Excerpt from Care for Creation by John Stott, who has served on A Rocha’s Council of Reference since its inception.*
“How, then, should we relate to the earth? If we remember its creation by God and its delegation to us, we will avoid two opposite extremes and instead develop a third and better relationship to nature. First, we will avoid the deification of nature. This is the mistake of pantheists, who identify the Creator with his creation; of animists, who populate the natural world with spirits; and of the New Age’s Gaia movement, which attributes to nature its own self-contained, self-regulating and self-perpetuating mechanisms. But all such confusions are derogatory to the Creator. The Christian desacralizing of nature (the recognition that it is creation, not Creator) was an indispensable prelude to the whole scientific enterprise and is essential to the development of the earth’s resources today.
We respect nature because God made it; we do not reverence nature as if it were God and inviolable. Secondly, we must avoid the opposite extreme, which is the exploitation of nature. We must not treat nature obsequiously as if it were God, nor must we behave towards it arrogantly as if it were God. Genesis 1 has been unjustly blamed for environmental irresponsibility, It is true that God commissioned the human race to ‘have dominion over’ the earth and to ‘subdue’ it (Genesis 1:26-28, NRSV), and these two Hebrew verbs are forceful. We would be absurd, however, to imagine that he who created the earth then handed it over to us to destroy it. No, the dominion God has given us is a responsible stewardship, not a destructive domination.
The third and correct relationship between human beings and nature is that of co-operation with God. To be sure, we are ourselves a part of creation, just as dependent on the Creator as are all his creatures. Yet at the same time, he has deliberately humbled himself to make a divine-human partnership necessary. He created the earth, but then told us to subdue it, He planted the garden, but then put Adam in it ‘to work it and take care of it’ (Genesis 2:15). This is often called the cultural mandate. For what God has given us is nature, whereas what we do with it is culture. We are not only to conserve the environment, but also to develop its resources for the common good.
A final thought: it is possible to over-state this emphasis on human work in the conservation and transformation of the environment. In his excellent exposition of the first three chapters of Genesis, In the Beginning (1984), Henri Blocher argues that the climax of Genesis 1 is not the creation of man the worker but the institution of the Sabbath for man the worshipper; it is not our toil (subduing the earth) but the laying aside of our toil on the Sabbath day. For the Sabbath relativizes the importance of work. It protects us from a total absorption in our work as if it were to be the be-all and end-all of our existence. It is not. We human beings find our humanness not only in relation to the earth which we are to transform, but in relationship to God, whom we are to worship; not only in relation to the creation, but especially in relation to the Creator. God intends our work to be an expression of our worship, and our care of the creation to reflect our love for the Creator. Only then, whatever we do, in word or deed, shall we be able to do it to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
*Used with permission from the Foreword to The Care of Creation, edited by R.J. Berry (Inter-Varsity Press, 2000) ISBN 0-85111-657-4.
- Memorize 1 Chronicles 29:11, Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours.
- Make a list of ideas for observing Sabbath, or any day, with faith-affirming steps toward creation care. For example: Abstain from purchasing for the day. Allow this material fast to lead you into prayer.
- Worshipfully celebrate God’s artistry as Creator.