Creation Care: How to Steward the Earth Wisely
What is creation care? Creation care goes all the way back to God’s command in the first chapter of the Bible for humans to rule over God’s creation wisely. This was God’s reason for creating humans in the first place: “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (Gen. 1:16). It’s important to remember that God saves us from our sins and is restoring us to his original intention for humanity with the result that we will someday reign with Jesus over his new creation (Rev. 22:5). This article explores how we can steward the earth wisely, as part of God’s original plan for creating humans.
How Should Christians View God’s Creation?
One aspect of God that I think we often forget is His creativity. As far as we know, He didn’t create the universe because He needed to; He did it because He wanted to. In the account of creation, we see how God enjoyed creating. He could have made the world a blank box void of distractions, joy, or altruism. But instead, He made a vibrant system of life, from micro-organisms in the depths of the ocean unbeknownst to us to the huge systems of space light years away.
When God made humans, He gave us all the animals and plants to have control over (Gen. 1:26, 28-30; 2:15) and, as happened when He finished every other step of creation, it was good. On the seventh day, He rested to enjoy His creation—before we made a mess of it.
One way in which we are made in the image of God, I believe, is in our creativity too. We are different from animals in that we create out of expression and not out of necessity (though we have seen that when humans are deprived of creativity, that does tax on our physiological state). So we know a tiny portion of how God must feel about the state of His creation now.
Creation Care: “One way in which we are made in the image of God, I believe, is in our creativity too.”
How would I feel if I worked so hard on something, gave it to someone as a gift, and then they proceeded to destroy it? Whether or not you believe climate change is real, whether or not you believe there is media hype, whether or not you believe humans influence Earth’s changes, you must know that God gave us His world—and everything on it—to care for it. And if you’re like me, you might not have even given a thought to how you might be caring for Earth.
My Story of Starting to Care
It wasn’t until I lived in China nearly ten years ago. It was a small thing, but I noticed that most of the public trash cans were split in half: one half for waste and one half for recyclables. It made me take just that extra second before throwing something away to consider, “Is this recyclable or not?” I had never really thought of that before; I just tossed everything away, and it was out of sight and out of mind.
“It made me take just that extra second before throwing something away to consider, ‘Is this recyclable or not?’”
At the international student dorms where I lived, we also had an aiyi—an “auntie”—who came to our rooms to collect any recyclable trash. When she first came, I didn’t have anything for her, but now that I knew she would be coming, I made sure to keep my plastic containers and paper in a separate bag so that I could easily give it to her when she knocked on my door.
Before this, I just shrugged off caring for the environment, not necessarily because I didn’t care for the environment but because I didn’t feel bothered to do anything more. From what I often saw and heard from others around me, it was something that was an overhyped fad—“hippie talk.” The earth was going through a natural change, and my actions wouldn’t affect that.
But what in that logic applies to any other area of discipleship? If my congregation moved toward the popularity of liberalism and started to gloss over Scripture, would I say then that I should just ignore it? If my brother or sister were mistreating someone, should I stay quiet because it’s more convenient? Then why should I take the gift of God’s earth and not serve it as if serving the Lord, all because of ignorance or convenience? I started to feel the all-too-familiar pull that I should be doing something differently.
Creation Care: “I started to feel the all-too-familiar pull that I should be doing something differently.”
I started to think about God’s creation differently, as a gift that He carefully made and entrusted to us. Once I looked at the seven days of creation through the lens of someone caring for the earth, things looked much differently. I could see how human activity has directly disturbed the natural order of God’s creation.
So, How Are We Doing with the Mandate?
God made light on the first day, but humans create a lot of light pollution that disrupts animal sleep and migration cycles and causes other problems for the environment. Nutrient pollution, primarily affecting air and water, is “one of America’s most widespread, costly and challenging environmental problems,” and water waste and inefficient energy usage only exacerbate many of the problems that pollution creates. With the spread of human habitation, we are destroying more trees and vegetation, which are obviously essential for animals and humans.
Even with human exploration to space, there has been growing concern of orbital space debris in the lower Earth orbit, which NASA now calls “the World’s largest garbage dump.” While many of the previously mentioned issues affect birds and fish, there is also what the Environmental Defense Fund calls “the most serious threat to our oceans”: overfishing. And it doesn’t take long to see how we are mistreating animals in the food industry, let alone other forms of animal abuse. We do a pretty good job of taking care of ourselves (though that is also highly debatable), but it seems we often do this at the expense of the rest of God’s creation.
One of my favorite passages has become Job 12:7-10:
“Ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.”
“Ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you.”
There is wisdom in nature, and according to Paul, God has made us stewards of these mysteries of God—and that “it is required of stewards to be found trustworthy” (1 Cor. 4:2). I think of Matthew 10:29, when Jesus says that not a single bird falls to the earth without God knowing it, and it makes me question how trustworthy we have actually been with the gift of God’s creation.
Not All Bad News
It’s not all bad news, though. Though things look bleak now when awareness increases, it’s important to remember that, as Master Gardener Susan Patterson puts it, “Modern humans have been around for a very long time and lived for much of it without causing much irreparable damage to the environment.” Patterson goes on to say that it’s the recent overexploitation that has been especially destructive.
