Science in Christian Perspective
Beyond Sand County: A Biblical Perspective on Environmental Ethics
FRED VAN DYKE
Assistant Professor of Science
Fort Wayne Bible College
Fort Wayne, IN 46807
Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies
The AuSable Institute of Environmental Studies
Mancelona, MI 49659
From: JASA 39
(March 1985): 40-48.
The present environmental movement is moving toward a crisis Of unresolvable value conflicts because of the inadequate foundation of secular environmental ethics. The Judeo-Christian ethic is the only system adequate to deal with the complexities of environmental controversies because it: 1) is a uniquely theocentric ethic in which the worth of created things is imputed by God's value judgments of them, rather than humanity's usefulness for them, 2) is based upon a covenantal relationship between God and all created things, 3) specifically provides for the care of the land on a regular basis, 4) provides a model, Jesus Christ, to illustrate God's concepts of ruling and subduing, and 5) states that God will redeem nature with humanity. Secular systems Of environmental ethics are fundamentally inconsistent. They attempt to portray humans as simply one biotic component of an ecosystem and, then, presume that humans should manage such systems. The Judeo-Christian ethic demands that humans manage the ecosystem, but dignifies (rather than disguises) such a role as that of stewards to their Creator-God. The practical implications of a biblical ethic in managing nature are explored.
The 1970's have been described as the decade of the environment. The decade began with the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA 1970, 42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.) and the Clean Air Act (1970, 42, U.S.C. 7401 et seq.), and was continued in such landmark legislation as the Endangered Species Act (Public Law 93-205, 1973) and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq.). Empowered by these statutes, as well as other federal and state legislation, major improvements in environmental activity followed. However, as the seventies aged, rising unemployment, economic downturn and rising resentment against government interference in land use policies (e.g., the Sagebrush Rebellion) combined to stimulate growing opposition to environmentalists. Trends in the present federal administration have consistently demonstrated that, in conflicts between economic interest and environmental interest, it is the environment which must be made to yield.
The management of any environment belongs to the realm of science, specifically ecology. But values necessary to make management decisions and to set management priorities belong to the realm of ethics, specifically ecological ethics. The main thrust of the environmental movement was ethical, rather than scientific or technological. Therefore, to understand the ecological movement, one must explore the movement's ethical base.Secular Systems of Environmental Ethics
Leopold defined an ethic as a differentiation between social and antisocial behavior (Leopold 1974:238) and, in the ecological sphere, as a limitation on freedom of action in the struggle for existence (p. 238). Leopold claimed that all ethics rested upon a single premise: "that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts" (Leopold 1974: 239). "The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include ... collectively, the land" (Leopold 1974:239). Leopold subscribed to the still popular, if naive, view that ethics has "evolved." He considered the "Mosaic Decalogue" (Leopold's term; he never referred to them as "The Ten Commandments") to be an early example of a simple ethic dealing with relations between individuals, and the Golden Rule as an ethic trying to integrate the individual to society. He considered democracy a more advanced ethic trying to integrate social organization to the individual. The final step would be the land ethic which would change "the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow members, and also respect for the community as such" (Leopold 1974:240).
In the western world, Judaism and Christianity have together been the most important source of ethical systems for the last 4,000 years. Leopold, whether explicitly or implicitly, seemed to perceive their contributions and, not unnaturally, saw their repudiation as a necessary step to clearing the decks for his new, advanced ethic. A former graduate student of Leopold has told me that he was the kindest and most compassionate of men (R.A. McCabe 1977, pers. comm.), yet Leopold was capable of bitter sarcasm in attacking both Judeo-Christian ethics and its adherents. "Abraham knew exactly what the land was for: it was to drip milk and honey into Abraham's mouth. At the present moment, the assurance with which we regard this assumption is inverse to the degree of our education" (Leopold 1974:240). In his call for a new ethic toward the biotic community, Leopold portrayed Judeo-Christian ethics as a primitive, deficient system which could not speak to environmental dilemmas. Therefore, at least in humanity's treatment of the land, JudeoChristian premises were to be explicitly rejected.
