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A Perspective to Our Role as Stewards of Creation
There was a time in my life when my love of the out-of-doors and my faith as a Christian were like passengers on a trolley-bus. They got on at different times, never spoke a word to each other and seemed to have nothing in common. However, about ten years ago they came together and the change has been significant. This entry below hopefully accomplishes two things: 1) it tells some of the story on how I came to understand my role as a steward of Creation and 2) it explains briefly the call to stewardship of Creation through some passages in Genesis. Today, I enjoy a close relationship of my faith in Jesus Christ as my Savior, Redeemer, and Provider and my appreciation of God’s Creation.
Let me start by writing that I imagine some people who read this might enjoy a walk in the woods collecting mushrooms or berries, or perhaps an afternoon in sunshine or shade at the river bank for a picnic with family, or maybe they enjoy just the simple fruits from their own orchard or garden. I also imagine that some people who read this are Christians. And as such, they enjoy times of fellowship with others, times of solitude for personal reflection and prayer, and have a hope for life that is set on things eternal. I also imagine that some people who read this see these two aspects (Christian faith and appreciation of nature) as good aspects of their lives; but I also imagine they are seen as separate. And that’s not surprising; nor is it encouraging. The rest of this blog is written to help us consider just how close, how wonderfully close, to Creation our lives as Christians can be as we fulfill our role as stewards.
I believe a few words before we begin will help keep perspective. While I have used the word Creation previously, the reference is not to all of Creation (that would include everything stretching into our galaxy and beyond). Instead, Creation here is limited to the Earth, our home and everything on it. And a steward might be defined as someone who takes care of something that does not belong to them on behalf of someone else as if it was their own. Tied to this word steward is stewardship, which describes the overall role of a steward.
With those ideas in mind I want first to share a bit about myself and where I came from in my faith and understanding of stewardship. I was born and raised in Michigan, in the US, and spent most of my free time working at the greenhouses owned by my family or outside exploring the streams and woods that bordered my life in suburbia. While in secondary school I spent two summers on service projects in national parks. These were great time and for a whole month my companions and I camped in tents, cooked on an open pit fire, worked on hiking trails, scared away the occasional bear and basically lived as close as I have ever got to my boyhood heroes, the Mountain Men of the Old West. We loved the out-of-doors, we loved the work we did, and we loved the beauty of nature all around us. Thus, when I went for university education in conservation of natural resources, it was a field of study already familiar to me firsthand.
Previous to those experiences I had professed my faith in Christ and became a Christian by accepting him into my life. Then, a few months later, there I was in a national park exploring the forests, mountains, rivers and other wild places. While there I realized deeply within me that I was in God’s creation. This was very special and I enjoyed it even more. Still, I didn’t see my faith connecting with my love of nature – except to say “This is part of Creation made by God”. Furthermore, I didn’t see that the melding of my chosen career in natural resource conservation and my passion for the outdoors were somehow going to be useful for the Kingdom of God. Or even that they would have any connection with my faith at all. That would come later and everything changed once it did.
A few years later, I was also able to come into contact firsthand with people who were wrestling a life from the natural resources around them. This happened first as a student while visiting the Amazonian region of Ecuador for a summer program abroad. And later I spent time with farmers while I lived in Paraguay with the Peace Corps. These experiences helped me to see that at the same time people were “destroying” the forest, they were also doing that because it was the only way they had to feed their families and make a livelihood at that time. It was a hard, rough, dangerous life that was filled with hunger, sickness, and insecurity.
Those years in the frontier world of Paraguay and Ecuador had enriched my understanding of the challenges facing families and households in those places. Likewise, my faith grew and was stretched to understand the Gospel more fully, more completely. It was in those years that God challenged my understanding of action from faith.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t until years later when I participated in two different events that I was able to make a strong connection between the Creation, faith, and our role as stewards. One event was a conference on the Bible and agriculture and the other event was a conference about Creation care for church leaders. In both places the passionate and powerful speakers had a clear message that the church needed to wake up and become true stewards of Creation. Indeed, they said we as Christians are commanded by God’s Word to do the very same.
Turning to Old Testament we read that God created this world and everything in it for his glory. David opens Psalm 19 with “the heavens declare the glory of God, day after day their voice is heard, night after night they pour forth speech”. In Psalm 104 the Lord sustains Creation from the rising of the sun to the setting of the moon.
Humans were made man and woman in his image and as part of Creation. God also desires that we should care for what he has created. In Genesis (1 & 2) we can read the first commands to hear what it means to have dominion, rule over, work and tend Creation.
Three key concepts are important to consider before looking further into this discussion. First, it is necessary to recognize that even though God made the Creation – He is not Creation. We should not deify nature. He “saw that it was good” implies he was apart from the Creation when he saw it. Creation is sacred because he has made it, it contains life and the beauty of landscape and stars – but it is not God. Second, when we hear of our place in Creation it is not as owner. Scripture is clear: “To the Lord your God belong the heavens, even the higher heavens, the earth and everything in it” (Deut 10:14). Third, God is the one who directs the ways of Creation and we have a promise that obedience will yield blessing on the land. “If you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today – to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul – then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and oil. I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied” (Deut 11:13-15).
