Caring for God's World
- Hear the call to care for God's world.
- View ourselves as stewards of the earth.
- Commit to specific ways to care for God's world.
These crucial early chapters of Genesis provide us with a deep understanding of our place in the world as human beings. On the one hand, we ourselves are creatures in God's world. In Genesis 1, man and woman were not created on a separate day all by themselves but on the same day as the animals, with whom we share so many characteristics. Still, Genesis 1:28 says that humans are destined to "rule over every living creature."
In Genesis 2 we see an alternate account of the same story. On the one hand, human beings are made from the "dust of the ground" (v. 7), but we are given the task to "work and take care of" that dust and the lovely garden in which God has placed us (the earth). In other words, human beings are part of God's creation but have a special role in it.
At some points in Christian history it was thought that the mandate to "rule" (the noun "dominion" is used in some older translations) meant that God had given human beings free rein to do anything they wanted with the world. The world was there for human beings to use and exploit, no matter what the consequences for the earth, its other inhabitants, or its resources.
That self-centered and shortsighted interpretation gave way to the insight that humans are God's imagebearers, his representatives on the earth. We are meant to exercise a godlike rule, caring for the welfare of this good creation and of every living thing in it. We aren't just gardeners but "guardeners" of the creation. We don't just work the land for our own benefit but are to "take care of it" (v. 15).
The relationship of human beings to the rest of creation, particularly the animal realm, is wonderfully illustrated in Adam's naming of the animals. In the mind of the ancient Hebrews, naming a thing meant a whole lot more than assigning a title to it, like the cute names we may give to our pets. The idea here is that, as each animal was brought before Adam, he sought to capture its essence, grasp its true nature, and see how it fit into the garden in which God had placed it.
Human beings have the ability to understand how nature works, how things fit together, and how we live in an ecosystem in which each part is intricately interwoven with all the rest. God called Adam, as the first "zoologist" and "biologist," into a deep understanding of the creation and its creatures, enabling him to "take care of" the garden.
As Psalm 24 proclaims, "The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it" (v.1). And Psalm 8 asserts, "You have made them [human beings] rulers over the works of your hands." It's God's world, every bit of it. Yet it's also "ours" to care for. Humans are responsible, as God-appointed stewards, to and for the world and its creatures, plant life, and resources.
This responsibility defines our place in God's world. It demands that we closely examine our way of living, our impact on the environment, and our care for the world's creatures and resources in terms of that responsibility.
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