By Jenniffer Ogden
We were stopped at a red light when the car in front of us randomly expelled a drive-thru bag full of burger wrappers, French fry holders, and napkins out its passenger side window. This pile was followed shortly by a drink cup with a lid and straw intact. When the cup hit the pavement, the lid popped off and liquid splattered and drained on the asphalt. My friend and I gaped at the mess and looked at each other, quite shocked at the occurrence. My friend gently put the car in park, opened his door, walked up to collect the heap and stashed it in a bag in his car for proper disposal. As the light turned green, the litterer once again rolled down the window and out popped . . . a straw wrapper.
As Christians, we believe that this earth is a crafted treasure, handmade by a loving Creator. And actions that destroy and harm this planet should grieve us. We must fight to en- sure that care for the ruggedly delicate home, in which we all reside, is both learned and pursued.
In Genesis, we have the poetic narrative of a formless void being intentionally shaped to create space for flora and fauna. The water to nourish life flows, the skies fill with the calls of birds, sturdy trees produce fruit, and the stage is set for the pinnacle of creation to arrive. From the soil which will produce all that is needed to help physically care for them, God shapes humanity.
A directive is given to the humans by the master artist “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 heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28). This hand-crafted planet is entrusted to the human stewards and their progeny. The earliest humans have the privilege of managing a freshly born environment with God educating them on how best to precede.
However, this shoulder to shoulder partnership was cut short. The abuse of creation, instigated by a rogue part of the creation, has been shaped in ways unintended. Fast fashion creates toxic rivers and enslaves millions of people. The demand for fossil fuels has deforested and damaged miles of earth. The unwillingness to create sustainable water usage has caused encroaching deserts to move more swiftly. The abject refusal to reduce, reuse, and recycle has left heaps of trash dotting the planet, including the oceans.
The terminology of “have dominion over” lends itself to being interpreted as dominate, command, control or even enslave. Dr. Ellen Page, professor at Duke Divinity School, points out that “the Hebrew phrase (radah b-) includes a preposition that is in most cases not equivalent to the English preposition “over.” This means a varying translation would better suit the original texts and leave the text, in the English, more diligently rendered as “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness, so they may exercise skilled mastery among [or, with respect to] the fish of the sea and among the birds of the air” (Genesis 1:26).
The earth can be viewed as a resource to be exploited. And that mindset will continue to lead to species going ex- tinct, polluted water sources, and terrible air quality. The earth can also be viewed as a space to treasure. And that will enable species to thrive, water to be readily available, and breathing to remain enjoyable. We are not here to damage, diminish, or dominate the planet. We are here to partner with God in the furtherance of creation. In Genesis 1:30 God makes clear his plan for a space, this earth, to sustain life “everything that has the breath of life” will be fed by the planet on which it lives. When we view ourselves as responsible stewards for the space in which we live with wombats and weevils, sequoias and saguaro, snowflakes and sunsets, the choices we make about how we live on this earth will change.
Dr. Richard Bauckham, in his book The Bible and Ecology, links the Bible to science with the acknowledgment that “Bible writers were not able to plot such interconnections scientifically, but they articulate a vision of creation that is coherent with the science, while focusing, as science properly cannot on matters of value, ethics responsibility, and especially, the creation’s relations with God.” The research science provides, teaches us of the deeply interconnected relationships in this world. The Bible teaches about Gods relationship to this world. And together, the pictures developed by both the Bible and science help us establish a practice of care for this home base. The combination of being aware of the interdependence of life on this planet and the being aware of God’s role in the making and sustaining of this planet, leads Bauckham to the idea of a community of creation. This community of creation groans with the effect of sin. And it is the whole of creation that “will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (see Romans 8:21). Just as humanity depends on the soil, and air, and water of this planet, so it depends on us. As a large, interwoven community, we benefit from the integrity and diligence with which we all care for the world around us.
As we understand that our relationship with God will also bear the fruit of caring for the planet, the way we interact with the planet will change. The money used to buy food will buy more local produce and fewer heavily packaged items. Cheap clothing items will not make their way to our closets. We will walk more and drive less. We will buy and use reusable water bottles. The effect of our connection with God will be one that benefits not only our eternity, but also our present.
An acquaintance of mine used to laugh at me as I begged him to, “Please, recycle that!” His response to my plea? “God is just going to burn it all up anyway.” This earth will indeed be made new one day. In the meantime, we live here and demonstrate our care for the great community of creation daily. This earth is here as a testimony of the mastery of God. Let’s choose to partner with God in this community of creation and care for this home planet with diligence and integrity.
–Jenniffer Ogden is senior pastor of Boulder Adventist Church. Email her at: [email protected]
Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Crossway Bibles, 2001. Ellen F. Davis, “Meaning of Dominion,” n.p. [cited 28 Jan 2020]. Online: https://www.bibleodyssey.org:443/en/passages/related-articles/ meaning-of-dominion; Bauckham, Richard. Bible and Ecology: Redis- covering the Community of Creation. Darton, Longman & Todd, 2010