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Who Owns All This Stuff?

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.  You needed air to breath.  You needed nourishment, specifically the food that your mother lovingly supplied.  You needed to be wrapped in clothes.  You even 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.  The first rule of biblical religion is “There is a God, and you’re not Him!”

Man is, moreover, a special kind of creature.  Man, unlike trees, stars, dolphins, and all other inhabitants of this cosmos, is made in the image of God.  As God’s image bearer, he is given authority over creation under God.  The biblical term for this authority is “stewardship”.  Man is given provisional rule and ownership under God.  And to God man must give an account for the way in which he exercises that authority.

Ownership of God’s Stuff

Christian stewardship, rightly understood and applied, establishes the right to private property.  This may not seem apparent on the surface, but consider: If God grants you stewardship over a house or other property, that property becomes yours in a definite way.  You don’t own it ultimately.  Only God owns all things in that way.  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.  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 a clearly observable feature of the universe.  The present world is both beautiful and beastly.  This is so because while, according to Scripture, God created everything very good, our first parents, Adam and Eve revolted against their Maker and brought down a curse not only upon themselves, but also on their progeny, indeed upon all the cosmos.  At the Fall, creation was, as the Apostle Paul teaches, “…subjected to futility” (Rom. 8:20). This means that biblical stewardship over the created cosmos must always be restorative and redemptive under God and His gracious Law.  We are charged by God to remake the universe better than we found it (Gen. 1:28).

Why Almost Everyone is Wrong about Stewardship

This biblical perspective on use of 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, minerals, plants, animals, and all the elements of creation with a clear meaning, a definition, and a purpose.  God knew what He intended in making all things.  This divine intention renders the world meaningful.  Unlike the materialists and those who hold to some variant of evolutionary theory, the Christian finds the universe, even in its fallen state, 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 not divine.  It is not a subject to be personified and then worshipped.  Only the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are true divinity. Only this Triune God must be worshipped by men and through man as steward, by all creation.  To turn the creature into an idol both destroys man who worships and the creature who is worshipped.

Christian Farming, Christian Eating, Christian Living

This Christian perspective on stewardship must inform 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, hear 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 and because that world is a gift of our Great God and King.  And we must avoid the abuse and 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 provides 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 heaven 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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