There have been things we have done in history to positively affect the environment, like protecting endangered species and establishing wildlife preserves, controlling wildfires, reforesting depleted areas, and holding nations and corporations accountable for pollutants. And just as we see through other aspects of our relationship with God, we know we have the ability to change.
Creation Care: “There have been things we have done in history to positively affect the environment.”
How Can We Wisely Steward God’s Creation
Caring for God’s creation is not hard, and just like other aspects of following God, we need to first look to Scripture for instruction.
There are many examples, parables, and teachings between the lines that we can glean from the Scriptures about how to care for the environment, but there are a few specific commandments for how to care for the environment, almost all of which are for the Israelites in the Old Testament as a way of teaching them how to live in the desert, how to take care for the promised land, or what to do with land that had been conquered.
And even though we do not (or cannot) take these commands as being directly to us as New Testament Christians living all over the globe, we can still look at the intentions to see what God was teaching His people regarding how to take care of His creation.
The Principle of Stewardship
Because of what God says in Genesis 1:26-30, 9:1-3, and (as told again by David) Psalm 8:6-8, that man is to have “dominion” over creation and to “subdue” it, the first thing to remember is that we should not feel guilty for using the land or animals for our own sustenance; this was the intention God had. James 3:7 reinforces this and even says that every animal is tameable for man!
But Proverbs 12:10 says a righteous person cares for his animals. Just because we have the right to use nature does not mean we have the right to abuse it. Deuteronomy 20:19-20 says, after conquering a land, not to cut down trees that can be used for food. The only trees that can be cut down are the ones whose wood can be used for protection. But as for the others, the Scriptures say “Are the trees in the field human, that they should be besieged by you?” And similarly, Deuteronomy 22:6-7 says that if you find a nest on the ground, you may take the eggs to eat but leave the mother bird in the nest. These verses all show the importance of taking only what you need. We aren’t the owners; we are stewarding God’s creation.
Again, just because we have dominion over nature does not mean we can be careless in our usage. We must still respect the environment and everything in it as a creation of God.
Creation Care: “Just because we have dominion over nature does not mean we can be careless in our usage.”
Leviticus 19:23-25 (as well as many other Scriptures) teaches us to give our firstfruits to God as a praise offering and a reminder that He provides our sustenance. When we do take, we need to remember where it came from—Whom it came from.
True, it is popular culture to pray and thank God for food before we eat, but how many of us are really aware of the provision of God and how He has provided for us through nature? How many of us actually “eat bread by the sweat of our brow” (Genesis 3:19)? How many of us take nature for granted and just assume it will always be there? We need to change our thinking and remember that, yes, we have dominion over nature, but God has dominion over us, and He is the One who designed and provided nature in the first place.
The Principle of Sabbath
Exodus 23:10-11 and Leviticus 25:1-7 have the command of the sabbath year when, apart from the six years of working the land, one year is meant for the land to rest. During this year, animals and those less fortunate are allowed to scavenge off the land.
There is a lot to learn from this command even if we are not making our living off farming. One is that rest is important for both the workers and the land. Overplanting, overworking, and the restless pursuit of production is destructive for everyone and everything involved.
Creation Care: “Rest is important for both the workers and the land.”
God, of course, gave us this example Himself in the process of creation, when He rested on the seventh day, and he commanded the Israelites also to take a break on the seventh day of the week. We must not neglect rest for us or the environment.
Applying These Principles Today
So how can we apply these commandments and rightfully use the environment to serve our needs, while continually remembering God’s providence, not abusing or exploiting nature, and still leaving room for rest? How can we take these key precepts from Scripture and be intentionally caring for the environment as we go about our daily lives? Just like following many of God’s other teachings, starting with small steps toward commitment can lead us to bigger life changes.
The easiest thing to do might be to start with where we are and what we have. My first change was about my waste management when I was in China, and that can be yours too. Recycling can seem daunting, but it’s not very hard once you learn more about it. Most products indicate on the packaging if it can be recycled or not, and you can learn your city’s guidelines for recycling to ensure you are doing it properly. In my area, I found this video particularly helpful, and Waste Management also has a useful guide here.
Creation Care: “The easiest thing to do might be to start with where we are and what we have.”
To put food waste to good use, remember the value of leftovers, homemade stock, and composting. As you think through your home, you can also consider how you might reuse items (coffee cans make for excellent storage!) or even what you can donate instead of throw away.
The next logical step would be to think about how to take less from nature as you use in the future. When it came time for me to replenish disposable products like trash bags, diapers, wipes, sandwich bags, and even feminine hygiene products, for example, I started to consider more durable items that could be reused—and it has been eye-opening! I am slowly refilling my home with reusable, environmentally responsible products, and that’s a good feeling to know I won’t have to keep buying these things and then keep throwing them away.
