WE ARE DEPENDENT UPON IT
When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people, if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land (2 Chr. 7:13-14).
He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and vegetation for the service of man, that he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine that makes glad the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread which strengthens man’s heart (Ps. 104:14-15).
We cannot survive without the fruit of the earth. While hundreds of passages in God’s special revelation (the book of God’s words) support this fact, general revelation (the book of God’s works) also reminds us of this truth daily. We are totally dependent upon the fruitfulness of the creation for our health and livelihood.
This dependence is why we need to give careful consideration to the biblical principle of sowing and reaping. This principle says, in essence, that if we sow foolish and sinful behavior, we will reap negative consequences. Sometimes the consequences are the result of God’s direct action in punishment for sin, such as the curse on creation that resulted from Adam and Eve’s sin of disobedience— and for which we are still reaping negative results. Other times we reap the natural effects of ignorant or careless behavior. America’s Dust Bowl years during the Great Depression and the Soviet Union’s Chernobyl nuclear disaster are examples of this sort of reaping.
Often, both natural and supernatural consequences occur. A prime example is the result of Israel’s failure to give the land rest in compliance with the Sabbath laws of God. There were both natural and supernatural reasons for Sabbath-keeping. Naturally the Sabbath laws provided the rest the land needed from being pressed too hard for its produce. People and animals also required this cessation of work.
There were, however, spiritual reasons for the keeping of the Sabbath. When the people violated the Sabbath laws, God supernaturally brought judgment upon them. Read the reasons for Judah’s captivity in 2 Chronicles 36. This account is summed up in verses 20 and 21:
Those who escaped from the sword he carried away to Babylon, where they became servants to him and his sons until the rule of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her Sabbaths. As long as she lay desolate she kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.
God is concerned about the care of our spiritual nature. And it is that “inner world” that is violated when we thoughtlessly dismiss God’s command to care for the “outer world” He has given to us.
How can we celebrate the wonder of God in creation? By recognizing that the creation is the natural and material source of life and health for all creatures, and by seeking to protect and preserve its capacity to be fruitful.
WE ARE STEWARDS OF IT
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it (Gen. 2:15). For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more (Lk. 12:48).
Everyone who is a parent knows well those times when you crawl into bed at night exhausted after spending the greater part of each day in service to your children. In the midst of your childrearing days, every activity seems attached one way or another to your children. Any thought you previously had about the glamour or the power of being the one in authority over your own children returns to mock you as you change a dirty diaper or try to quiet your terrified child while an emergency room physician applys a cast to a broken arm. “So this is what it’s like to be in charge!” you muse.
The previous points regarding our shared relation with God to creation all lead to a similar reality: God put man in charge of developing all the potentialities He built into the natural world. This is poetically described for us by David in Psalm 8:
You have made [man] a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honor. You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen— even the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea that pass through the paths of the seas. O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth! (vv.5-9).
Just as our children are bundles of potential surrounded by forces that would destroy them, the earth is a huge ball of potential surrounded by dangerous forces. God cursed the earth because of Adam’s sin, so we are compelled to work hard to maintain proper dominion in a realm that is marked by tendencies for decline.
Some Bible scholars have aptly observed that mankind is the “servant species” on the earth. Although we have been given dominion by God the Creator, we carry out our dominion tasks in a manner that emulates the Servant-King Jesus who said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve” (Mt. 20:28). In our dominion, we must understand that we are servants of God. In a sense, we are servants in the middle: We serve the Creator of the earth as well as His creation.
This truth is highlighted in Genesis 2:15 where the task of tending and keeping the earth, in the fullest sense of the Hebrew words, means doing work for someone, serving someone, saving life, and observing, guarding, and protecting the land. The English term that best characterizes our role is stewardship.
A steward is one whom his master has left in charge. When all the biblical passages about stewardship and servanthood are summed up, they indicate this about our stewardship for God:
• We are expected to increase the yield of our Master’s property— which precludes wasting or spoiling it (Gen. 1:28; Mt. 25:14- 30; Lk. 16:1-2).
• We are to seek to exemplify our Master in dealing with others under our stewardship (Mt. 10:25; 18:23-35).
• We are expected to carry out our duties to our Master faithfully and in a timely manner (Mt. 24:45-51; 25:21,23).
• We are directly answerable to our Master and can expect consequences for failure to obey Him (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:14-19; Mt. 25:14-30; Lk. 12:45-48; 16:1-2; Rom. 14:12).
•We have reason to express our gratitude regularly to our Master (Ps. 1–150; Rom. 1:21; 2 Cor. 9:10-11; Phil. 4:6).
• We anticipate our Master’s return (Mt. 24:45-51; Lk. 12:35-38).
Approaching God’s creation with this understanding of stewardship will humble us. We have been given a great responsibility and a great opportunity as “earthkeepers” to take what God has given us, and to honor His name in its use and development.
Because of the complicated division of labor in modern society and because of the economic circumstances in which we live, we are often unaware of the influence we have on the earth and on its capacity to remain fruitful.
Most of us today do not directly till the soil to obtain our food—someone else does that. But we need to remember that every dollar we spend on food indirectly puts a tiller through the soil, applies agricultural chemicals, harvests produce from living plants, and turns ignition keys on motorized vehicles to get that food to us. The same is true for our clothing, our shelter, and our other necessities—and our wants. We must be as diligent to consider the impact those activities have on the creation as was the farmer of old. He daily faced the reality that if he did not care for his land properly he directly threatened his own life and the lives of all who depended on his stewardship skills.
How can we celebrate the wonder of God in creation? By remembering that ultimately we are either faithful or unfaithful stewards of God’s creation and that we are answerable to our Master for our choices. We are to aim for God’s “good earthkeeping seal of approval.”