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Firsts and Lasts: The Call to Steward Creation

The clarion call to take care of our home rings out in the first chapters of the Bible. The first words from God to his creation are of blessing and prosperity: procreate, fill the earth, work the land and make it a comfortable home for you.

The goodness of creation and the uniqueness of the garden of Eden were given to humanity to nurture and care for. It is our created responsibility to look after the land, the resources, the animals, and each other. That responsibility forms part of the core of what it means to be human. We are, in the most basic sense, gardeners and homesteaders. Our own health, well-being, and flourishing tied directly to how we managed and developed the earth.

But it isn’t just the opening chapters of Scripture that are concerned with how we care for and relate to the planet. The Old Testament is full of references to God’s continued care for creation. The Psalms speak of his provision of food for the animals. There are a great many laws about showing care and concern for the land and animals—the animals were recipients of sabbath rest, and the land received rest in the seventh year (Ex. 20:8-11; 23:11). Israelite law treated taking care of the land and the animals as both an expression of love for God and a concrete way of loving a neighbor.

The prophets even link the sins of the people to the state of creation. Hosea talks about the sins of the people causing the dying of creation. Animals and fish are swept away because of Israel’s sin. Isaiah talks about a lack of care for animals and land as a symptom of a heart that is far from the Lord.

None of this has truly changed. We are still called to care for and steward the planet. The health and flourishing of humanity are tied to how we use the land and its resources. Our choices now informed by what it means to live in ever increasing circles of community. What we do in our own societies and countries affects people around the planet. But the New Testament is strangely silent in comparison to the Old Testament on God’s care valuing of creation and human responsibility toward it.

Image: David Vig

However, the silence of the New Testament should not be used as grounds to suggest that our role has changed or that our priorities have shifted. By the time Jesus arrived on the scene to usher in the next phase of God’s plan of salvation, the laws by which Israelites were to live were already established. Jesus did not come, by his own admission, to change the laws of the land. He came to bring them to their fulfillment. All the requirements of Israelite community were still in effect in the time of Jesus, including all those about caring for land and animals. 

Another reality is that the initial charge given to Adam and Eve, to care for and develop the earth, was given prior to the existence of Israel and therefore extended beyond the concerns of a given nation at a given time. It was a mandate for humanity that extends throughout time.

But the New Testament is not silent on issues of stewardship and caring for creation. It shows up in perhaps the most unexpected of places, the book of Revelation. How we have treated the home God gave us comes back around as one of the categories for judgement. 

Tucked away at the end of the Bible, Revelation 11:18 reveals that God will one day hold humanity accountable for how we have treated the earth. The instruction he gave at the inception of humanity’s relationship with the earth is followed up at its consummation. 

No matter how we interpret Revelation, the meaning of this is clear. God will hold humanity accountable for how we have taken care of the earth. We may disagree that we are still supposed to take care of the planet the way Adam and Eve were, or what our role as stewards of the planet means now, or what the best way to exercise that role and how to take care of the earth so that it takes care of us.

But we cannot get away from the fact that from the first to the last, God has given us a responsibility to steward his creation and he will call us to account for how we have filled that role.

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