By Reinder Bruinsma
The Miriam Webster Dictionary defines stewardship as “the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.” Traditionally, Seventh-day Adventist Christians link the concept of stewardship mostly to our talents, our material possessions, our physical health and our use of time. It is grounded in the conviction that God, as our Creator, is the Owner of everything we have.1
What we have is lend to us to use it responsibly—to God’s honor. More recently Adventist Christians have increasingly become aware that we are also stewards of the earth and of our environment. But we hear very little, if anything, about stewardship of space. Admittedly, there are no biblical statements that address this specific issue directly, but the principles of stewardship that we find in the Word of God certainly also point to our responsibility to be stewards of space.2
A spacious topic
Where does one begin an article about man’s steward- ship of space? It certainly is a very “spacious” topic. Space includes what is above the surface of our planet—airspace, the atmosphere, but also outer space, i.e. the realm further away, between celestial bodies. And space refers to what is between the things that surround us on earth, to the areas where we live, and to interpersonal space.
With outer space on one end of the specter and intimate space, such as exists between lovers or between a mother and her newly born child, on the other end, we can in this short article only touch the surface of this very spacious subject. However, one thing must be clear: We are called to be stewards of space in the broadest sense of the word.
Our modern technology has enabled mankind in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century to explore space. We cannot only send satellites into the earth’s orbit, but we also made—in the words of Neil Armstrong—a “giant leap for mankind,” when human beings first walked on the surface of the moon. