Genesis 1:28, 2:15
“And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Genesis 1:28). “Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15)
Starting in the early 1970s a national furor developed over ecological concerns. The general public became aware of the fact that environmental pollution and the depletion of natural resources were more than nuisances, more than a menace to quality of life. Scientists with one voice rose up to testify that they were a menace to life itself.
The most serious depredation is air pollution; the second, water pollution. Scientists say that both resources are in imminent danger. A further concern is the rapid depletion of unrenewable resources like oil and coal. Although no apparent immediate threat to human life, a particularly poignant loss is the gradual extinction of many species of animals.
Are science and technology to blame? Man himself is the ultimate polluter and disturber of the delicate balance of nature’s varied elements. The cause of the crisis is clearly human sinfulness, though not always deliberate. Sometimes there is deliberate ethical misbehavior for personal or corporate gain, but more often the cause is blind pursuit of affluence. Growth in consumption is the deliberate governmental policy and corporate practice of America, a nation composing 6 percent of earth’s population but consuming 40 percent of earth’s resources.
Increasing interest in environmental issues by society at large have provoked Christians to reexamine the biblical teaching about ecology. Two texts of Scripture have guided the discussion: “And God blessed them [Adam and Eve], and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Genesis 1:28, emphasis mine). “Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15, emphasis mine).
First, these texts indicate that humans do not have merely a responsibility to creation. We are a part of creation. God created us out of the “dust from the ground” (Genesis 2:7). This means that all theologies based upon a spirit vs. nature dualism are fundamentally flawed. God created nature “good” and us “very good.” Rather than indicating a higher level of spiritual growth, avoiding or ignoring issues of ecology are signs of imbalance and ignorance. Because we are a part of creation, we cannot live apart from it.
Second, the Genesis passages seem at first glance to send a mixed message. Should the Christian be guided by the dominion (fill, subdue, and have dominion) motif of Genesis 1:28 or the nurturing (till and keep) motif of 2:15? But the Christian does not need to choose between the two. Both are divine mandates. God called human beings to be creative in the oversight of nature. God is pleased when we use his creation to create instruments to praise him, irrigation systems to feed people, and technology to disseminate worthwhile information.
God also calls human beings to be faithful stewards of nature. He owns it (Psalm 24:1). It is his. We are just tenants. Just as we are stewards of our bodies, which are his, and thus must care for them; just as we are the stewards of our finances, which are his and must be used responsibly for the advancement of his kingdom; so it is with our physical environment. We can be good stewards, caring well for his world, using it for human welfare and the glory of God, or we can wantonly abuse and destroy it as the Israelites did (Exod. 23:10-11; Lev. 25:1-7). We also may be evicted! So we have a heavy responsibility for personal stewardship.
Good stewardship of nature requires action. To the three R’s of “reduce, reuse, and recycle,” Christians are called to resist the values and allure of a consumer society. Instead, Christians should rejoice at the wonder and promises of creation.
Creation’s fallenness does not render it valueless or useless. The second great command, to love one’s neighbor as oneself, prohibits the Christian from depriving others of the benefits of creation for the sake of his own gain. Since the current “rape” of nature is clearly depriving succeeding generations of benefit, if not of life, and is often built on the exploitation of the natural resources of poverty-bound people today, we have no choice but to work for a restoration of ecological balance and a halt to environmental pollution and resource depletion.
Some observers are not convinced that the future of the environment is grim. Data used to support predictions of the rise in global temperatures, commonly referred to as the “greenhouse effect,” are inconclusive. Some say it is real and will cause flooding, produce severe weather, and put wildlife and crop growth at risk. Others say that much evidence disputing the dire warnings of environmentalists has been ignored and suppressed. Still others suggest that even if the earth is warming, it will be negligible, it has happened naturally before, and it will most likely have a beneficial effect on the environment.
In the face of conflicting claims, what course of action should we take? We should continue to gather evidence in order to make informed decisions in our political and personal life. It is prudent to err on the side of caution, especially since it is our relatively lavish lifestyle that strains the environment. Moreover, we have the resources to “clean up after ourselves.” A word of caution is in order. Some environmental groups espouse a quasi-religious, pantheistic worldview in promoting their agenda. Discernment is required.
What course of action will you take? How will you steward the earth? To whom will you listen? How can we stop wasting?
 Wallace S. Broecker, “Global Warming on Trial,” Natural History, April 1992, 6f.
 Serwood Idso (physicist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture), Carbon Dioxide and Global Change: Earth in Transition (Tempe, Ariz.: IBR Press, 1989).
 Warren T. Brookes, “The Global Warming Panic,” Forbes (144) 25 December 1989, 96f.