Two weeks ago we celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus. During our conversation someone asked the question, whether stated in this way or not, around what does it mean to live a resurrectional life. So we promptly began a series entitled The Generous Life looking at the issue of stewardship in many areas, not just the only one that normally comes to mind (money). Stewardship is defined as the act of caring for someone else’s property in a manner consistent with the way he or she would care for it. So stewardship revolves around us caring for things that God has given us, in the way that he would care for it. Stewardship then applies to things like money (of course), time, talents, relationships, our bodies, the environment, and more.
Last week we started talking about stewardship by looking at the stewardship of our bodies. We talked about things like sexuality, exercise, sleep, etc. But we also spent a lot of time talking about self-image and being a community that encourages each other in relation to the self.
When we talked the last two weeks about the resurrection we talked about the idea that the resurrection means that, in a very real way, this world matters. This world of blood, sweat, tears, earth, and flesh really matters.
And so today we are going to explore what has, unfortunately, been a divided issue in the Christian world, even though I don’t understand how it could be. This issue is the idea of being a good steward of the environment. Or as some like to call it Creation Care. So what does it mean to be good stewards of the creation that is all around us? What does the bible actually say about taking care of the environment? Is it only something that “liberal tree huggers” care about or is is something that followers of Jesus need to speak out on, live out, and be involved in? Those are some of the questions that we’ll look at in relation to stewardship of the environment.
This week is Earth Day and some in the wider church have designated this day Earth Day Sunday, the day of the year when the church sets aside time to talk about the environment and being good stewards of it. That is why we have chosen to talk about this today.
To talk about being a good steward of the environment we are going right to the beginning. Let’s look at Genesis 1:26-31 and see what we might learn about our environment and being good stewards of it.
Genesis 1:26-31 says, “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.”
This text has been used in so many different ways, even promoting a lack of stewardship of the environment. James Watt, the Secretary of the Interior under Ronald Reagan said, “God gave us these things to use. After the last tree is felled, Christ will come back.” Another contemporary political and television personality said this in a more direct and pretty offensive way, “The ethic of conservation is the explicit abnegation of man’s dominion over the earth. The lower species are here for our use. God said so: Go forth, be fruitful, multiply and rape the planet. It’s yours. That’s our job: drilling, mining, and stripping. Sweaters are the anti-biblical view. Big gas-guzzling cars with phones and CD players, and wet bars- that’s the Biblical view”. But is it really? Does our Scripture this morning agree with this statement or have we been reading it wrong to come up with that conclusion?
First, we want to look at the end of the verses we read. Verse 31 says, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” Now this was before the fall, before sin entered the world but I truly still believe that God’s creation is still good. I truly believe that God still calls it good, and wants us to steward it well, so that one day when it all is set right, it will be very good again. One reason to be a good steward of creation is because God calls it good, and if God calls it good, then we should as well. And if God calls it good, then we should work hard to keep it good.
Secondly, and the main part of this message revolves around the struggle of how we could draw two radically different meanings from the same passage of Scripture. Some people read it like those that I quoted above, and some others, more like myself, read it as a mandate to be good stewards of the environment, and for the environment not to be raped.
In order for us to get at what God is saying through this text, we need to do some unpacking of words, especially in verse 28. Verse 28 says, “God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” The two words that we need to look at especially are the words subdue and rule or sometimes translated have dominion over.
First the word subdue is the word Kabash, which means something like conquering or taming it, as a farmer would tame a wild field. It is like the idea of bring order to it. So we are to bring order to creation. But the main word that many struggle understanding is the word, in this translation, rule. But in many other translations we see it saying “Have dominion over”. The world dominion is the word which has led people to believe that we can rule and have power over this planet and do whatever we feel like to it. We can pillage it, rape it, mine it, and use it for our own good. After all, many people say, Jesus is going to rapture us out of here, and then destroy the world anyway, so why recycle.
But what does the word dominion actually mean? The Hebrew word there is Radah. It is a word that is only used about a dozen times in the Old Testament and is rather special in it’s meaning. It almost always refers to to military action or political authority. We have taken it to mean “dominate over” just as a mediaeval rule or potentate would dominate over his subjects, using them for this own ends, his own pleasure, his own prestige, his own wars, etc.. But an examination of radah shows that this is not the type of dominion that we are called upon to have over the creation.
To understand how we are supposed to have dominion over creation, we need to look at the verses preceding this one. Look at verses 26-27 which says, “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” To understand dominion we have to understand that we were created in the image of God. And so we should have dominion in the image or likeness of God. Humans should rule or have dominion over Creation in a way that is consistent with the way God rules. But the question then becomes how does God rule? Let’s look at Psalm 72:8, 12-14, “May he rule (radah) from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.” He rules (radah) with love, grace, mercy, and compassion. He rules (radah) not with an iron fist and a cold heart. God does not exploit or dominate or consume recklessly. God doesn’t use his power to hurt, but to heal. God values what cannot be replaced. God works to preserve life not destroy it. Mankind needs to exercise radah over the creation as God would exercise radah. Gerhard Van Rad says it this way, “Just as powerful earthly Kings, to indicate their claim to dominion, erected an image of themselves in provinces of their empire where they did not personally appear, so man is placed above the earth in God’s image, as God sovereign emblem. He is really only God’s representative summoned to maintain and enforce God’s claim to dominance over the earth.”
And so God calls us, as image bearers, to radah/rule over his creation, in his stead. To rule it in the way and in the likeness of how we rules over it. Our “radah” of the creation is not be be for our own selfish gain. Our “radah” of the creation is to be not for own sake, but for the sake of the sake of the one ruled, that is, for the sake of the creation. We “radah” creation as God’s representative. Ultimately, even though he has given us “radah” over creation, the earth is the Lord’s and not ours, unlike what the person that I quoted before who said “It’s yours.” It isn’t ours. We are just stewards of it, just like everything else that he gives. Look at Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the LORD’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.” So the creation is God’s and we are called to be good stewards of it. We are called not to “rule over it and subdue it” in the way that a tyrant rules over and subdues his people. We are called to, as image bearers, model the same love, same care and same devotion to the creation that God has for it. We are called to see the creation in the same way that God did and does, as good. Broken, crying out for redemption, fallen but still good. And that we as followers of Jesus, as image bearers, are called to do the hard work of working towards the wholeness, redemption, healing, fullness and shalom of the creation that God has called us to steward.
But what does that look like? What does it mean to do the hard work of bringing wholeness, redemption, healing, fullness, and shalom to the creation? What does it look like to live out the mandate that God has laid out for us to “radah” over the creation as image bearers, and as God’s representative here on the earth? How have you sought to “radah” in God’s image in relation to stewardship of the environment? And what is God calling us as a community to do in being good stewards of the environment? That is what we will seek to unpack in our time of discussion.
1. What thoughts, insights, questions, comments, etc.. do you have regarding the Scripture and/or the message?
2. How have you sought to “radah” in God’s image in relation to stewardship of the environment? Where do you need to “radah” over creation more faithfully as a steward?
3. What is God calling us as a community to do as good stewards of his creation? What steps can we pursue together to better “radah” over God’s creation?
4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?