How Can a Disciple of Jesus Be a Good Steward of the Environment?
Editor’s Note: This is the second of a series on how Christians should view and treat the environment. For Part 1 on how disciples of Jesus should view the environment, click here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.