Preparing the Way for Action
Calvin B. DeWitt
Au Sable Institute
Mancelona, MI 49659
and University of Wisconsin
Madison, WI 53706
From: PSCF 46 (June 1994): 80-89.
While convicted by environmental degradation and scriptural teachings on environmental stewardship, we may find ourselves hesitating to do what must be done. Stumbling blocks and pitfalls often prevent Christians from engaging in stewardly care and reconciliation of creation. Once identified and recognized, these things need no longer stand in our way, and we can proceed to act on our knowledge and beliefs about creation and the environment. In doing so, we can build upon a three-part framework: (1) Awareness: seeing, identifying, naming, locating; (2) Appreciation: tolerating, respecting, valuing, esteeming, cherishing; and (3) Stewardship: using, restoring, serving, keeping, entrusting.
We can nurture our awe and wonder for our Creator through study of God's provisions for creation. But as we do so, we soon are confronted with the ongoing and accelerating degradation of the earth that in many ways reflects human disregard and abuse of these provisions.1 Responding to this degradation by searching the Scriptures, we may bring ourselves to the point where we are ready to act on what we know and believe.
But there is a problem...
The problem is that many of the things we know we should do, we just don't do, including the care and keeping of creation. There are very good reasons for this. First, there are things that stand in our way and make us stumble - so much so that we might never get started. Second, there are holes in the road that are so big that they not only give us a bump, but even consume us, so that our intended journey stops abruptly well before we get to where we were heading. Thus, in this paper I identify some stumbling blocks that often prevent Christians from taking action on our scientific and ethical knowledge, and also a pitfall that may capture us along the path of creation stewardship. This is followed by a suggested framework for putting our knowledge and beliefs into practice.
Stumbling Blocks to Creation's Care and Keeping
Some of the troublesome stumbling blocks in the way of creation-keeping discipleship are ones we ourselves have invented. Others have been devised by our friends, and still others by enemies. These we must identify and clear from the path of the service to which we are called. What are these stumbling blocks? Here are some of the major ones, each followed by a response that might help us remove it from our path of creation-stewardship.
(1) This world is not my home, I'm just passing through. Since we're headed for heaven anyway, why take care of creation?
Those who truly believe in Jesus Christ (as Creator, Sustainer, Reconciler, and Redeemer), while receiving the gift of everlasting life (cf. Mark 16:16), have bodies that are short-lived - much shorter-lived than creation itself. But temporal as our bodies are, we still take care of our appearance and health; we comb our hair, brush our teeth, try to stay physically fit, and employ the care of physicians and nurses. Similarly, we care for our buildings. Construction of skyscrapers, for example, now is approved in many of our larger cities only when a demolition plan is filed along with the construction plan (to allow their safe destruction a hundred or so years later). Thus, even structures whose destruction is planned are still protected and maintained with security provisions and custodial care. Biblical teachings reinforce our responsibility for the care and keeping of creation. (1) They include teachings for stewardly life (see box beginning on page 88), (2) they give the grave warning that those who destroy the Earth themselves will be destroyed (Rev. 11:18), and (3) they lead us to consider the importance of learning to take care of things in this part of eternity in preparation for the care of things with which we will be entrusted later. A pastor friend of mine sums up this third point by saying, "we should so behave on earth that heaven is not a shock to us!"
(2) Caring for creation gets us too close to the New Age movement. Isn't concern for the environment and working for a better world what the New Age movement is all about? I don't want people to think I am a New Ager.
