Atop The Foodchain - An Introduction To Natural Stewardship

We're all running low on room in our streets and in our kitchens. Twenty-five years ago, my family had one garbage can and one small recycling bin. Today, our house boasts one massive trash can, two large recycling bins, and an additional container for compost. Before leaning back to “Kobe!” that ball of trash, today's waste requires some preliminary sorting.

In Turkey, various communities have installed special dog-feeding recycling machines; simply insert a plastic bottle and food and water dispense. For humans, we’ve invented reverse vending machines. Several locations, including Denver, have installed machines that receive recycled goods and spit out change. Other machines, like EcoATM’s kiosks, will take your old cell phones and tablets and return nearly $40 for your troubles. Evidently there is some level of global commitment to exploring new and better ways to use our limited resources.

Unfortunately, recycling—and the broader issue of creation care—has been politicized. Misinformation, propaganda, conflicting agendas, jobs, and a host of other influences have shaped how the average person thinks about his duty to care for the ground on which he walks. As Christians, we must rise above.

A Telescopic View 
Our perspectives on creation-care can fall to two extremes. On the one hand, Scripture explains that when Jesus returns the earth will be burned up and destroyed (2 Pt. 3:10). Scripture alludes to this event elsewhere as a “passing away” of the world as we know it, followed by an introduction of the new heavens and new earth (Mark 13:21; Rev. 21:1). Whether you understand this event to be a redemption of our current world or the creation of a totally new one, the Bible is clear; God is planning a radical change.

Because of the fall, the weight of sin continues to crush our world (Romans 8:22). Every day sin increases and its consequences compound. It seems inevitable that our planet will one day succumb to the stresses inflicted upon it by sin and human inhabitance.

The twin realities of God’s coming, radical, renewing influence, and the current day-to-day deterioration of our world can lead us to be too forward thinking in our creation-care. When we fixate on the future, our perspective suffers. We can become so engrossed with the world’s temporary status and impending destruction that we convince ourselves any attempt to preserve the earth today is a waste of time. This causes us to neglect creation-care entirely.

A Microscopic View
Alternatively, an exaggerated focus on today can make us nearsighted.
When we think about environmentalism, we must keep one thing in mind: it’s God’s stuff. In Genesis 1, we learn it was God who created the heavens and the earth and all that is within. When He finished, God called what He had made “very good.” As creator, God rules over and possesses all of creation. This is His world, not ours.

Though God created the earth with an expiration date, it isn’t a cheap hotel room for our abuse. It’s more of a borrowed car—we are accountable for its condition.

Like heaven and the earth, our bodies too will one day be remade in the glory of Christ. Does this mean we should neglect our soul’s inhabitance until that time? Of course not (1 Cor. 3:16-17, 6:19-20). As John Piper says, “Neither the eventual dissolution of the body or the eventual dissolution of the earth makes either of them worthless now.” These—the creature and creation—are God’s craftsmanship, His art, His immeasurable genius. For these reasons in particular, we should regard our responsibility for this world with trepidation.

But this is where things can go awry. Launching again from a platform of careful theology and good intentions, we can become nearsighted in our commitment to creation-care to the point of harmful idolatry.

As a Tugboat Pilot and ship’s 3rd Mate, I have experienced several instances of protesters suspending themselves from the Sam Houston Bridge, attempting to block ship traffic. In the minds of the protesters, this dangerous stunt is their part to slow the sapping of the earth’s natural resources (oil). In 2019, wayward Union Seminary of New York City hosted a bizarre event wherein faculty encouraged students to come to the stage and confess their sins to an arrangement of plants. Both of these ‌situations indicate a level of environmental sensitivity beyond what we would consider healthy. Just as a future-oriented perspective can cause harmful neglect, an overemphasis on the present can also lead to an under-appreciation for God’s redemptive plan and our earth’s temporary nature. Neither vision constitutes an appropriate Christian perspective.