You can also consider your energy usage and try to cut down on unnecessary electricity, water, and heating and cooling energy by making sure to turn off lights and water when you don’t need them, keeping your home cooler in the winter and warmer in the summer, and doing similar things to cut down on daily energy usage.
Connecting to God through His creation is another important and easy step to caring for His creation. This can be done just through finding time to pay attention to nature, whether it’s watching birds outside, hiking in the woods, or as King Solomon says in Proverbs 6:6-8, gaining wisdom from the ants! It’s also insightful to work with plants and connect with those Genesis roots in the Garden of Eden. Take care of some house plants or tend a garden to gain more appreciation for the natural cycles that God has put into place.
Creation Care: “Connecting to God through His creation is another important and easy step to caring for His creation.”
Philippians 2:4 reminds us to care for others as well as ourselves, and this is a summary for environmentalism as a disciple, after considering all the other verses too: It is okay to use the environment for ourselves, but we must not neglect nature in our wake. We can make small changes in our daily lives to better understand God’s creation and our place in it.
Caring for Animals
Days five and six of the creation account were special: God made living, breathing creatures to move over the earth—in the sea and sky on the fifth day and over the land on the sixth. When we continue to consider how to care for God’s creation, we know the non-breathing aspects like vegetation, water, and heavenly bodies definitely have God’s fingerprints; it takes just a moment of watching the clouds move beyond the trees during sunrise to see that. But there is something special about God’s living creations. Even God Himself at the end of the sixth day said this day was very good.
It is obvious God cares deeply for animals. He uses them as examples for us time and time again: we learn about productivity from ants in Proverbs 6:6-8, about the providence of God from ravens in Matthew 6:25-34 and Luke 12:22-31, about humility from a variety of small and large animals in Proverbs 30:24-33, and more.
There are also Scriptures where God holds animals in high esteem. In Exodus 23:5, the Israelites were instructed to save a fallen ox or donkey, even if it belonged to an enemy. In Isaiah 66:2-4, this prophet equated killing an ox to killing a man and used it as an antithesis to humility. Of course, in Numbers 22:22-35, God used Balaam’s donkey to point him in the right direction—the direction God originally told him to go. And in Matthew 10:29, Jesus says that not even a single sparrow falls to the earth without God knowing it.
Creation Care: “Jesus says that not even a single sparrow falls to the earth without God knowing it.”
There are things we can do in our daily lives to care for animals. Some people choose to live a vegan lifestyle in order to not support unethical treatment of animals, and I personally believe that can be very good! But you don’t have to be that drastic to care for animals. Some people try “meatless Mondays” for a start or abstain from buying animal products, like leather or fur.
If you have a pet, you probably care for it by keeping it healthy and giving it affection. But even of wild animals, just be mindful that God made them too, and they have a place and a function in God’s natural order. If an animal is invading your space (maybe you’ve got a pest problem in your home, or you find an animal in a place it shouldn’t be), instead of killing it, you might try re-homing it. You could use a catch-and-release mouse trap, toss the earthworm into the grass, carry the turtle to the other side of the road, etc. (Note that, of course, you may need to call a professional to do this if you think the animal might be dangerous.)
Caring for God’s Ultimate Creation
But in spite of the special place that animals clearly hold in the heart of God, Jesus continues in Matthew 29:31, “How much more valuable are you than the sparrows?” On the sixth day, God didn’t just create animals; He finished His creation by making man. The intimate care God took to create people indicates a special place in the line of creation: humans were the ultimate creation, made in the image of God (1:26), filled with the breath of God (2:7), and chosen for salvation (Eph. 1:3-10).
Creation Care: “How much more valuable are you than the sparrows?”
Though texts like Psalm 36:6 and Ecclesiastes 3:18-21 can show that humans and animals are not that different (God created and judges over both, and both will eventually die), other texts like Job 35:10-11 and Luke 12:6-7 show that we are also worth more in the eyes of God. Yes, God loves the animals, but the Scriptures were not written for animals to understand how to be closer to Him. God created for us and wants to have a relationship with us, and the entire Bible is an account of that.
Throughout this article, we have looked at how to care for nature that God lovingly created as a gift for humans. It’s important to note after all this that caring for nature is caring for people because we are taking care of the environment—the temporary, earthly home that we all share. Scripture talks over and over about caring for the basic physical needs of others as we go through life (Matt. 7:9, Jm. 1:27, 1 Jn. 3:17-18, 1 Tim. 5:8, Gal. 6:2, Matt. 25:40, Jm. 2:14-17, etc.), so we should care for each other in obvious ways by taking care of our fellow humans’ basic needs. Yet in Matthew 10:28, just before contrasting humans and sparrows, Jesus says that we should care more for the body and soul. In order to truly care for God’s creation, we must care for the most important part of His best creation: the human soul.
Creation Care: “In order to truly care for God’s creation, we must care for the most important part of His best creation: the human soul.”
In verse 27, Jesus says to proclaim from the housetops what He teaches. That is our mission, and that is our goal. As we go through life caring for the souls of others by sharing the good news of Jesus, we don’t have to sacrifice also caring for the environment. We can be good stewards of all of God’s creation.