The Bible, of course, has the corner on the Kingdom of God, not the New Age movement.2 For thousands of years now, believers have looked forward to the coming of the kingdom of God, and it is for this they continue to look when they pray "Thy kingdom come..." Many, perhaps most, people in the New Age movement have never really been presented with the good news of the Kingdom of God, and while they are talked about very much in various discussion groups and Christian publications, most remain unapproached with the gospel. In the meantime the "new agers" are doing what they can to invent and impliment their own vision for a world of peace and harmony. Paul's example in Athens should encourage us to move from criticism and church-basement discussions to evangelical testimony and explication. As Paul explains to the people of Athens about their altar to the unknown God,3 so should those who know, study, and reflect upon the meaning of the Kingdom of God explain its meaning to those who hope for a new age. Our task is not first of all to worry about those among our very numbers "with New Age tendencies" but to bring the gospel to those who are seeking, so that what they seek need no longer be invented, for "how can they hear without someone to preach to them?" (Rom. 10:14b). We and they need earnestly to pray, in word and deed, "thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth..."
(3) Respecting creation gets us too close to pantheism. If you care for plants and animals, and especially if you value the keeping of endangered species, you are close to worshipping them as gods.
Pantheism (the idea that all things are god), and panentheism (the idea that all things are in God), are growing problems. Surprisingly in this age of science, worship of creatures is increasingly practiced. Thus, as we convey the good news, we must be clear that God is the Creator and that the awe and wonder we develop from the study of creation is to be directed to the Creator, not to creation (cf. Rom. 1:25 and Acts 14:14-18). But the existence of this danger of confusing the Creator and the creature does not mean that we may deny the creation or neglect taking care of creation. The example of Noah is instructive: Noah cared for the creatures and preserved the species endangered by the flood not because they were gods, but because God required it - God's will and requirement is to keep the various species and kinds alive on the earth (Gen. 6-9). When it comes to masterpieces created by human artists, respecters of Rembrandt keep and take care of Rembrandt's paintings; how much more so should respecters and worshippers of the Creator keep and take care of the Creator's works? How much more so should they be about demonstrating God's love for the world (Psalm 104, John 3:16), bringing to God the grateful love and glorifying respect that is due the masterful Creator of all these things?
(4) There are too many worldly people out there doing environmental things. If people who don't share my beliefs in God and Jesus Christ are working to "save the earth," I know it can't be right for me.
God called Cyrus into divine service. We read in Isaiah 45 that unbelieving Cyrus was anointed to do God's work, even though he did not acknowledge God.4 The Bible makes it clear that if God's people are unwilling or unable to do God's work, God sees to it that the work gets done nonetheless. As we should not deprecate Cyrus for doing his God-given work, we must be careful not to deprecate any worldly people out there who clearly are doing God's work. More importantly, we must not excuse ourselves from our God-given task as stewards of God's creation if we see those who do not acknowledge God doing God's work.
It is sobering to know that God anoints unbelievers to do Kingdom work. "It is I who made the earth and created mankind upon it...I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness..." says the Lord. "I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honor, though you do not acknowledge me...so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting men may know there is none besides me" (Isa. 45). We need not join any cause just because the world thinks it interesting, exciting, or important; but we must be obedient to God. Not only must we, as the children's song says, "Dare to be a Daniel, dare to stand alone," but we also must "Dare to stand with Cyrus," dare to stand with unbelievers who are doing God's work.
(5) We need to avoid anything that looks like political correctness. Being "politically correct" these days means being pro-abortion and pro-environment, and I'll have nothing to do with that.
What others are doing is not the standard by which we must live. We must live by the word of God.6 We may not neglect doing God's work because others who attempt to be "politically correct" are doing some things that are God's work. If our obedience to God makes us look "politically correct," so be it; it is God whom we serve and obey.
Thus, people who identify themselves as "politically correct" may advocate saving uneconomic species from extinction. This should not deflect our attention from God's command to Noah and God's interest in preserving the creatures and keeping creation; it should not prevent us from being faithful as Noah was; it should not prevent us from acknowledging in word and deed God's covenant with all the creatures, with all life, and with the earth (recorded repeatedly in Gen. 9:10,11,12,13,15,16, and 17).
(6) Caring for creation will lead to world government. If we tackle global environmental problems, won't we have to cooperate with other nations, and that will help set the stage for world government?
