My friends would say I’m a bit of a tree-hugger. I hate SUV’s, excess product packaging, clear-cutting, and cities that don’t offer recycling programs. I always cut up my plastic soda can rings and if someone takes too many napkins at a restaurant I always take the extras home so they don’t just get thrown away. In my ideal world, everyone would ride bikes, take homemade cloth bags to the grocery, and make all their disposable containers into furniture.
So it’s natural for me to ask, what is a Christian’s relationship with the environment supposed to look like? Does it matter how we treat the earth? Has God given us any hints on the subject?
Back to the Beginning
The truth is God has given us more than just hints on how we are to interact with the earth; he has actually left specific instructions on its proper care and use. These instructions are found back at the beginning of the Bible, buried in the creation story.
“Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). Did you catch that? God just assigned his first job to man: he made Adam the chief gardener of the Garden of Eden, to cultivate it and keep it.
You may be thinking, “But I thought God made man to glorify him?” That’s exactly it—God gave Adam the work of cultivating and keeping a garden to glorify him! This is an indication of our purpose as human beings. God has given us both the ability and responsibility to cultivate and keep, and although we no longer live in the Garden of Eden, we have been given the entire earth to do so.
The “Cultivate and Keep” Concept
“To cultivate” means to help or encourage in growth. “To keep” means to maintain. In gardening, you want not only to maintain the plants you already have by keeping garden rows weeded and plants watered and fertilized, you also want to encourage new growth by planting seeds and building new flowerbeds.
God has called us to worship him by both maintaining what he has given us and growing it into something bigger. That’s an awesome responsibility that boils down to the idea of stewardship. A steward is someone who is put in charge of caring for something that he or she does not own. A good steward will care for whatever he or she was put in charge just like the owner would care for it. God has made you a steward of whatever he allows has given you, from families and friends, to your material possessions, to the earth and its resources, to your own body. No matter what God has given us, we are to care for it just as he would, because nothing in this world is really ours to begin with—it’s all God’s.
Stewards Not Environmentalists
Don’t get caught up in the idea that you need to be an environmentalist. Environmentalism is too small of a view—our purpose is to be stewards of everything God has entrusted to us. The earth is just a subset of that. Some people will see our stewardship as being “green” or pro-environment, but others won’t. What matters is being obedient to whatever God has given you.
The earth was given to us both as a gift to be used and as a resource to be cultivated and kept. Environmentalists often make the earth and its resources more important than humans or even God. In doing so, they end up serving the created rather than the creator, as Paul explains in Romans 1. Christians understand that God created the earth and that he has given us the job of serving him by being good stewards of it. We may still do many of the same things that environmentalists do, but who we are serving and our reasons for doing so are vastly different.
A Call to Good Stewardship
If you’ve been reading your Bible, you know that it doesn’t say, “Thou shalt recycle everything in thy household,” or “Thou shalt boycott companies that pollute the environment.” There aren’t many specific commands in Scripture on how we are to care for the earth, so I won’t burden you with my own list of do’s and don’ts. Instead, let me offer you more general guidelines.
First, remember that God has made you a steward of whatever he has given you. Take your responsibility to cultivate and keep seriously. As Christians, we need to be obedient to those first responsibilities God gave us way back at the beginning. We need to be good stewards of whatever God has entrusted to us, whether it’s a soda can, a car, a house, a piece of property, or company stock.
Second, don’t expect others to steward what God gave you. Many people believe that it is the government’s responsibility to take care of the earth and it’s resources, but God’s first call was on Adam—an individual. We each have an individual responsibility. Governments can help, but they can’t force people to treat the earth with care. We also can’t leave it up to environmental activists to raise awareness, cause a stir, and force people to change. Once again, it’s not just their responsibility—it’s everyone’s. We can’t expect activists to stop deforestation and global warming when we aren’t caring for our own homes, back yards, and neighborhoods.
Third, don’t make your decisions about stewardship based on how big of a difference it will make in the grand scheme. I can tell you right now that most of your day-to-day choices about stewardship won’t make a huge difference. But that’s not the point. The point is to be obedient. God has called us to steward wisely, so that’s what we should do, regardless of the greater effects (or lack thereof). If we are faithful with the things he has given us, then we will have done our job.
Finally, it’s all about giving God glory. When you are faced with decisions about how to steward, how to cultivate and keep, do what brings God the most glory. Remember, good stewards care for things the way the owner would. Seek the owner’s wisdom and make your decisions based on that, not on what is easiest, most convenient, or most popular. As Paul says, “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Reduce, reuse, recycle. To God’s glory.