The premise that Judeo-Christian ethics were deficient was a theme which did not end with Leopold, but rather intensified in the writings of later environmental ethicists. Perhaps best known of these is Lynn White, Jr., who in his essay "The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis" (White 1967) sees Judeo-Christian ethics as not merely deficient and apathetic toward the environment, but as the root cause of all ecological problems. "Christianity ... not only established a dualism of man and nature but also insisted that it is God's
will that man exploit nature for his proper ends" (p. 1205). "By destroying pagan animism, Christianity made it possible to exploit nature in a mood of indifference to the feelings of natural objects" (p. 1205). White, too, opts for a "new religion." "More science and more technology are not going to get us out of the present ecologic crisis until we find a new religion, or rethink our old one" (p. 1206). White ends by proposing Francis of Assisi as the patron saint of ecologists. His understanding of Francis' theology is that "Francis tried to depose man from his monarchy over creation and set up a democracy of all God's creatures" (p. 1206). "His view of nature and of man rested on a unique sort of pan-psychism of all things animate and inanimate, designed for the glorification of their transcendent Creator" (p. 1207).
It is the way of things that the original ideas of great writers will be paraphrased and mass-produced by the less-than-original authors of undergraduate textbooks. So it is in ecology that the present consensus identifying Judeo-Christian ethics as the ultimate source of all ecological problems has trickled down to such textbooks as Colinvaux's (1973) Introduction to Ecology, Kreb's (1972) Ecology: The Experimental Analysis of Distribution and Abundance and Hinckley's (1976) Applied Ecology: A Nontechnical Approach, to name but a few. Christians continue to find themselves identified as the villains of the environmental drama.A Biblical Environmental Ethic
Only after such judgments are made, and such blessings given, does God turn His attention to human
Leopold defined an ethic as adifferentiation between social and antisocial behavior and, in the ecological sphere, as a limitation on freedom of action in the struggle for existence.
beings. To them He repeats the blessing He has already pronounced upon the animals. "Be fruitful, and multiply and fill the earth. . . . " To them He also gives the added responsibility to subdue the earth, and "rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth" (Gen. 1:28, NASB), Here we come to grips with the verse which has been the greatest problem for those who see the JudeoChristian worldview as the reason for humanity's rape of nature.
Pollution and mass extinctions of other life-forms; are seen as fulfillments of the mandate to rule and subdue. Or, to use C.S. Lewis' phrase, the "man has nature whacked" mentality. Francis Schaffer has observed, correctly, that every word carries both a definition and a connotation, and the two may not be the same. The connotation represents the meaning a word acquires as it travels through the world. Since, in Genesis, it is God who uses the words "rule" and "subdue," it would be only fair to examine God's definition of such words, rather than man's, and to attempt to find substantive instances of how God behaves as a "ruler" and as a " subduer." It also would be helpful to examine the situational context in which the commandment is given.
Take the case of "subduing" first. We can begin by intelligently examining what God probably did not mean when He used the term. First, it is unlikely that He could have had in mind that human beings kill animals and eat them, for regarding food, God instructs them, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and any tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you" (Gen. 1:29, NASB). He could not have meant for Adam to kill the animals to make coverings, for the Bible states that "the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed" (Gen. 2:25). It cannot mean that He intended people to begin an exploitation of the earth's inorganic material, because the usual uses of technology, to control the immediate environment and to increase food production, would have no use in this world. It cannot even mean that God wanted humanity to begin high-intensity agriculture, since "God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food" (Gen. 2:9, NASB). These alternatives cover the typical spectrum of exploitative acts which most people imagine when they hear the words "subdue the earth. " in this biblical setting, every one of them is inappropriate. So what can "subdue" possibly refer to? Apparently to "subdue" in this context can only mean, "Bring that which I have created into conformity with my ways." In a world without sin, we are not unkind to Adam if we remark that this probably would not have been a particularly unpleasant or difficult job. Certainly the first act of "subduing" (and, tragically, the only one which Adam apparently completed) was to name the animals. Here we see Adam cooperating with God in continuing to order that which God had made. God brought order out of chaos, but now, not out of need but out of love, He involves human beings in the continued work of ordering the creation.Ruling Over Creation
The first characteristic that marks God's rule is freedom for His subjects. I do not mean here freedom in the modern sense of personal liberty to commit irresponsible acts, but in the scriptural sense of freedom from sin, f reedom f rom the worst part of yourself to follow the best part of yourself, the part that leads to a healthy relationship with God, your "ruler." The words on the liberty bell, "Proclaim liberty throughout the land," are taken from the 25th chapter of Leviticus, the book of the law. God promised that one day a ruler would come out of Israel. He describes this through Isaiah who says:
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over His kingdom. (Is. 9:6,7, NASB)
The prophecy here of course refers to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Jesus' ideas on ruling are the most logical
The tragic history Of our race is a story of millions of wicked people trying to "rule over" (i.e. exploit and subjugate) each other.
