Stewards of the Earth (Genesis 1:26-31)

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I’m in charge of putting our bins out.

That’s not as simple as it used to be: now domestic waste goes into a black bin, garden clippings in a brown bin, recyclable materials in a blue bin. Composting and recycling have slowly entered into the rhythms of everyday life.

This is probably good, because I’m not, by nature, an eco-warrior. I’m lazy. I consume plenty but it’s been a while since I grew tomatoes or planted a tree. I exploit creation – goodness knows the carbon footprint of my daily commute – but I don’t steward it nearly enough.

(I don’t like hurting bees. Does that count?)

This has theological implications. As early as the first chapter of Genesis, God puts humanity in charge of the world and ever since we’ve had to figure out what that means in practice, with people generally saying we should “rule” over creation, Or “have dominion” over it. Or “steward” it. We have various words, various translations to use, but their implications have to be reevaluated with every new discovery, every new trade link. And with the acceleration in technology and economic growth, our actions are outstripping our spirituality.

Here’s the thing though – we may be responsible for creation but we’re not separate from it. Nowadays we can and do exploit the earth on an industrial scale but that doesn’t mean that we should. After all, climate change and ecology in general can’t be separated from their impact on humanity – rising temperatures means increases in cholera and malaria, flooding becomes more severe, agriculture becomes more difficult. All of this has a human cost, with the poorest among us being the first and most vulnerable victims of changes in the biosphere.

It’s not just environmental problems though. The use and misuse of resources is a far more extensive and insidious issue. I admit this exposes my hypocrisy – I don’t know nearly enough about who produces my clothes or my food, or who mines the rare earth elements that sit in my smartphone. But again, our choices – our ‘dominion’ I guess – has consequences and we’re accountable for those consequences.

Issues like climate change and fair trade are intrinsically human problems, and I’m saying that with an awareness that creation is beautiful and majestic in its own right, not just as an adjunct to humanity. But if our call is to love our neighbours (and our enemies), if we’re told not to oppress the poor, or cause others to suffer, then we need to have a theology of creation care that goes beyond exploitation.

There’s an element of short-sightedness in all this. Too often various branches of Christianity have viewed the environment as a slow-burn apocalypse – if God’s going to recreate the universe in the end, why do we need to worry about it? But that’s a view that ignores that the rainforests we’re destroying produce drugs that treat cancer, heart disease and diabetes; that corporations dumping toxic waste in the middle of communities actually kill people.

We can’t be part of that. If we’re going to represent God’s kingdom on Earth then we also need to reflect his kingship. And we see that through Jesus; less than a week ago we remembered him washing the feet of his disciples and insisting that his followers would be characterised by live. That extends to all our interactions, the impact we have on the world around us.

Oppressing communities is a violence against those created in God’s image. Driving a species to extinction is violence against his creation. And we’re not called to be people of violence; our citizenship of God’s kingdom needs to be lived out in this world in advance of the next, people of compassion, not exploitation. We bear God’s image; let’s reflect it.

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