There is no doubt that cooperation will be necessary in order to address many of our environmental problems. Migrating birds, for example, do not recognize international boundaries, and whales migrate across the high seas. Therefore, their care and keeping requires cooperation. That this does not have to lead to world government is illustrated by the work of the International Crane Foundation (ICF) through whose work cooperation has been achieved between Russia and China, and between North Korea and South Korea, in the keeping of wetland habitats and birds.7 Preserving migratory cranes has led to cooperative care of creation, but neither Russia and China, nor North and South Korea needed world government to achieve the mission of the stewardship of these birds. Seeking God's Kingdom is first for ICF's Director, George Archibald, and should also be for any who take seriously the word of God, who take seriously their prayer, "thy Kingdom come..."
(7) Before you know it, we will have to support abortion. Because of the relationship between environmental degradation and the growing human population, we will soon find ourselves having to accept abortion as a solution to environmental problems.
Our obligation and privilege to care for God's creation does not give us license to use whatever means we have at our disposal to address environmental problems. For people who work out of a biblical ethic, both the means and the ends are important; both must be chosen and applied in obedience to God. The fact that many people use and attempt to justify abortion in terms of controlling human population does not thereby excuse Christians from acting on their God-given responsibility for stewardship of their own lives and bodies, for care for other creatures, and to address issues of human population. Illicit means exercised by some or many are no excuse for neglect of creation stewardship. On the contrary, they are the occasion for pointing the way in obedience to God to keeping creation (Gen. 2:15) and creation's blessed fruitfulness not only for people (Gen. 1:28) but the blessed fruitfulness of all God's creatures (Gen. 1:22).
(8) I don't want to be an extremist or alarmist. I want to be considered normal - not some kind of prophet of gloom and doom.
Gloom and doom are not necessary components of the message that needs to be brought to people about caring for creation. Trying to frighten ourselves into action is far less preferable than working to care for creation out of a love for the Creator in gratitude and joy. But, because of the sinfulness of human beings and the rationalization that people may bring to creation's destruction, it may also be necessary to bring the message of gloom and doom of Revelation 11:18, "The time has come...for destroying those who destroy the earth." There is no doubt about it: for those who might aspire to everlasting life (John 3:16), the prospect of destruction as portrayed in Revelation 11:18 because of complicity and participation in the destruction of the earth is gloomy. While the message of joy and peace, of God's creative, redemptive and reconciling power, should be sufficient to bring people to imitate God's love for the world, it often is not, and the proclamation of Revelation 11:18 might become necessary. Calling such people, or others who simply describe the degradations of creation, "prophets of doom" is no excuse for inaction. A truthful description of the status of creation will uncover immediately the sinfulness that undermines creation, and should lead all who profess God as Creator to overcome sin (Rom. 12:1-3; Gal. 1:24; Eph. 6:10-15; I John 3:7-10), and to live lives of gratitude and stewardship before God (Rom. 12:1-2; Matt. 5:16). Our working in and for creation, however, ideally, should not be out of a sense of impending doom, but from a deep love and obedience to Earth's Creator, Redeemer, and Reconciler (Gen. 1-2; John 1:1-3; Col. 1:15-20).
Although we may be concerned about being called alarmists, we must recognize that God may act to get our attention through creation itself, or through people's speaking and writing. And, while we may dislike the word "alarmist," there certainly are times for "sounding the alarm." We do not, for example, find it "alarmist" if someone sounds the alarm when the building is burning, the burglar is in the store, the flood is coming, or the earthquake is upon us. In many cases it is necessary to sound the alarm. Ezekiel 33 not only points out this necessity, but also tells of the dire consequences for those who should sound the alarm but do not. Again, our path should be one of truthfulness and obedience to God rather one governed by avoiding the unpopular names people might apply to us.
(9) Dominion means what it says - oppressive domination. I think the Bible says that we have the right to destroy things that get in our way; that's what dominion is all about.
