Creation and the Environment

If this creation is made by God and we are placed in it to look after it, to rule over it, subdue it and to fill it, to keep it and till it, then what implications does this have for our approach to the environment and ecology?

  1. Care for Creation as worship

Chris Wright notes that,

“Creation is good independent of our human presence within it and our ability to observe it. In the creation narratives the affirmation ‘It is good’ was not made by Adam and Eve but by God himself. So the goodness of creation (which includes its beauty) is theologically and chronologically prior to human observation.”[1]

Indeed, we are not ourselves the true pinnacle of creation. Rather, this belongs to the events of the 7th day.

“It is not quite true to say that human beings were the climax of God’s creation in Genesis 1-2. The real climax came with God’s own sabbath rest, as God entered into the enjoyment of his ‘very good’ creation. The creation exists for God – for God’s praise and glory… and also for God’s delight.”[2]

This is important because it keeps our status and position in perspective. Humans enjoy a special and privileged position in Creation. They are to rule it, but they do not own it. We are stewards only.  This truth is re-enforced by the boundaries that God puts in place. These boundaries are first seen with the limit on which trees Adam could eat from in the Garden. We do not have unlimited access to and usage of God’s creation. There are controls on how we are to live in his world

This follows through for the people of Israel when they are placed in the land. There are restrictions and boundaries. These include the weekly sabbath rest from work but also sabbath years and Jubilees when debts were cancelled and when the land itself was allowed to rest.[3]

Those restrictions served as a reminder that God’s people were not permitted to exploit the earth.  This is both because, as we have just seen, Creation isn’t there just for us but ultimately for God’s glory and enjoyment. When we act as wise stewards and care for the environment, we share God’s perspective on it and share in his enjoyment of it. Environment care is part of our worship.

This also helps to distinguish a Christian approach to ecology from some forms of environmental activism. Frame notes that “there are differences between a Biblical concern for the earth and secular environmentalism”[4] especially where environmentalism is rooted in a form of pantheistic worship of creation as mother.[5] We do not worship the creation, but the creator who made and sustains it.

 

 

  1. Environment care is an act of wisdom

Part of our responsibility to rule over creation includes the need to care for it because what happens to the world affects us. John Frame comments that,

“The cultural mandate does not justify destruction of the environment as some non-Christian writers have suggested. Man cannot fill and subdue the earth if he destroys the earth’s resources.”[6]

As he explains, this reflects the point that we too are creatures and participants in Creation.

“[God] made man to have dominion over the world but man is not only the Lord of creation, he is himself a creature made of dust. And he is dependent on the rest of creation for his sustenance. So man is to use the resources of the world, he is not to exploit or deplete them. If those resources are depleted, the natural consequence is that man himself suffers. Man must be a responsible steward of the earth if he is to preserve his own life.”[7]

We benefit from a planet that is properly cared for. Exploitation of the earth’s natural resources and the destruction of plant and animal life hurts us as well as the wider creation.

  1. Environment care is an act of love and devotion

Frame points out that,

“although God has a special concern for human life, he is concerned analogously for the whole of creation, for all forms of life.”[8]

This is not to be confused with the more militant elements of the animal rights movement. It is not that animals or any other form of life are equivalent to and equal with human beings.[9] However, we have a particular responsibility to care for the creatures in God’s creation which goes back to Adam taking responsibility for naming each of the creatures. It is reflected in Noah’s responsibility to preserve all animal forms in the Ark and re-enforced by another boundary rule or limitation. After the Flood, humans were permitted to eat meat, but Noah was told,

“You must never eat any meat that still has the lifeblood in it.”[10]

This responsibility to care for all creatures under our rule is important because our attitude to other creatures shows something of our character. We are rightly wary of those who demonstrate a cruel attitude to animals because as Frame points out,

“There is a strong analogy between different kinds of life. Those who do not care about the loss of animal life will likely not care much about human life either.”[11]

 

 

Conclusion

God has given us responsibility as we live as his image bearers in his creation. We are called to be wise and loving stewards of it. Christians who know and love God as their heavenly father have an even greater motivation to care for his creation.

[1] Wright, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God, 107.

[2] Wright, Old Testament Ethics for the People of God, 126.

[3] See e.g. Exodus 23:10-11.

[4] Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life, 744

[5] Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life,744.

[6] Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life, 744. NB. By Cultural Mandate, Frame mean’s God’s command to fill and subdue the earth.

[7] Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life, 744.

[8] Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life, 744.

[9] Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life, 744.

[10] Genesis 9:4.

[11] Frame, Doctrine of the Christian Life, 743.

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