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not to be so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many. (Matt. 20:25-28, NASB, emphasis mine)
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God, and was going back to God, rose from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself about. Then He poured water into the basin and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded ... And so when He had washed their feet ... He said to them, 'Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you ought also to wash one another's feet. For I gave you an example that you should do also as I did to you. (John 13:3-5, 12-15, NASB)
Given both the example and words of Jesus as God's
representative, God's command to "rule over" the
created order cannot mean "exercise despotic authority
over nature." It clearly means, rather, that human
beings, whom God has made great, must be nature's servants. Humans are, by this example, instructed to
the days of its desolation it kept sabbath until seventy years
put the welfare of the natural world above their own, to
seek its good first, and to "rule" it as God would rule it,
in the form of obedient servants.
Covenant, Law, and Redemption
These examples have been taken from the context of a sinless world (the Garden of Eden) and a sinless life
(Jesus Christ). But in neither sin nor judgment did God forget His creation. With the termination of the flood,
God made a covenant with Noah that He would never again destroy the world that way. What is often over
looked is that in this covenant, creation is Noah's co-signer.
Now, behold, I myself do establish My covenant with you and with your descendants after you; and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the cattle, and every beast of the earth with you ... all flesh shall never again be cut off by the water of the flood. (Gen. 9:9-11, NASB)
The covenant made, and ratified in the sign of the rainbow, was not a covenant between humanity and God, but between nature and God. Just as God is a covenant partner with humanity, so God is a covenant partner with nature.
The contention by Leopold that Mosaic law reflects concern only about interpersonal relationships would have been dispelled by a firsthand reading of it. Mosaic law is unprecedented in its concern for "land ethics." God says through Moses to Israel:
In each 50th year, the year of jubilee, all property acquired in the previous 50 years was to be returned to the original owners. There could be no ever-expanding grasp for wealth and property, characteristics so prevalent in modern materialism. While each family was assured of its inheritance, the land would not be treated as a commodity to be indiscriminantly bought and sold.
When you come into the land which I shall give to you, then the land shall have a sabbath to the Lord. Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather its crop; but during the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath to the Lord, you shall not sow your field nor prune your vineyard. Your harvest's aftergrowth you shall not reap, and your grapes of untrimmed vines you shall Dot gather; the land shall have a sabbatical year. (Lev. 25:2-5, NASB)
The Israelites failed to observe these laws, even as they failed to observe so many others. But God's laws cannot be indefinitely ignored. II Chronicles 36 closes the book on the kingdom of Judah with these words:
And those who had escaped from the sword he carried away to Babylon; and they were servants to him and to his sons until the rule of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its sabbaths. were complete. (Il Chr. 36:20,21, NASB)
The Christian must continue to act as a servantredeemer toward nature until the return of Jesus Christ. There is no substance to White's accusation of "dualism" toward nature in Christian ethics, for God has inseparably linked the redemption of nature to the redemption of humanity. Paul writes to the church at Rome:
For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth until now." (Rom.8:19-22, NASB)
Isaiah is even more explicit:
And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together. And a little boy will lead them ... They will not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Is. 11:6,9, NASB)
Christians are not only to be involved in redeeming other people, but also in redeeming nature through intelligent stewardship and management. The priorities and goals of such management are set, not by the economic value of the particulars of the ecosystem, but by the knowledge that God has pronounced each component of the system "good" (without reference to any of its uses or values to human beings) and that such a value judgment cannot be overridden. Human beings humbly, but enthusiastically, embrace a managerial role toward nature. Enthusiastically, because they have been given the assignment by their Creator-God. Humbly, because they know that they will be held accountable to God for the way in which systems are managed.Inconsistencies of Secular Ethics
Humans are instructed to put the welfare of the natural world above their own, to seek its good first, and to rule" it as God would rule it, in the form of obedient servants.
wildlife management at the University of Wisconsin Madison in the 1930's, who trained hundreds to become wildlife managers and indirectly influenced thousands more to do likewise, should have been more honest with himself and his readers than to even suggest that a human being can be a "plain member" of natural communities. The Leopoldian ethic demeans management at the same time that it demands management. The Judeo-Christian ethic also demands management, but gives dignity and conviction to the role of the manager as a steward of God.
