, this Christian understanding of stewardship prevents the all too common temptation to abuse creation.  Because man is not ultimately over the world, he must not use the world willy-nilly according to his own desires and whims.  We serve another.  We must give an account.  This properly leads us to cherish and care for the natural world.  Christians are thus capable of true conservation.  Finally, Biblical stewardship frees Christians from the temptation to worship the creature.  The creature is an object; it is not the subject.  Only God possesses essential being.  Only the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are true divinity. Only this Triune God must be worshipped by men, and through men, by all creation.  To turn the creature into an idol both destroys man who worships and the creature who is worshipped. As evidence, consider the dismal condition of most cows in Hindu India.

Christian Farming, Christian Eating, Christian Living

This Christian perspective on stewardship must shape the way we farm, the way we eat, and the way we order our lives.  Joyful gratitude must characterize all of our uses of the physical world.  Everything we handle, taste, smell, or see is a gift of our Creator.  We must come to cherish and seek to nurture the world around us because that world is filled with our fellow creatures.  We must avoid all abuse and all wanton destruction of the created world, knowing that we must give an account to the One who is both our and its great Maker.

Finally, Christian stewardship will provide hope for the future.  Men and the world that God has made will not meet with a meaningless end.  The same God who gave meaning and definition to rocks and trees and mountains and men by His wise creation has decreed the final purpose of the created world.  That end will be glorious. In this present world, disasters do strike and even the most faithful stewards sometimes find their efforts thwarted.  Yet, the heavens and the earth over which we men and women have been given stewardship will ultimately be remade and renewed according to the will and purpose of its Creator.  In that day, the creation will rejoice along with its steward when a new heavens and new earth are ushered in, with no more death, no more injustice, and no more suffering.  On that day you and I will be glad at the part we’ve been privileged to play in caring for and wisely stewarding God’s wonderful world.

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