March 11, 2007 · A devotional given at Parliament Community Church to the adult Sunday school class
The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it.
—Psalm 24:1, NIV
That verse is a good introduction to our topic today. The earth belongs to God. He is its creator, and we read at the beginning of our Bibles that he entrusted it to humanity’s care (Genesis 1, 2, etc.). To have dominion is not a license to domineer. It’s both a gift and a great responsibility.
Scripture shows us what a good ruler looks like: a person who knows their kingdom intimately, who cares for their subjects and meets their needs. The earth’s ruler is humanity, not Satan. We can either rule in such a way that Satan rules through us, or we can reflect God by allowing his will to be done through us (Ephesians 2).
In Psalm 8, David exults in the role God has given humanity:
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what are mere mortals that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
You have made them a little lower than heavenly beings,
and crowned them with glory and honour.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
—Psalm 8:3–9, NRSV
Why creation has value
God delights in what he has made. He declared creation good, and even long after humans started to make a mess of it, the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write that “everything God created is good” (1 Timothy 4). In a much earlier Old Testament drama, God showed off his creatures, even the wild, vicious and stupid ones, to put Job in his place (Job 38–41).
Creation has worth to God. Jesus used God’s attention to sparrows and wildflowers to demonstrate that he also cares for us. The book of Jonah ends with God telling the prophet that he has every right to show mercy to Nineveh, since it is a city with many people – and also much cattle. Another cause of Israel’s exile was mistreating the land she was given and disregarding the commands God gave about farming sustainably; when the people were sent into captivity, the land would finally enjoy its rest (Leviticus 26, etc.).
Creation reveals some of God’s invisible attributes, including his eternal power and divine nature (Romans 1). The Psalmist announced that the starry heavens declare the glory of God, and the skies proclaim his handiwork (Psalm 19).
Prophets in the Old Testament and Jesus in the New use the imagery of creation as a palette to portray their message. Isaiah pictured future glory through creation metaphors: trees clapping, mountains singing, wolves and lambs, leopards and goats, cows and bears living together. God is like a lion, a lamb, he desired to gather Jerusalem to himself like a mother hen. Jesus says that he is the true vine, living water, the light of the world, the shepherd of all the sheepfolds. Eden, Zion and New Jerusalem are characterized by precious stones. The beginning, middle and end of the Bible speak of the fruit-bearing tree of life, sometimes combined with the river of life.
Creation provides the vocabulary for God to speak to us of what we cannot see. If we degrade creation, we dull that vocabulary, and tarnish God’s natural revelation of who he is.
Not everybody believes that the earth was created by God. Many believe that all of this around us is ultimately a fluke, and life only has whatever purpose we give it. What if our belief in a Creator made a difference in how we treat this world? What if Christians were known for being more environmentally responsible than those who viewed the world as a cosmic accident? Do we see this as an act of obedience and worship to God, a matter of valuing what God values, and exercising stewardship of what God has entrusted to us?
How creation stewardship affects others
Last Sunday, Pastor Phil spoke on sowing the blessings – on using what God has given us to bless others. We heard the parable of the rich fool who produced more than he could use or store, and so decided to build bigger barns to hoard all that he had taken from the land. Jesus said that life does not consist in the abundance of one’s possessions.
Pastor Phil mentioned how everything we have, every blessing, is something God has entrusted to us. We are stewards, not owners. He mentioned that this includes our money, job, family and talents. I’d like to add that this also includes creation: the natural resources we use, such as the land we build on, the water we wash with, the trees we cause to be harvested, the food we eat, the fuel we burn, the air we breathe. Nature – creation – is assigned to our care, but we do not own it.
Canada is a plentiful land. We have abundant access to all the resources we desire. We may be tempted to say, “I have a right to them, I deserve them, they belong to me. They’re mine to do with and to enjoy as I please.” As Phil told us last Sunday, you can’t find that in the Bible.
When it comes to resources that are limited, where what we use limits what is left over for others, we should think more highly of others than we do ourselves. This leads to minimizing pollution and consumption in a way that respects the needs of others around us and around the world. It means caring for creation in both the short-term and long-term, knowing that Jesus could come tomorrow, or Jesus could tarry for thousands of years. It means not leaving huge debts for future generations, whether monetary or environmental.
Let’s look at another rich man in Scripture, in Luke 16. This rich man could be the poster child of every greedy, capitalistic culture. He knew how to consume. Verse 19:
There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.
He was a glutton in the fullest sense of the word, taking to excess of all that he desired. Lazarus was at his gate, at the end of his long driveway leading to a triple-car garage. (Okay, I added that part.) Lazarus desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. He wasn’t fed, mind you, because he was stuck at the gate, barred from all the rich man’s excess.
The two men die, Lazarus goes to Abraham’s side and the rich man goes to Hades. And why do they go to these places? We often skip over the reason given in the parable, since it’s likely to make us uncomfortable. Verse 25:
But Abraham said [to the rich man], “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.”
We in North America are also receiving – taking – our good things. According to rough statistics, if everyone on Earth lived like the average Canadian or American, we’d need six or seven planet Earths. We can live the way we do because others don’t.
The November 24 MB Herald contained an article titled “Sleeping with Wethesiwe” by Art Harms. In it, Art is travelling to the Mennonite World Conference in Zimbabwe, and one night he is put up by a local villager, Wethesiwe, in his tiny, three-room house. There is just one bedroom, just one bed. The men discuss the conference and Wethesiwe’s coming marriage plans, they pray, and then they go to sleep in the single bed covered by a single comforter.
During the night, Art wakes up feeling a little cool. Wethesiwe had rolled over, taking most of the comforter with him. The comforter is big enough for both of them, but now Art is cold, and he can’t help but feel that Wethesiwe isn’t being a very good host. He later wrote:
As I reflect on the time I spent with Wethesiwe, I realize I didn’t like the situation I was in. I grumbled, “Why can’t he share? Why can’t I ask him to?”
Now I realize that Wethesiwe has more right to ask . . . things of us than I do of him. That night, I finally had the opportunity to feel what it’s like to have very little. Since then, I’ve often wondered what goes through the minds of people in the two-thirds world as they lie awake at night.
What does this have to do with creation stewardship? The decisions we make, the amount of stuff we consume, the lifestyle we choose, the pollution we cause, affects others. Global warming is one of many environmental issues that is disproportionately caused by the first world, yet it will likely inflict the greatest harm on the very poor in the third world. We today are creating the problem, but the effects will magnify for future generations.
The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it.
Are we going to insist on our right to build our bigger barns, on our right to leave others at the gate, on our right to most of the comforter? Or, will we try to make changes so that we live sustainably – so that if everyone lived as we do, the finite resources of one Earth – the Lord’s Earth – would be enough?