As for White, his criticisms draw their power mainly from the attachment of materialistic, rather than biblical, connotations to words like "rule" and "subdue." White's own alternatives offer little hope. For the same reason that the Leopoldian ethic fails, White's call for a Franciscan sense of "spiritual autonomy of all parts of nature" (p. 1207) also provides no direction. Human beings cannot constructively manage nature, nor deal with ecological problems, by viewing themselves as an 11 autonomous part" of an ecosystem. White's description of Francis is itself questionable. The man who wrote, "All creatures of our God and King. . . " (empha sis mine) clearly did not have in mind a "democracy of all God's creatures" (White 1967:1206).
Christians have been lazy, ignorant and apathetic about environmental concerns. But only Christians possess an ethical system strong enough to bring conviction, courage, correction and direction to the environmental dilemma. This is not the time to be led astray by mindless environmental slogans, but to embrace our role as servants and stewards of nature, managing it with a view, not to our own uses, but to the inherent value which God gave it, all the while holding in awe the responsibility before us, charged by God and accountable to God.Biblical Principles in Resource Management
We must address the question of value first, for all other implications proceed from it. Every notable writer who has struggled with the question of environmental ethics has struggled with the question of value. Lynn White Jr. begins the question of value as the root cause of our ecologic crisis. "Man named all the animals, thus establishing his dominance over them. God planned all of this explicitly for man's benefit and rule: nothing in the physical creation has any purpose save to serve man's purposes." (White 1967:1205). 1 have already demonstrated the fallacies of White's exegesis, but he shows, nevertheless, a clear perception of the key issue: the source and measure of creation's value determines humanity's attitudes toward it and exploitation of it. In his essay, White rightly condemns both anthropocentrism and utilitarianism. He is not the first to do so. However, the problem of secular environmental ethics is that, while they have unanimously condemned such attitudes, they have never successfully replaced them. Leopold (1974:246) condemns economic utilitarianism:
One basic weakness in a conservation system based wholly on economic motives is that most members of the land community have no economic value. Of the 22,000 higher plants and animals native to Wisconsin, it is doubtful whether more than five percent can be sold, fed, eaten or otherwise put to economic use.
However, Leopold never ultimately escapes anthropocentrism. In defending wilderness preservation, he
states that the motive of preserving wilderness is "for
the edification of those who may one day wish to see,
feel, or study the origins of the cultural inheritance."
(Leopold, 1974:265). If Leopold failed to escape the
trap of anthropocentrism, his predecessor, Thoreau,
fared no better. Thoreau supported wilderness preservation in order to maintain human civilizations. We are
all probably familiar with his statement, "In the wilderness is the preservation of the world," but let me allow a
great man to speak for himself, rather than be quoted
out of context.
The story of Romulus and Remus being suckled by a wolf is not a meaningless fable. The founders of every state which has risen to eminence have drawn their nourishment and vigor from a similar wild source. it was because the children of the empire were not suckled by a wolf that they were conquered and displaced by the children of the northern forests who were. (Thoreau 1951; in Nash 1968:12)
Both Leopold and Thoreau also attempt to combine this disguised anthropocentrism with the concept of the 11 rights" of non-human organisms. Thoreau begins an essay, "I wish to speak a word for nature, for absolute
Christians have been lazy, ignorant and apathetic about environmental concerns. But only Christians possess an ethical system strong enough to bring convication, courage, correction and direction to the environmental, dilemma.
freedom and wildness, to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of nature,. . . " (Thoreau 185 1, in Nash 1968: 10). Leopold is more explicit, stating, ". . . these (nonhuman) creatures are members of the biotic community and if (as I believe) its stability depends on its integrity, they are entitled to its continuance." (Leopold 1974:246,147). Notice the line of logic followed here:
Premise 1: Living creatures are part of the biotic community. Premise 2: "Community (ecological) stability depends on integrity (i.e. persistence of component parts)" Conclusion: "All species which are members of any biotic community ought to be preserved."
