Why Environmental Stewardship Matters (part 1)

It was my first time at church. Ever.

My parents must have felt guilty about something, because they had the sudden urge to attend church one hot summer day in 1992. It was one of the few times I remember visiting a Sunday school class as a child. I found myself feeling awkward as a 10-year old who didn’t understand most of the words and didn’t know any of the people.

The activity for our class was to write out a prayer on a decorative piece of paper. Not knowing much about prayer, I had to draw on the limited areas of knowledge I had as a child of the early 90s: the Gulf War, science class, baseball, and girls.

Here was my prayer: “Dear God, Thank you for food, water, shelter, space, love, and a wonderful world. Please kill Saddam Hussein. Please let me marry Jill from my baseball team. Amen.”

I’m fully aware that this is a creepy prayer for a ten-year-old. The teachers were rightly concerned, but about the wrong things. When I explained that my line about food, water, shelter, and space came from my science class and that these things made up the different parts of an animal’s habitat, they responded by telling me that I needed to make my prayer “more spiritual.” They didn’t comment on my hawkish foreign policy.

That incident stuck with me. Years later, when I came to know and love Christ, I assumed that when I started to read the Bible, I would read a spiritual book that was ambivalent toward this physical world. I didn’t expect to find a verse that said, “Thou shall not recycle, but thou shall drown baby seals in in a puddle of motor oil.”  Rather, I expected to find a message about a God that cared exclusively about spiritual matters, and that environmental stewardship was fine, but ultimately not very important.

I was wrong. As I opened up the scriptures, I encountered a God who is the creator, sustainer, and redeemer of the whole world—a God deeply concerned with the spiritual, social, and physical aspects of life. I found many Biblical themes that compelled me to be a better steward of the physical environment. Over the next few posts, I plan to share a handful of those reasons with you, including:

1. The earth belongs to the Lord, and we should respect his property.

2. God created human beings to be stewards of his creation.

3. Creation is damaged by human sin, but God goes to great lengths to preserve his good creation.

4. Human life is dependent upon God’s creation. Therefore, environmental stewardship is an act of love toward our neighbor.

5. God reveals himself through creation. Therefore, if we want people to know God, we should care for his creation.

As people who live in the desert of Arizona, there are many environmental issues that are worthy of reflection, such as water, energy, food systems, and more. However, in order for us to meaningfully engage these issues—not just respond to a fad—we must be convinced that environmental stewardship is an occasion to glorify God.

As Michael Abbate says in his book Gardening Eden, “The sun and stars, coral reefs, fungi, salamanders, manatees, and even the Himalayan blackberry were created primarily for this purpose: to commend, exalt, and give thanks to God. In His unfathomable wisdom, God designed everything in the universe to all work together in immeasurable complexity so that it could relentlessly glorify Him.”

 

This article by Jim Mullins was originally posted on the Flourish Phoenix Blog. Jim is on staff with Surge Network and is a husband, dad, pastor, gardener, and resident of Tempe.