(Adding my voice to those of Scott Sabin, Las Newman, Ken Gnanakan, Rod Green and others…)
I am someone who values a sense of wonder. There is an immediacy and simplicity to wonder that points me to my Creator and God’s wondrous creation. Technological optimist, tree hugger and deep ecologist are not labels that describe me. Non-human creation has an inherent value to me but so too, do people! The power politics of prosperity, poverty and the poor frustrate and anger me. Zimbabwean refugees knocking on my door present me with a dilemma of conscience.
And yes, oil spills, horns cut off from rhinos and the unnoticed rainforest-flower trampled into oblivion do disturb me. I am not against the culling of elephants in the Kruger National Park, yet I shudder at the thought of shooting an animal myself. I happily eat most meat. (My apologies to all ethical vegetarians.) At an intellectual level I inherently value God’s creation but I also seek to deeply appreciate my existence within God’s created order and worship the God who orders it.
And God saw that it was Good!
I have been challenged in my environmental studies by the argument that our Judeo-Christian view of nature has resulted in the present global environmental crisis. For example, Lynn White Jr (1967) says that Christian arrogance is responsible for the worsening ecological crisis and the crisis will continue until the Christian axiom that ‘nature has no reason for existence but to serve humans’ is rejected. Similarly Ian McHarg (1973) believed that “Judaism, Christianity, Humanism tend to assert outrageously the separateness and dominance of man over nature” and that “these same attitudes become of first importance when man holds the power to cause evolutionary regressions of unimaginable effect or even to destroy life.” I sadly agree, in part, with White and McHarg, yet their portrayal of the Christian worldview is contrary to my own. I believe that nature in all its complexity, diversity and richness has an inherent value and not just because of how it can be exploited for the benefit of humanity.
God recognises the value of non-human nature before even the creation of humankind (Genesis 1v9-25), and so calls what He has made “good!” The goodness of nature is not dependent on its usefulness to humanity. It is good because God has deemed it such. Furthermore, there is an unbreakable covenantal relationship between God and nature, which is indicated in the words of the prophet Jeremiah (33v21-22), “If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night no longer come at their appointed time, then my covenant with David my servant…can be broken and David will no longer have a descendant to reign on his throne.” God’s faithfulness to His Creation demonstrates His faithfulness to all other covenants thereafter, like the New Covenant, which is about salvation through the Son of David, Jesus Christ!
If nature has an inherent value, then I must assume that it is not a meaningless object in the hands of humans. It cannot to be exploited at will or simply be the irrelevant backdrop of God’s relationship with humanity. God has an interest in the very life and activity of the non-human creation that is distinct from God’s relationship to humanity. This inspires in me a sense of wonder!
Dominion is not Domination
Scripture teaches me that humans are to have dominion over nature (Genesis 1v28-30). And God has dominion over us and over all creation. However, the true nature of this dominion is seen in the life, and suffering of Jesus Christ, who “humbled himself to death, even death on the cross” (Philippians 2v8).
Our dominion of nature should similarly be one of profound humility. For at a very basic level, “God has created us as God created all other creatures – organisms, living within a rich but limited world – with fundamental biological needs: energy, minerals, food, air and water. The life of earth is our life. We depend on it” (Wilkinson, L. 1980). In a most mysterious relationship humans are both a part of and apart from nature. I believe that we need to take seriously God’s fundamental mandate to be stewards of His creation. Stewardship requires accepting our responsibility under God as Creator and therefore manifests in a wise use of resources and a humble dominion over nature.
Creation Stewardship and Justice
I believe that to be a steward of God’s creation therefore also requires me to take seriously societal injustices. An influential environmental philosopher, Leopold (1947) wrote in the first half of last century that “Individual thinkers since the days of Ezekiel and Isaiah have asserted that the despoliation of land is not only inexpedient but wrong. Society, however, has not yet affirmed their belief.” He also said that “It cannot be right, in the ecological sense, for a farmer to canalize his creek or pasture his steep slopes, because in so doing he passes flood trouble to his neighbours below, just as his neighbours above have passed it on to him.” (An application of the command to love your neighbour as yourself that I have never heard preached from a pulpit.) And both are linked – social and environmental injustice. How is it that urban rubbish dumps always land up on the doorsteps of poorer neighbourhoods? How is it that the toxic waste of wealthier nations ends up being shipped to some poorer global neighbour? To be an Earth-keeper is to be my Brother’s keeper.
Jesus says that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…” Jesus then commissioned his disciples (Mark 16v15) to, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” The Apostle Paul says (Romans 8v18-22) that “creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.”
You and I are called to add being a wise steward of God’s Earth to our mission mandate. Creation is eagerly waiting.