A reflection by Rev Canon Dr Claire Nye Hunter, an Anglican priest in Grahamstown, South Africa.
‘The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.’ (Psalm 24:1)
The earth does not belong to us. It belongs to God. It is a gift – a home that we share with the rest of creation. But with this gift comes responsibility.
In Genesis 1, God instructed humans to ‘rule over’ the creatures of the earth, and to ‘fill the earth and subdue it’. These passages have been used to justify abuse of the earth.
Some people believe that the instruction to rule means we have absolute authority over creation. In this view, nature is a resource for humans to benefit from economically. This theology has allowed Christians to chop down forests, pollute rivers and live consumer lifestyles that damage God’s creation.
Rulers or stewards?
To challenge these ideas, Christians have turned to the second creation account in Genesis 2. In verse 15, humans were placed in the Garden of Eden and instructed to ‘work it and take care of it’.
In other words, God has given us the responsibility to act as stewards of his creation – to care for, manage, oversee and protect all that God owns. This is an honour and a privilege.
As stewards, we need to act in the owner’s best interests, treating his property with respect. We must not use it in a way that causes harm.
One day we will have to give an account to God of how we have treated his earth.
The earth can no longer cope with the demands that we place on our natural resources. Our waste is poisoning the air, soil and water.
The ‘why bother?’ disease
When faced with major global issues – such as climate change and pollution – it is easy to become overwhelmed.
We might say: ‘It’s not my fault. Leave it to the politicians.’ We might think: ‘Who cares if I use plastic bags or throw litter out of the car window? I am only one person – what difference will it make?’
Beware of the highly contagious ‘why bother?’ disease. The way we look after the environment is a moral and spiritual issue. What we do in our daily lives does matter. The immediate consequences of our actions might not be felt by us, but they will most certainly affect someone else.
God sees and honours the efforts we make, even if they seem small to us. And together, we can make a difference.
A prayer for creation, by John Philip Newell
There is no plant in the ground but tells of your beauty, O Christ.
There is no life in the sea but proclaims your goodness.
There is no bird on the wing,
there is no star in the sky,
there is nothing beneath the sun but is full of your blessing.
Lighten my understanding of your presence all around, O Christ,
kindle my will to be caring for creation.