Many, particularly critics of Christianity, have pointed to Genesis 1:28 to illustrate that the Bible is the root cause of environmental problems. That this verse has been so used in isolation from the rest of the scriptures cannot be denied. But dominion as outright oppression is neither advocated nor condoned by the scriptures. First, the Genesis 1:28 passage gives the blessing and mandate to people before the Fall. Second, this passage must be understood not in isolation, but in the context of the rest of the Bible.8 If this is done, we must come to the conclusion that dominion means responsible stewardship, to which a number of biblical principles attest. (See box beginning on page 88.) The model for dominion for Christians is Jesus Christ, who was given all dominion and, "who, being in very nature God...made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant." Jesus took his servant status so far that "...he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross!" (Phil. 2:6-8).
(10) Other creatures and the environment must not be put ahead of people because people are more important. I'm for people, and that means that people are more important than saving species of plants and animals - if anything is endangered it is people, not furbished louseworts or snail darters.
This is an often-heard rationalization for not saving living species threatened with extinction. Our first question here should be "what does the Bible teach?" We have, of course, an actual instance we can consult in the account of the flood in Genesis 6-9. In our study of this passage, we need to ask: Who perishes? Who is saved? Are species less important than individual people? Is the environment less important than the people it supports? In other passages of scripture we find that God respects "the environment" so much that God calls heaven and earth as witnesses against people (Deut. 30:19) - witnesses to God's setting before people the choice between life and death, witnesses to God's admonishment that they choose life. Clearly, people are important to God, but so are the other creatures, and having the unique responsibility in creation for demonstrating God's love to the rest of creation, people must care for and keep creation.
People are important. We can even say that people are more important than other creatures - because they uniquely have both the character and the responsibility to show God's love, toward each other and (like Noah) toward the other creatures of God's creation. Thus, human beings, being made to reflect and emulate God, have the God-given ability and duty to care for and keep the creatures God has made.9 But this importance fades, as in Noah's day, when people fail to use their special status in God-serving ways or work contrary to God's will for creation. The result in Noah's time was that the faithless people who spurned their God-given status were destroyed, while faithful Noah and the animal lineages were saved. Noah believed in God's having created the world and its creatures, believed in God's ability to save the threatened creation, acted on what he believed and, with his family and the animal lineages, was saved by obediently responding to God. The people who failed to recognize and act upon their God-given importance and responsibility were annihilated. Saving animal lineages was more important to God than saving those who were destroying what God ordained.
What we learn from Noah's obedient life is that our task - as God's important image-bearing creatures - is to act on what makes us important. We are to live in obedience to God; we like Noah must mirror God's love for the world. Our importance does not give us priority over other creatures so much as it gives us responsibility for them. This means that we must be publishing - in our lives, in our work, and in the landscape under our care - our steadfast and reflective faithfulness to the Creator, Redeemer, and Reconciler of all things (cf. Gen. 6-9 and Col. 1:15-20).10 We must be going about the care and keeping of the creatures as Noah did and as God does (Psalm 104).
A Pitfall to Creation's Care and Keeping
Beyond these stumbling blocks, there are the pitfalls which might prevent us from becoming stewards of our Lord's creation. I here identify one of these that is particularly effective in catching us along our way. It is one that may seriously trap or delay us, making us believe we are doing the real thing while it buries and destroys our own life blood and our ability to be stewards of our Lord's earth.
Across Christendom there is a widely held belief in two major revelations through which we come to know God C special revelation and natural revelation. Special revelation is the Holy Scripture, comprised of the Old and New Testaments; natural revelation is the revelation of God in the creation - a revelation based upon the belief that God as creation's Author is revealed in creation, including God's power, eternal nature, beauty, justice, integrity and wholeness. And while there always have been some "one-book" Christians who have seen the Bible - special revelation - as the only revelation of God, they usually do not remain "one-book" Christians for long because the Bible itself affirms general revelation by pointing out creation's testimony to God's divinity, everlasting power, glory, kindness, and providing care (Romans 1:20; Psalm 19:1; Psalm 104; Acts 14:17). Thus, most Christians affirm "two books" through which we come to know God: the book of the created world and the book of the written Word.
