Environmental stewardship isn’t an elective reserved for the granola Christians, but it’s an integral part of being human—and being obedient to God.
Plants, animals, and humans are all created by God, but are distinct. They are not the same thing, nor do they carry the same amount of value. Humans are unique among the created order, because humans are image bearers of God.
Many people resist the idea of environmental stewardship, because they would rather spend their time, talents, and treasure “helping people rather than trees.” This is a false dichotomy for a number of reasons. First, humans need trees in order to survive, so to plant a tree is to care for other people. (This will be the focus of the next post in this series.) Second, humans were created as stewards of God’s creation. To care for plants, animals, water, and land is an integral part of our experience as humans, as image-bearers. Ignoring our call from God to care for the earth is actually de-humanizing.
Genesis 2:15 says, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” From this verse we see that creation care is a vital part of being human, a reason why we were created. We have been given the privilege of not just looking out for our own interests, but for seeking the flourishing of every creature in God’s garden.
We see God’s concern for creation, and his mandate for his people to care for creation, reflected not only in the mandates of Genesis 1 and 2, but also in many of the laws he gave to his people.
For example, scripture explicitly commands:
To not pollute the land: “You shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell, for I the LORD dwell in the midst of the people of Israel.” (Numbers 35:34 ESV)
To treat animals well: “You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” (Deuteronomy 25:4, also see Proverbs 12:10)
To let agricultural land rest and recover from being worked: “For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits, but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the LORD. You shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap what grows of itself in your harvest, or gather the grapes of your undressed vine. It shall be a year of solemn rest for the land.” (Leviticus 25:3-5 ESV)
To not destroy trees as an act of war: “If you besiege a town for a long time, making war against it in order to take it, you must not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them. Although you may take food from them, you must not cut them down. Are trees in the field human beings that they should come under siege from you?” (Deuteronomy 20:19)
We are in Christ and live under the New Covenant, but it’s important for us to see God’s heart within God’s law. We can discern that he’s a God who cares for his good creation, and wants his people to care for it as well.
Some might reject this notion based on the Biblical language of humans having “dominion” and “subduing the earth” that’s found in Genesis 1. However, these verses are often misread as license to be reckless and to commodify creation as mere “resources.”
We must remember that while this language does carry a connotation of human rulership and authority, it does so in reference to God, not the oppressive rulers of human history. We are image-bearers of God, not of Stalin, Hitler, or Genghis Khan. What kind of ruler is Jesus? He’s a servant King whose love compelled him to die on a cross to redeem creation.
God has given humans the unique authority to re-arrange his good world, to subdue the earth and have dominion. Sometimes that means we will cut down some trees, but we should always do this with the goal of seeking shalom for every aspect of God’s world with the posture of a servant.
Caring for creation isn’t just an elective that we can take as Christians, but it’s a core class in the school of discipleship, shaped by God’s commands to care for the earth and His mandate to tend the garden well.
Jim Mullins is on staff with Surge Network and is a husband, dad, pastor, gardener, and resident of Tempe. This post originally appeared on the Flourish Phoenix Blog. Read part 1 and part 2 of this series from Jim.