Clearly, Leopold's conclusion is not logically valid. We cannot draw an imperative conclusion (species ought to be preserved) from a subjunctive premise (species exist). Yet in this and similar statements we find the seeds of the future animal rights movement as well as Nash's more recent "rights of rocks" philosophy. Norton (1982a 1982b) has demonstrated conclusively that: 1) environmental ethics cannot be derived from rights or interests of nonhumans, and 2) environmental ethics cannot be derived from rights or interests of future generations. Environmental ethics fail in the first category because: 1) no general theory of nonhuman rights exist and 2) no appeals to the rights of nonhumans simultaneously fulfill the minimal conditions of rights holding and still provide a coherent rationale for environmental preservation (Norton 1982a). The second category fails to provide an adequate environmental ethic because "one cannot recognize a future individual as the holder of a right or interest until the individual as such can be identified. Unfortunately, these individuals can be identified only after many environmental decisions, especially those governing population policy, have been made" (Norton 1982b:320).
Technology, then, cannot be constrained by imputing rights to nonhuman organisms or by the prospect of bettering future generations. Christian environmental ethics constrain technology on the question of values in three ways: 1). they identify the value source as originating in God, not human beings (Gen. 1), 2). they identify this God as continuing in covenantal relationships with His creatures (Gen. 9), and 3). they identify specific divine commands (Lev. 25, 26) which are given solely for the benefit of non-human creation.
This ethical system preserves us from logical contradiction of the "nature's rights" and "future generations' rights" ethics, as well as from the selfishness of anthropocentrism. Because of this, the Christian sees appropriate uses of technology in the following principles:
1) When technology assists any component of creation, including, but not exclusively, human beings, to "be fruitful and multiply" (Gen. 1).
2) When technology assists in preventing the destruction of any component of creation (Gen. 9).
3) When technology permits any component of creation the opportunity for recuperation and rest (Lev. 25,26).
These principles, however, are incomplete in themselves. Considered alone, they would give the impression that technology is available to all creation. It is not, but only to humans. Whatever may be said about the intelligence levels of dolphins, chimpanzees, and whales, they do not possess significant technologies for altering the physical environment. We have already explored the conflicts of secular, (including Leopoldian) land ethics which attempt, on the one hand, to treat man as merely a biotic component of an ecosystem and then presume that men should manage or preserve the same systems. If White accused Christianity of arrogance toward nature, at least he recognized it did not indulge in these sorts of double-thinking hypocrisies. Seen in this light, biblical passages describing human dominion over nature can be understood. They are not statements of primitive arrogance, but descriptions of life as it is. As I have stated earlier, the question is not whether humans will rule nature, (we might as well ask whether a living human will continue breathing), but how they will rule. The secular mentality is utterly unable to conceive of a genuinely beneficent ruler. Were it not for Jesus Christ, none of us could imagine the idea at all. Yet in Christ, we find the inconceivable, the unimaginable combination, the ruler of unlimited power, the servant of utmost humility. Recall again the words of John 13, "Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His
If Leopold failed to escape the trap of anthropocentrism, his predecessor, Thoreau, fared no better. Thoreau supported wilderness preservation in order to maintain human civilizations.
hands, and that He had come forth from God, and was going back to God ... began to wash the disciples feet."
Jesus does not don the servant's apparel in weakness, fear, or insecuritv, but in "power and love and discipline." (11 Tim. 1:7, NASB). He knew that He was greater than the disciples (John 13:13) and shamelessly accepted their worship (Matt. 28:17, NASB). He knew he had something to give them which they were incapable of giving themselves, and He freely gave it, even to the cost of His own life.
In a monarchy, abdication results in anarchy. So in creation, humanity's abdication of rightful responsibilities is as harmful, and as sinful, as their abuses. The technological power within the hands of the human race is not-so-mute testimony to the truth of God's word,
Thou dost make him to rule over the works of Thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet, All sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, The birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, Whatever passes through the paths of the seas. 0 Lord, our Lord, How majestic is Thy name in all the earth. (Ps. 8:6-9, NASB, emphasis mine)
Biblical Principles for The Servant-Ruler
Man's rulership, expressed, in part, by his use of technology toward nature, is governed not only by the value of creation, but by an acceptance of his own role in creation. To the principles in applying technology toward nature we have already established, we may add the following criteria. As a servant ruler:
1) Humans do not abdicate their responsibility to manage creation, including the use of technology in management.