But some who have passed through the Christian tradition have become so impressed with our knowledge of how the world works as revealed through the tools of the natural sciences that they have come to believe that the natural world is the only revelation that has ultimate meaning. Thus, there are some "one-book" people for whom the natural world is the only book. Some who believe this way consider themselves "post-Christian," thereby acknowledging their roots and their "journey" through Christianity. Beyond that, some "one-book" believers see the Bible as a major stumbling block to living rightly on Earth today, and insist that "the Bible should be put on the shelf for twenty years" or that the Bible should be dismissed today as totally irrelevant.
If this were the end of the matter, it might be of little concern. But many of those who confess such "earth-centered spirituality" believe that the church should be enlightened and transformed to their way of thinking as well. The authors of the book, The Reign of Reality - a book that replaces the word "God" with the word "Reality" and transforms the "Kingdom of God" into the "Reign of Reality" - have in mind the transformation of Christianity to a new form that moves beyond the authority of the Bible and the reality of God as personal. Seeing Christian belief in a personal God, and other beliefs, as too literal, they write,
"The current worship and symbolic life of Christian churches is characterized by poetry that the ordinary participant cannot easily avoid taking literally...The task of radically deliteralizing the Christian understanding is being avoided in almost every congregation. It is not being carried out because a deliteralized Christianity is not economically supportable by literalistic Christians. Maintaining the economic viability of existing institutions is being valued over proclaiming a clear understanding of Christian faith."11
"One-book" believers who advocate creation-centered spirituality, true to their earth-centered approach, often describe God as something that emerges from the world, as the world develops consciousness of itself; God to many of them is an emergent property of the unfolding of the universe. And Christ has been transformed into the "Christ Spirit" that is somehow the expression of Earth's spiritual nature, differing here and there across the face of the globe - differing in various places, times, and cultures.
The pitfall here is not so much that there is a developing belief around "earth-centered spirituality." The pitfall nature of this philosophy is that it is being injected into the churches. Adherents to this philosophy believe that it is needed in the churches. They see it necessary to wean Christianity away from its trust in the Bible and the personal God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; to wean it from trusting in Jesus Christ as Lord; to bring it to the maturity that comes through the new light shed by the revelation of the Earth itself. And with this transformation comes the deliteralization or shelving of the Bible, equation of God with the earth, and the degeneration of Jesus Christ to an earth spirit. Thus, unlike pitfalls that might be encountered as one moves between church and work place, this pitfall is being injected into the church itself.
Through my personal experience with some of the people who hold to this perspective - who thus depreciate the Bible, depersonalize God, and transform Jesus Christ into an all-pervasive earth-spirit - I have discovered some remarkably easy means for avoiding this pitfall in our lives and in our churches. These are to continue to pray to God our Father in the name of Jesus Christ; to continue to read and believe God's written Word; and to continue to be willing to be led by the Holy Spirit in our daily walk. Those who become fully committed to creation as its own principal revelation cannot engage in doing these things since they violate their post-Christian religion. Thus, if such post-Christian belief gains a foothold in a church, organization, or household, prayer to God in the name of Jesus Christ will diminish and increasingly feel awkward; the Bible will be cited less and read with less depth and interest; and the leading of the Holy Spirit will be spurned or denied. These are some of the signals that things are moving from Christian to post-Christian - from two-book revelation to one-book revelation.
Those who advocate creation-spirituality, such as Matthew Fox and Thomas Berry, are doing the best they can to explain the world without a personal God and savior; without the need for the leading of the Holy Spirit. They have passed through Christianity to evolve into something they consider better - something they believe is in better accord with the ways things are. While we must respect these people for their attempt to make sense out of God's world and our living in it, we must also recognize that they have moved beyond the boundaries defined by the Scriptures.