Creative Christian Care
Like so many things, a proper environmental response is one of balance. We cannot extend ourselves too far in either direction, but must seek the biblical middle-ground.
In Exodus 23:10-11, God gives His people a unique commandment. He instructs them to work the fields, tilling, sowing, and harvesting for six years. But in the seventh year they are to leave the ground “fallow,” permitting it to rest. God expresses the same principle again in Leviticus 25:1–7. In both cases, not only is the land given a chance to recover, but the community is likewise blessed from what the land produces as a result of fallen seeds, leftover grains, and perennial vines. Such wisdom by the field’s Creator is an expression of value and concern.
In this example from Scripture, both the telescopic and microscopic realities of creation are on display. Neither the field, nor the creatures whom it sustains are impervious to exhaustion; both are subject to our world’s natural fatigue and expiration. And yet—though it is deteriorating—we must exercise thoughtful creation care that the fields, rivers and streams might continue to proclaim God’s glory and provide for His creatures.

Repeatedly, God’s Word emphasizes creation’s greatest purpose: All things were made “through” God, “to” God, “by” God, and “for” God (Col. 1:16-17; Ro. 11:36; Jn. 1:3). It’s all for Him. As our own Michael Goldstein once said, “Creation is God’s theater for His glory.” And with Michael the psalmist sings:

The heavens declare the glory of God,
        And the sky above proclaims His handiwork.
- Psalm 19:1

Everything that was made exists for this ultimate purpose, to extol the wonder, majesty, and holiness of God. Often referred to as the “crown of creation,” image-bearing man was given special authority and responsibility over the rest of creation. Genesis 1 describes this assignment as “dominion,” subduing the earth and exercising governance over the birds of the air, the beasts of the field, and all the world. In our dominion, we are not to be a menace to creation but a steward for its good. The difference between a steward and a king is a king has absolute rule and authority over his kingdom, while a steward is meant only to act in consistency with the king’s desires. We are not creation’s owners, but we are its gardeners, its shepherds, and its caretakers—and we answer to the King of Kings.  

Practical Application
So, if we can neither completely neglect the planet nor overcommit to its preservation, what should we do? Practically, the answers will vary. Can we sincerely profess the sheer magnificence of creation while simultaneously tossing a can on the ground? Must we become feverish tree-huggers to signal the depth of our appreciation for the world around us? No. Rather, we must operate with a degree of Chistian concern and wisdom according to biblical principles and conscience.

When a pet becomes sick, every owner, whether they'd admit it or not, has a limit on how much they'll spend to save the animal. $500 to have your parrot’s wing mended is one thing, but a $20,000 organ transplant is another. We can have similarly measured responses to environmentalism. Our guiding principles, motivations, and ultimate goals are of utmost importance.

Are we cleaning up the planet because we believe it’s humanity’s one shot at survival, betraying a lack of trust in God and His Word? Or are we simply trying to steward the world God has given us? Are we wasting water with the excuse that the world could end tomorrow, or are we using only what is needed? We must investigate the reasons behind our behavior and ensure they are godly.

Eventually, the family bird—and our planet—will die. We must steward creation as best we can without losing sight of this. This means using it and subduing it for our pleasure and good, allowing it to rest when necessary, and maintaining it with a type of care that reflects our understanding of what a gift it is, as well as its temporary nature.

Creation care is no walk in the park. As with much of the Christian life, the Bible is hardly specific when it comes to just how much, or what, we should do in response to natural decay. Discernment is a must.
There is no Bible verse that specifically condemns things like spending eight-hours a day playing video games or the purchase of your own military tank. But the biblical principles of wise stewardship of both time and money are clear. We must contend with ourselves over this issue. As Christians, we are called to transcend the impulses of worldly entities. Unfortunately, the world categorizes people according to an ever-changing spectrum of positions and beliefs. Left versus right, old versus new—we are to have none of it. We are to be concerned only with Christ and His Word, no matter in which camps it positions us.
So, when you think about how to respond to creation’s groanings, let go all worldly ties and embrace fully the grand purpose of life and creation: to honor God with both.

So take a hike, smell the roses, and pick up some garbage, but don’t hang from any bridges. And you can talk to your tulips, just don’t repent to them.  

Posted in