The earth does not belong to us – it belongs to God! It is a gift from God, a home that we share with the rest of creation. But with this gift comes responsibility.
In Genesis 1, God instructed humans to ‘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’, and to ‘fill the earth and subdue it’ (Genesis 1:26, 28). This passage has sometimes been used to justify abuse of the earth.
Some people believe that the instruction to ‘rule’ over the earth means we have absolute authority over creation. In this view, nature is a resource for humans to benefit from economically, whatever the environmental impacts. This theology has allowed Christians to chop down tropical forests to grow soya for cattle feed and to pollute rivers with waste products from mines as we dig for precious metals.
But other parts of scripture take us in a different direction, like the second creation account in Genesis 2. In verse 15, humans were placed in the Garden of Eden and instructed to ‘work it and take care of it’. In other words, God has given us the responsibility to act as stewards of his creation – to care for, manage, oversee and protect all that God owns. What an honour and privilege!
This does not give us free licence to exploit and abuse God’s earth. We aren’t owners, but stewards, and we need to act in the owner’s best interests, treating his ‘property’ with respect. We must not use it in a way that causes harm to our neighbours. One day we will have to give an account to God of how we have loved our neighbours, which includes how we treated his earth.
When we forget our responsibility to be wise stewards, creation suffers. The earth can no longer cope with the demands humans place on our natural resources. Our waste and pollution are poisoning the air, soil and water. If we continue to exploit and abuse God’s earth, what will be left for future generations to inherit?
BEWARE THE ‘WHY BOTHER?’ DISEASEWhen faced with major global issues (resulting from human activities) – such as climate change and polluted land and sea – it is easy to become overwhelmed.
We might throw our hands in the air and say: ‘Well, it’s not my fault. There’s nothing I can do to prevent it. Leave it to the politicians.’ We might think: ‘Who cares if I use plastic bags, throw litter out of the car window etc? I’m only one person – what difference will it make?’
Beware of the highly contagious ‘Why bother?’ disease! What I do in my daily life does matter. The immediate consequences of my actions might not be felt by me, but they will most certainly affect someone else.
God sees and honours the efforts we make, even if they seem small to us. And together, we can make a difference!
- What positive, practical steps can you as an individual take to care for God’s precious creation – particularly regarding waste?
- What can your church community do?
- Is there anything you need to stop doing?
By Rev Canon Dr Claire Nye Hunter
Rev Canon Dr Claire Nye Hunter is an Anglican priest in Grahamstown, South Africa.