The “commands” referred to here also include being stewards and taking care of this Earth that is not ours, on God’s behalf, as if it was our own. These concepts allow us to see how we are both a part of Creation (who we are) as well as stewards of Creation (what we do). From Genesis 1 & 2, we read:
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground. Genesis 1: 26-28. (emphasis added). (NIV)
The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. Genesis 2:15 (emphasis added). (NIV)
We read, “fill the earth and subdue it.” Some translations use “and have dominion over it”. In either case – subdue or dominion – this command used here is from kabash in Hebrew. And kabash has a sense of finality, of a complete destructiveness, or in this case, complete use. However, dominion with such completeness would quickly become a problem if left unchecked or unbound. Moderation comes with the next part of the same verse, where we read, “Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” This “rule over” is from radah in Hebrew and is used in other passages to describe a benign and righteous ruling that brings thriving, renewal, and flourishing (Psalm 72).
Then in Genesis 2: 15, we read “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” In Hebrew, God put them there “to abad and shamar it”.
Abad implies to serve, bond-service, or husbandman. And, “to work it” can mean to put aside our own desires and make the choice to behave in a way that will bring benefit to others, human and non-human creatures alike. Joshua uses the same idea when he stated that his household would “serve the Lord (abad the Lord)” (Joshua 24:15). And the following command given in Genesis 2:15 is to “take care of it” or to “shamar it” in the Hebrew. Shamar is a deep commitment of care and protection which has meanings such as a watchman, to hedge about as with thorns, and to protect. Aaron, in Numbers 6:22-26, is told by God to bless the people like this, “The Lord bless you and keep you (shamar you)”.
The story continues with the New Testament and we read of the Word made flesh in the person of Christ, who was with God in the beginning and through whom all things were made (John 1:1-3). God’s plan of redemption through Christ is affirmed at a cosmic level in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world (Greek: cosmos), that he gave his only Son”. Later, in Colossians 1:15-20, Paul declares the sweeping authority of Christ who is “the firstborn over all Creation. For by him all things were created….and God was pleased to have his fullness dwell with him, and through him to reconcile all things to himself,” with Christ’s death and resurrection. We need to see that this reconciliation has been extended and is being extended to all Creation, “to every creature under heaven” (Colossians 1:23) that they might be redeemed and bring the glory to God that he intended.
There are many environmental problems facing our world today: urban sprawl into megacities, depletion of fossil fuels, deforestation, desertification, soil erosion, and species loss on land and sea. And caring for the environment is a very popular subject for that reason. And yet, in this moment of crisis, the Christian church often draws back from these discussions. One may say that these issues do not appear spiritual enough and are not salvation issues. Or some suspect that the environmental movement is linked to beliefs like New Age or Deep Ecology. But as we have seen in Genesis, our role as stewards has been given by God in his Word. These are reasons precisely why the Church should not abandon its call by God to care for the environment.
Most of all we should see stewardship as a response that is reflected in lifestyle and decisions we make each day. Calvin De Witt, at the University of Wisconsin, states that Biblical stewardship is, “not crisis management but a way of life. God’s call to serve and keep the garden is our calling no matter whether it is our vegetable garden or the whole of creation, and no matter if it is being degraded, staying the same, or improving (emphasis added).”
Christians in Romania could read the last lines – God’s call to serve and keep Creation is our calling no matter if we are talking about a preserved forest track in the Carpathian Mountains we may never actually see, a fruitful garden that we see every day, or a city park that we visit with family and friends and no matter if there is soil erosion from farm land, toxic wastes improperly disposed, contaminated water in the Danube threatening fisheries, or air pollution from uncontrolled sources. In each of these situations from a simple garden to a national level problem, we are called stewards of God’s Creation.
I look forward to writing more on this same topic in the near future. In the meantime take a look at what these organizations are doing for creation care.
Where and How are Christians Responding?
A Rocha – A Rocha is a Christian nature conservation organization, the name coming from the Portuguese for “the Rock,” as the first initiative was a field study center in Portugal. A Rocha projects are frequently cross-cultural in character, and share a community emphasis, with a focus on science and research, practical conservation and environmental education. (from the website www.arocha.org)
At this time there is no A Rocha chapter in Romania, but there are a few people who are interested in discussing this possibility with others who feel a similar call to serve in this way. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you feel you would like to join a conversation exploring this possibility.
NHF – New Horizons Foundation (Fundaţia Noi Orizonturi) is a Romanian non-governmental organization dedicated to rebuilding moral values and life-skills among young people throughout Romania. New Horizons summer programs (Viaţa) in Lupeni, HD and their year-long programs in schools (IMPACT) have completed hundreds of environmental projects cleaning streams and parks, replanting public spaces with trees and flowers, and creating ecological awareness among the young (13-19 year old) participants and the local communities where they serve. (see the website http://www.noi-orizonturi.ro/ and http://www.new-horizons.ro/)
ECEN – European Christian Environmental Network (ECEN) is a church network promoting co-operation in caring for creation. Ecological threats transcend national and confessional boundaries. The aim of the ECEN is to share information, experiences in environmental work among widely varied Christian traditions and to encourage a united witness in caring for God’s creation. (from the website www.ecen.org)
 Calvin DeWitt. Caring for Creation: Responsible Stewardship of God’s Handiwork. Baker Books 1998 pp. 47