Monday, July 05, 2010

A Very Partial Biblical Theology of Creation Care

I'm presenting a seminar on Creation Care with a lot of High School students in Kentucky. Below is a brief part of my presentation. I'd love your thoughts...


Biblical Notes on Creation Care

"Let us make human beings 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 creatures that move along the ground." Genesis 1:26

"I give you every seed bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for good. And to all the creatures that move on the ground--everything that has the breath of life in it--I give every green plant for good And it was so." Genesis 1:29

Both the former and the latter verses are often referred to as dominion verses. They refer to humans ruling over creation. Some say that these verses show that creation has no value apart from what it can give to us. Creation exists as a bag of resources for human consumption. Some people that do not have a faith in Christ point to scriptures like this and say, 'See the Bible is one of the main reasons why we're in the mess we're in. The Bible tells people that they can do whatever they want to creation, because they "rule" over it.' While it's clear that God intends for us to "rule over" creation what exactly does that "rule" look like?

In v. 26 humanity's creation in God's "image [... and] likeness" is connected to humanity's ability to "rule". We can rule over creation because we were created in God's image, God being the supreme ruler. "Rule" or dominion is only possible because we are image-bearers. So the right question is: "How does God rule?" God rules graciously, lovingly, carefully. Therefore, we should--if we are to live out our calling as image-bearers--also "rule" over creation: graciously, lovingly, carefully. A medieval rabbi named Rashi spoke of how if humans embodied God's image and dealt with creation "with wisdom and compassion, we will rise above the animals and preside over, them, insuring a life of harmony on earth. However if we are oblivious to our power and deny our responsibility to creation, we will sink below the level of the animals and bring ruin to our selves and the world" (Splendor of Creation, Ellen Bernstein 113). This is an interesting perspective as the Old Testament often depicts bad rulers as sub-human beasts (e.g. Daniel 4).

So humans are called to "rule over" creation but to rule as God rules: graciously, lovingly, responsibly.

"The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work (serve) it and take care (keep, protect, watch-over it) of it." Genesis 2:15

While the first two verses (1:26, 29) speak about the human responsibility to rule over creation, this verse describes the human responsibility in a different yet complimentary way. The two main verbs that have to do with with Adam ("work" and "take care of") have interesting meanings in the original Hebrew. The word that is often translated "work" in the Hebrew means: "to serve, to till, to dress." The following verb, often translated, "take care of" in the Hebrew means: to guard, protect, or keep. Elsewhere this same verb is used to describe how God guards men during difficult times (Genesis 28:15, 20; Ps. 12:8; 16:1, 25:20).