This past fall, as I was teaching a routine science class for the eighth time, I was struck by something simple, yet profound. It has changed the way I view science as well as my faith.
The class was general ecology, an introductory course for several science majors at Grace College. Ecology focuses on the connections between an organism and the physical environment around it, as well as connections between different organisms. As I was explaining various examples of how God’s creation is amazingly interconnected, I realized how this rich connectedness profoundly reflects God’s very nature.
God could have created a disconnected world where various aspects of His creation exist in isolation and independence from other parts – imagine organisms living in self-contained bubbles without any other organisms and no reliance on the outside world for anything. But He did not! Instead, God created a world full of connections, or relationships. Plants and animals were created in relationship with each other and with the physical environment around them. Humans were created in relationship with each other and, most importantly, with God.
God highly prized the relationships throughout Creation. When these relationships were damaged through the fall, He immediately set in place a rescue plan to restore what was broken. Since then, our theological understanding has focused on restoring our relationship with God and other people while our ecological awareness has centered on restoring relationships between organisms and their surrounding physical environment.
But we might overlook something important: an understanding of God’s relationship with the natural world (the organisms and physical environment) and what our human connection with the natural world should be. Only when we understand these two additional relationships can we attain a holistic, biblical worldview to guide our Christian lives.
An Uncommon Stewardship
A Creation stewardship mentality that is solidly informed by the Bible is an integral part of a Christian’s worldview. e concept of stewardship is perhaps more commonly understood in the context of financial stewardship in most Christians’ way of thinking, and the meaning is similar in the context of relating to the environment, or creation. Just as we understand that God owns or provides all the financial resources and that we are merely caretakers or stewards, so too God owns His creation and invites us to care for it.
Before we can properly understand environmental stewardship, we need to understand the relationships between God and the natural world and humans and the natural world from a Biblical perspective.
God’s Relationship with Creation
First, God is creator and sustainer of the natural world. e creation account in Genesis 1 immediately establishes God’s place as creator: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind.” e Lord “wraps himself in light as with a garment; He stretches out the heavens like a tent and lays the beams of His upper chambers on their waters” (Psalm 104:2 NIV) and He “lays the foundations of the earth” and “covers it with the watery depths as with a garment” (104:5, 6 NIV). God as the creator is often thought of and spoken about in Christian circles while God as the sustainer is less often understood. A full reading of Psalm 104 leaves the reader with a clear sense that God actively and carefully sustains the details of His Creation from volcanoes to earthquakes, rains to winds, streams to mountains, trees to grass, and mountain goats to lions. By Him all things were created, and in Him all things hold together (Colossians 1:15-17).
Not only is Creation actively sustained by God, He retains full ownership of the natural world. In Leviticus, God tells His people, “The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is Mine and you reside in My land as foreigners and strangers.” Later, in 1 Samuel, we learn that “the foundations of the earth are the Lord’s; on them He has set the world.” The whole Earth is His, and everything in it (Psalm 24:1). God never transferred ownership of His Creation to us; we are simply caretakers of what He still owns.
Furthermore, God values each kind in His Creation. Adam named all of the kinds of animals (Genesis 2:19- 20) as he was searching for a suitable helper; the process of naming something at that time demonstrated value and a deep sense of identity. Then, through Noah, God saved two of each kind during the Flood (Genesis 6-7). We also learn of God’s care for the wild birds in Matthew 6:26 and His value for domesticated animals in Proverbs 12:10. Since the beginning, God has sustained creatures, even though they are not created in His image. They are a physical representation of His glory.
The natural world bears witness to God. “He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons” and filling our lives with natural beauty that proclaims His glory (Acts 14:17, Romans 1:20). The natural world reveals the Lord’s “eternal and divine power” so that “men are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). When the Lord returns, all creation will revere Him: the heavens will recede “like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island” will be removed from its place (Revelation 6:12-17).
Our Relationship with Creation
Ultimately, Creation still belongs to the Lord, and He actively sustains it; however, humankind plays a key role in stewardship. Our relationship with the natural world stems from the Lord’s. God commanded mankind to steward nature, specifically to subdue and rule it (Genesis 1:28). Animals are our subjects, and we are told to responsibly govern them and the rest of creation. God also placed mankind on the Earth to cultivate and keep it (Genesis 2:15). ese verbs are used again later in the Old Testament when priests and Levites are appointed by God to work with the tabernacle and temple; this work of guarding, observing, and protecting creation is good as it is mandated by God even before the fall, and this work is done in the context of worshipping God which elevates its importance and clarifies its purpose.
When we interact with the natural world, there are a few attitudes we should embrace. The first is contentment with basic necessities. When we are satisfied with the essentials, we waste less: we might cut down fewer trees, burn less fuel, throw away less trash, buy fewer items, or reuse things a little longer. “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions,” Jesus says in Luke 12, echoing the Father’s command to live in contentment.
e next actions we can take when interacting with creation are unselfishness and humility. “Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God. I am the Lord your God,” God says in Leviticus 25:17-19. “Follow My decrees and be careful to obey My laws, and you will live safely in the land. Then the land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill and live there in safety.” Creation care spans generations. When we take care of nature during our lifetime, we are preparing it for people to enjoy in the future. “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you did for Me,” Jesus says in Matthew 25:37-40. Unselfishly, intentionally preserving Creation is one way to obey this command and serve future generations.
Finally, proper humility requires a clear perception of our- selves in relation to the natural world. God’s ways are always best. “Follow My decrees and be careful to obey My laws,” the Lord says in Leviticus 25:17-19, “And you will live safely in the land.” The Lord then makes a promise: the land will “yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill and live there in safety.” That promise is echoed in Genesis 1 as God blesses Creation and tells it to “be fruitful and increase,” each being according to its kind. God highly values nature’s fruitfulness; so should we.
The principles God sets in place are for our good and the good of creation. While we are here, we are only “aliens” and “sojourners” (Leviticus 25:23). He provides everything we need (Genesis 1:22, 8:17) and the proper responses are unselfishness and humility.
Even More Relational Connections
Relationships are the most essential part of our lives and are to be valued as such. Jesus identified the greatest two commandments as “love the Lord” and “love your neighbor.” These are to be our top two priorities as Christians. Can
responsibly caring for God’s Creation relate to these two priorities? By all means! We can show our love for God by taking care of the environment that He has entrusted to us much like we would intentionally care for a child, pet, or home of someone we care about at their request. We are joining God in his restorative work as we care for His creation.
We can show our love for other people by taking care of the environment as well. Often the lack of concern for God’s Creation can lead to hardship or harm for other people. The God-designed, interconnected nature of the environment causes misuse of one part of His Creation to lead to additional consequences as well.
One final thought: Our lifestyles should bear witness of the God we serve. We are to live “such good lives” that unbelievers may see our “good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us” (1 Peter 2:12). Ultimately, our home is in Heaven. Our task on Earth, while we are here, is to steward Creation as Christ would in preparation for the day He returns. — by Nate Bosch
Dr. Nate Bosch is a professor of Environmental Science and the director of the Lilly Center for Lakes and Streams at Grace College, Winona Lake, Ind. He is passionate about teaching people to value and care for our water resources.