Why is such creation spirituality a pitfall along the route of proper care for God's creation? Because it impoverishes the ability of the Scriptures to inform us; it disconnects people from personal access through prayer to God through the mediation of Jesus Christ, who hears and responds to our concerns, and petitions; and it blocks our being open to the person of the Holy Spirit who can guide us. Such impoverishment is ultimately devastating to ourselves and to creation.
Then What Must We Do?
Having considered the stumbling blocks and a pitfall that prevent many Christians from taking action - we are prepared to ask, "then what must we do?"
The simple, yet profound, response to this question appears to be this: "Love God as redeemer and creator, acknowledge God's love for the world, be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit, and act upon this by following Jesus who creates, upholds, and reconciles all things" (Col. 1:15-20; John 1:1-5).
But a serious problem remains: most people today have been alienated from the Creator and God's creation, and thus it is difficult to love, uphold, and make right again a world that we really do not know. Therefore, many will first have to become aware of creation and its God-declared goodness. Once we have gained awareness, we then can move to appreciation, and from appreciation on to stewardship.
Here is a helpful framework:
(1) Awareness (seeing, identifying, naming, locating),
(2) Appreciation (tolerating, respecting, valuing, esteeming, cherishing), and
(3) Stewardship (using, restoring, serving, keeping, entrusting).
Awareness. Awareness stands at the very beginning as the first of three components of creation stewardship. Awareness means bringing things to our attention. When so much else calls for our attention - foreign affairs, local politics, jobs, traffic, accreditation, grades - the creation in its natural aspects may not even seem real to us. We might find that it seems real only on some of our travels, and even then it may be seriously obscured by motel rooms, conference halls, ubiquitous television, and campground smog. We must consciously make ourselves aware of what is happening in God's creation.
Awareness involves seeing, naming, identifying, locating. It means taking off the blinders provided us by ourselves and society so that we not only see God's creation, but want to name and know the names of the things we see. It means providing ourselves with enough peace and thoughtfulness that we have the time and the will to identify a tree or a mountain, a bird or a river. It means having the sense to enter the natural world intentionally in order to locate and find God's creatures about which we sing in the doxology, "Praise God, all creatures here below."12
Appreciation. Awareness is not an end in itself. From awareness comes appreciation; we cannot appreciate that of which we are unaware. At the very least, appreciation means tolerating. We may tolerate, for example, worms and hyenas and so doing appreciate them. But beyond toleration, appreciation can also mean respect. We certainly respect a large bear, but we can also develop respect for a lowly worm as we learn of its critical importance in creation. And, appreciation can build from tolerating to respecting, and on to valuing. We know that God declares creation to be good, and we will find that God does so for good reason! As we become aware of the order of creation, we will find ourselves reflecting God's valuing of the creatures. And this will build even further until much of what we discover we will even esteem and cherish. Thus, awareness will lead to appreciation.
Stewardship. Appreciation does not end the matter either, for appreciation leads to its ultimate conclusion: stewardship. At first, stewardship may mean appropriate use of creation; perhaps our appreciation for a flower will lead us to put it into a vase to decorate our table. But stewardship will bring us well beyond appropriate use to keeping what remains, and then to restoring what has been abused in the past. The widespread lack of awareness and ignorance of creation and creation's integrity means that we and many others have abused and degraded the environment unknowingly, and stewardship means that we will work to set things right again - to reconcile and redeem. We might even buy back something degraded to make it right again.
Beyond restoration, stewardship means serving. As we understand that God through creation is in so many ways serving our own lives, we will return this service with our own. Our service will include a loving and caring keeping of what we hold in trust, providing the creatures their time of sabbath rests, and preserving creation's fruitfulness (see box beginning on page 88). Ultimately our service in creation will even involve entrusting others with what we have served, kept, and restored.
