Environmental stewardship

One could argue that an awareness of creation care starts the moment we learn the first man (Adam) is made from the ground (adama) in Genesis 2:7, “then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” Moses wants his readers to make the vital connection between man and the world he inhabits. Fair enough. Yet i’m persuaded that Genesis 2:15 is the magna carta of environmental stewardship. It tells us that after creation of Adam, “-” The two commands to “cultivate” and “keep” the garden speak volumes to maintaining a balance in out relationship to the earth. If we use and abuse (dare I say “rape and pillage”?) the earth as a never-ending supply of raw materials to mine for our own benefit we violate the Master’s command to keep, preserve, and nurture the earth. We have a symbiotic relationship with the earth, if it prospers we prosper. On the other hand, God didn’t ask us to leave the earth as we found it, to preserve it in its pristine original form. Instead God comissions humanity to be His vice-regents entailed a real responsibility on our part; take creation, work it, prune it, and give it back to God in better shape than it was given to us.

The God who took six days -rather than a millisecond- to create the cosmos is the same God who commissioned humanity to cultivate and expand the boundaries of the garden. Contrary to popular belief, God is interested in change and development.

After all, whereas the story of the Bible begins in a garden, it ends in a city.

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Posted on March 9, 2010, in Environmental stewardship. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Mark Halverson-Wente

    “After all, whereas the story of the Bible begins in a garden, it ends in a city.”—I find this statement curious in light of the fact that humankind’s living in cities is owing to Cain–the builder of cities. Thus, the building of cities is rooted in the idea of banishment from the soil, of the destruction of the household, of being the outcast of the settlement, of being marked for life, that is, being the marked man or the fugitive.

    God did not command us to cultivate and expand the boundaries of the Garden—we were expelled from the Garden. God is indeed interested in “change and development,” but not of the sort of “change and development” that led to cities, globalization, and the poverty, oppression, and degradation of God’s creation that results therefrom. Such development necessarily results from our brokenness, pride, and sin.

    I fear that, in your haste to level a veiled attack at “radical” environmentalism, you have lost sight of a deeper teaching regarding our role and responsibility to God’s creation and to one another. The “story of the Bible” ends with the full establishment of God’s kingdom on earth, not with our supposed “vice-regency” (a Biblical term?).

  2. Mark, thanks for you for reply. I appreciate you taking the time to read and think through what I’ve posted. I’d like to clarify some statements on my part and some possibly misunderstandings on yours.

    I’m not sure why you find it curious when I wrote that the narrative of the Bible begins in a garden and ends in a city. I should have been clearer on this, but I think this is straight-forwardly what is found in the Bible. I assume that there’s no debate over whether the biblical narrative begins in a garden, i.e. Eden. But the end of the story, Rev. 21-22, does communicate that the consummation of God’s redemptive plan is a renewed creation which takes the form of a city.

    “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” (Revelation 21:2 ESV)

    Cities are not evil places, per se. You are correct in noting that the first biblical mention of a city is Cain’s anti-God building project in Gen. 4. No dispute there. But I would argue, in line with the majority of redemptive-historical interpreters, that Cain’s city was a sinful distortion of God’s original design. My concern with your saying (or implying) that cities are a result of the Fall because of their origin is that this claim is both guilty of the genetic fallacy and proves too much. The first mention of music in the Bible is a few verses later in Gen. 4:22, “Zillah also bore Tubal-cain; he was the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron…” I doubt you would likewise make the claim that music is a result of the Fall (“the idea of banishment from the soil, of the destruction of the household, of being the outcast of the settlement”, etc.).

    Please don’t fail to distinguish between creation (God’s original design for his creation) and Fall (the results of man’s sinful rebellion to God, and the consequences of his judgment on creation as a result). You seem to do just this when you say, “God did not command us to cultivate and expand the boundaries of the Garden—we were expelled from the Garden.” My claim about expanding the borders of the garden applies to what’s known as the “cultural mandate” of Gen 1:28. The expulsion from the garden is a result of the Fall of Gen. 3. But the Fall did not annul God’s calling on humanity. The curse brought about by the Fall made their vocations difficult, it did not do away with them all together. Pain in child-bearing strikes at the mandate to “multiply” and the curse on the ground, with the accompanying sweat of Adam’s brow, strikes at his mandate to “subdue the earth and have dominion” over it. Their original task was for them to multiply and have dominion, and fill the earth. As they multiplied image-bearers, eventually they would get to the point where the garden would be too small to hold them all. As they expanded outside the original borders of the garden, the place where God’s special presense dwelt, they were to cultivate the land and make it hospitable to human life and flourishing, thus expanding the borders of the garden.

    Lastly, vice-regency isn’t a biblical “term,” but it is a biblical concept. Not only is it the meaning behind the original Ancient near Eastern meaning of the phrase “image of God,” but it’s also fleshed out in Gen. 1’s explanation of the image of God, namely their dominion “over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” Fish, creeping things on the ground, and birds. The heavens, the dry ground, and the sea. That’s the Bible’s standard shorthand (along with “heaven and earth”) for everything in creation. Humanity was charged with rule over the earth, under the sovereign rule of Yahweh, the creator God. That’s vice-regency. And this concept isn’t in competition with the biblical theme of the Kingdom of God (which I whole-heartedly affirm is the center of Scripture). In fact, I believe that they are ultimately linked.

    Humanity was charged with the responsibility of vice-regency. In the Fall, they became usurpers, looking to dethrone God as the true Lord and king of the universe (and their lives). Israel was called, starting in Gen. 12, to be a kingdom of priests, representing a new humanity that would demonstrate to the world was God’s original design was all about. But they too failed. In Jesus Christ, God became a human being, fulfilling the huamanity’s task of vice-regency. Jesus is the truly obedient human being, the faithful Israel who kept the covenant and won eternal blessing for his people. God vindicated Jesus and publically demonstrated him as Messiah (king) and Lord in his resurrection from the dead (Rom. 1).

    Lastly, Mark, I’m a bit baffled that you found this blog entry which was intended to be a biblical rationale for environmental stewardship to be a “veiled attack on ‘radical’ environmentalism” that loses sight of the biblical teaching on “our role and responsibility to God’s creation.” As I said, “If we use and abuse (dare I say ‘rape and pillage’?) the earth as a never-ending supply of raw materials to mine for our own benefit we violate the Master’s command to keep, preserve, and nurture the earth.” I’m not quite sure how I could have been clearer on this point.

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