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 (NIV)
While Earth Day was celebrated last month, in April as it is each year, it doesn't seem too late to reflect on our role - as humans and as peacemakers - with regard to "creation."
Our Sunday School class has been using a study guide prepared by Sojourners <sojo.net>, "Christians and the Environment" to look at the issue of how we relate to creation. We began by sharing our individual views on how to best relate to the environment. As we did so, it became apparent that we came at the issue from different perspectives - personal, economic, spiritual, humanitarian, etc. While there were areas of overlap among these, it seemed that it would be beneficial to have a common foundation from which to approach the issue and to resolve apparent tensions. This led naturally to the first lesson in the study guide which addressed a "theology of creation."
The author refers to three possible theologies: domination, stewardship, and interrelationship. In brief the three theologies are:
Domination: As normally used, this incorporates the beliefs that God created the "world" for humans and gave them "dominion" (Genesis 1:26-28) to use it for their needs and pleasures. It is assumed either that resources are, for all practical purposes, unlimited or that creation is renewing itself, perhaps at God's direction, as needed, or that humans can find a way to compensate for limitations. It is possible to harm elements of the creation which will result in consequences for humans, but that is our prerogative. Humans are of "more worth" than other elements of creation.
Stewardship: God created the "world" and gave humans stewardship of it(Genesis 2:15). The world "belongs" to God and, while it is for human benefit, humans are not free to do as they please. They are to be wise in their use of resources, living sustainably, and in a state of shalom with the creation, God (its maker), and others (affected by our behaviors). It is a violation of the responsibility given by God to abuse or misuse the Earth.
Interrelationship: Like the others, God created the "world" and placed humans in it. The emphasis is on the interrelationship between human activity and well-being and the "proper place" of humans in the eco-system. Doing harm to the environment will ultimately result in harm to humans, so it is in our best interest to be wise in our relationship with the creation. The creation is primarily for God and humans are not necessarily of "more worth" than other elements of the creation. Interrelationship implies shalom as the "ideal" state where all elements of creation, including humans, are in a "healthy, right relationship."
It seems to me that each of these has some truth in it. To view our role as one of dominion over the earth does not necessarily imply destruction or waste. It merely implies a structure and a responsibility. Semantics aside, dominion, practiced wisely, could just as well be stewardship.
Likewise, stewardship, which implies some element of control over creation, does not necessarily neglect the reality that humans and the rest of creation are inextricably linked in interrelationship. It does imply structure, placing humans in a unique position within the creation, not merely one of many. This seems consistent with the scripture from Genesis 2:15 in which God instructs the first humans to care for the creation, not just to be aware of their place in it.
Which bring us to weeding. It is spring and there is much to be done in our yard and garden - flowers and vegetables to plant, gardens to dig up, compost to be spread, and - yes - weeds to be pulled, dug up, and otherwise removed. For me it is perhaps this working in the soil with my hands, nuturing the new seedlings and transplants, enriching the soil with last year's waste which is now nutrient-rich compost, that provides the key to understanding our role and relationship with regard to the creation.
Perhaps this is why God gave us the responsibilty of caring for the creation. Doing so helps us to understand the rythyms, needs, and workings of creation. If we don't till up the soil, if we don't replace the nutrients used by previous growth, if we don't pull the weeds, the plants will not prosper. We can't make a seed grow or make it rain or make the sun shine, but we can and must do our part to "work and take care of" the creation.
For those interested in finding resources related to Christians and the environment, or tips for sustainable gardening, here are a few:
- Evangelical Climate Initiative: <http://christiansandclimate.org/>
- Evangelical Environmental Network: <http://creationcare.org/>
- Sustainable Gardening: <http://www.sustainable-gardening.com/>
- Organic Gardening: <http://www.motherearthnews.com/Organic-Gardening.aspx>