Christian environmental stewardship - our loving care and keeping of creation that mirror's God's love - is a central, joyful, part of the human task. As communities of God's stewards - as the Body of the One who made, sustains, and reconciles the world - our churches and our lives can and must be convicting publications and vibrant testimonies that glorify and honor our Redeemer and Creator.
"Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor, and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy will's sake they are, and have been created." (Rev. 4:11, Geneva Bible)
Biblical Principles for Environmental Stewardship
1. Earthkeeping Principle: As the Lord keeps and sustains us, so must we keep and sustain our Lord's creation.
Genesis 2:15 shows God's expectation that Adam and Adam's descendants will serve and keep the garden. The Hebrew word upon which the translation of keep is based is the word "shamar" and "shamar," means a loving, caring, sustaining keeping. This word also is used in the Aaronic blessing from Numbers 6:24, "The Lord bless you and keep you." When we invoke God's blessing to keep us, it is not merely that God would keep us in a kind of preserved, inactive, uninteresting state. Instead, it is that God would keep us in all of our vitality, with all our energy and beauty. The keeping we expect of God when we invoke the Aaronic blessing is one that nurtures all of our life-sustaining and life-fulfilling relationships - with our family, spouse, and children, with our neighbors and our friends, with the land and creatures that sustain us, with the air and water, and with our God. And so too with our keeping of the Garden - in our keeping of God's creation. When Adam, Eve, and we, keep the creation, we make sure that the creatures under our care and keeping are maintained with all their proper connections - connections with members of the same species, with the many other species with which they interact, with the soil, air and water upon which they depend. The rich and full keeping that we invoke with the Aaronic blessing is the kind of rich and full keeping that we should bring to the garden of God - to God's creatures and to all of creation. As God keeps his believing people, so should God's people keep creation.
2. Sabbath Principle: We must provide for creation's Sabbath rests.
Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 require that one day in seven be set aside as a day of rest for people and for animals. As human beings and animals are to be given their times of sabbath rest, so also is the land. Exodus 23 commands, "For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the wild beasts may eat." "You may ask, 'What will we eat in the seventh year if we do not plant or harvest our crops?'" God's answer in Leviticus 25 and 26 is: "I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years," so do not worry, but practice this law so that your land will be fruitful. "If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees of the field their fruit."
Christ in the New Testament clearly teaches that the Sabbath is made for the ones served by it - not the other way around. Thus, the sabbath year is given to protect the land from relentless exploitation, to help the land rejuvenate, to help it get things together again; it is a time of rest and restoration. This sabbath is not merely a legalistic requirement; rather, it is a profound principle. Thus, in some Christian farming communities, the sabbath principle is practiced by letting the land rest every second year, "because that is what the land needs." And of course, it is not therefore restricted to agriculture but applies to all creation. The Bible warns in Leviticus 26, "...if you will not listen to me and carry out all these commands, and if you reject my decrees and abhor my laws and fail to carry out all my commands and so violate my covenant...Your land will be laid waste, and your cities will lie in ruins...Then the land will enjoy its sabbath years all the time it lies desolate...then the land will rest and enjoy its sabbaths. All the time that it lies desolate, the land will have the rest it did not have during the sabbaths you lived in it."
3. Fruitfulness Principle: We should enjoy, but must not destroy, creation's fruitfulness.
The fish of the sea and the birds of the air, as well as people, are given God's blessing of fruitfulness. In Genesis 1:20 and 22 God declares, "Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky." And then God blesses these creatures with fruitfulness: "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth." God's creation reflects God's fruitful work - God's fruitful work of giving to land and life what satisfies. As it is written in Psalm 104, "He makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains. They give water to all the beasts of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. The birds of the air nest by the waters; they sing among its branches. He waters the mountains from his upper chambers; the earth is satisfied by the fruit of his work." And Psalm 23 describes how our providing God "...makes me lie down in green pastures, ...leads me beside quiet waters, ...restores my soul."