2) Humans manage from a perspective of intimacy of knowledge and relationship toward the creation. They are not estranged from their subjects (Dent. 17).
3) Humanity's primary goal in management is to meet the physical needs of the creation, enabling it to better fulfill its own "great commission." (Gen. 1) A secondary goal is to meet the needs of humanity itself.
Finally, the question of linkage between humanity and nature focuses on the shared history, experience and destiny of all creation. Humanity and nature share in the consequences of the Fall (Gen. 3) and the consequences of judgment (Gen. 6). Likewise, they also share both the need and hope of a redeemer (Rom. 8:19ff) and the promise of restoration in the kingdom of God (Is. 11).
These linkages point the way to a clear understanding of nature's current state and future destiny, though, for many, they are difficult to accept. The shared curse and judgment of creation should warn us against the transcendentalists' error of equating nature with perfection. In the most pristine ecosystems, the animal components may engage in pansexuality and homosexuality, rape, infanticide, fratricide, matricide, and patricide. Predators may fail to control their prey, with resultant adverse changes in vegetation. When opportunity affords, the competitively superior may ruthlessly eliminate their respective inferiors. "Natural" extinctions take place. Parasitism, disease, and catastrophe strike randomly, leaving death in their wake. The quiet, unobtrusive, 11 natural" succession of vegetation inexorably proceeds. With it comes the disappearance of some species and their replacement and dominance by others. For those who know nature, be they Christian or not, preservation is seen for what it is: the mythology of ignorant sentimentalism. The Christian, however, must consider more than the practical impossibility of mere preservationism. He must recognize the biblical perspective that that which is is not that which will always be. "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea." (Rev. 21:1, NASB).
And the wolf will dwell with the lamb and the leopard will lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the failing together; And a little boy will lead them ... They will not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain, For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Is. 11:6,9, NASB).
The Christian steward, then, is committed to use technology for the purpose of redemptive management, not mere preservation. Recall Jesus' parable of the unrighteous steward.
... the one who had received the one talent came up and said, "Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed. And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground; see, you have what is yours."
But his master answered and said to him, "You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I scattered no seed.... Take away the talent from him and give it to the one who has ten talents. And cast out the worthless slave into the outer darkness, in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matt. 25:24-26,28,30, NASB).
Only God can redeem creation, just as only God can ultimately redeem humanity. But we cooperate with God to the extent that we recognize His purposes and
In a monarchy, abdication results in anarchy. So in creation' humanity's abdication of rightful responsibilities is as harmful, and as sinful, as their abuses.
"For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God." (Rom. 8:19, NASB).
These facts do not denigrate the contributions of non-Christians toward proper stewardship of natural resources. indeed, it is to the shame and disgrace of Christ's Church that the sons of this age have been wiser than the sons of the kingdom in the care of creation. Nevertheless, without the knowledge of God, human efforts must fall short of ultimate truth or eternal agendas. As the Church involves herself in the care of creation, she is not piggy-backing on a secular environmentalist agenda. Instead, as Christ's ambassador to the world, she brings to the environmental conflict a perspective distinct from all competing ethical paradigms. Despite her many weaknesses and imperfections, the Church is the only institution on earth with the authority to offer a genuine environmental ethic and the power to bring significant healing to the planet. She rejoices wherever, whenever, and however the work of God is accomplished, but she alone is charged by God with the redemption of creation. Lasting healing can come from no other source. It is time for the Church to say "yes" to God's commands for the care of creation, and begin a long overdue task.
Where, then, have the scriptures led us in the application of technology in stewardship? I think we may confidently stand on the following: 1) Christians are called to embrace the role of ruling creation, humbly as well as joyfully, but not to shun, ignore, or be ashamed of what God has called us to be. 2) Christians are called to manage creation according to the eternal value of God, not the temporal values of human beings. 3) Christians are called to enable the creation to be fruitful and multiply, placing its needs above their own, following the example of our saviour, the servant-ruler, Jesus Christ. 4) Christians are called to redemptive management, not mere preservation, working toward the anticipation of creation's future redemption, and ours.
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___. 1982b. Environmental ethics and the rights of future generations. J. Envir. Ethics 4 :319-337.
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