As God's fruitful work brings fruit to creation, so too should ours. As God provides for the creatures, so should we people who were created to reflect God whose image we bear. Reflecting God, we too should provide for the creatures. And, as Noah spared no time, expense, or reputation when God's creatures were threatened with extinction, neither should we. Deluges - in Noah's time of water, and in our time of floods of people - sprawl over the land, displacing God's creatures, limiting their potential to obey God's command, "be fruitful and increase in number." To those who would allow a human flood across the land at the expense of all other creatures, the prophet Isaiah warns: "Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land" (Isa 5:8).
Thus, while we are expected to enjoy creation, and expected to partake of creation's fruit, we may not destroy the fruitfulness upon which creation's fullness depends. We must, with Noah, save the species whose interactions with each other, and with land and water, form the fabric of the biosphere. We should let the profound admonition of Ezekiel 34:18 reverberate and echo in our minds:
"Is it not enough for you to feed on the green pastures?
Must you also trample them with your feet?"
"Is it not enough for you to drink the pure water?
Must you also muddy it with your feet?"
1For a description of environmental degradations in biblical context, see C. B. DeWitt, "Seven Degradations of Creation," in C. B. DeWitt, ed., The Environment and the Christian: What Does The New Testament Have to Teach (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1991), pp. 13-23.
2Not only does the Bible have a corner on the Kingdom of God, but it is the Kingdom of God and its rightness - its righteousness - that must be the highest priority, according to Matt. 6:33. For a theological treatment in the context of environmental stewardship, see Gordon Zerbe, "The Kingdom of God and Stewardship of Creation," in C. B. DeWitt, ed., The Environment and the Christian: What Can We Learn from the New Testament?, pp. 73-92.
3Described in Acts 17:22-31.
4Also see Isaiah 44:28.
5See Daniel 1:8 and 6:10, upon which this song is based.
6Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.." so it is written (Deut. 8:3, Matt. 4:4), and so we sing.
7The International Crane Foundation is an excellent model of Earthkeeping, particularly at the international level. It is located at E-11376 Shady Lane Road, Baraboo, WI 53913, where it maintains breeding pairs of all crane species for reintroduction into native habitats.
8See, for' example, Genesis 2:15, where Adam is commanded by God to serve the garden and to keep it. The Hebrew word abad often translated "till" in this passage usually is translated "serve" elsewhere (such as in Joshua 24:15 - '...as for me and my house, we will "serve" Jehovah."); the Hebrew word shamar<D> means a loving, sustaining, caring keeping as it also does in Numbers 6:24,
The Lord bless you and keep you..."
9The word keep" here has a deep meaning that goes beyond mere preservation of individuals, to include the fullness of sustaining and dynamic social and ecological interrelationships. See the box beginning on page 88 for a discussion of this based upon Gen. 2:15.
10The words, all things," in Col. 1:20 are given in the Greek as "ta panta," meaning everything" in the broadest scope. In Loren Wilkenson's Christ as Creator and Redeemer" (p. 28, in DeWitt, C. B., ed., The Environment and the Christian: What Can We Learn from the New Testament?), Wilkinson points out that Colossians 1:15-20 states that in Christ, "all things (Gk. panta) hold together because in him they were created." But this passage goes much further...Christ...is to be the one in whom all things are reconciled and brought into harmony. Paul is explicit in that it is not just human beings that are thus brought into harmony, but all things."
11Marshall, Joyce and Gene Marshall, The Reign of Reality: A Fresh Start for the Earth, Dallas: Realistic Living Press, 1987, p. 157.
12The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is a leader in promoting the concept of Making Your Church A Creation Awareness Center." Documentation on this program can be obtained from the Environmental Stewardship Office, ELCA, 8765 Higgins Road, Chicago, IL 60631, or Au Sable Institute Outreach Office, 731 State Street, Madison, WI 53703, (608) 255-0950.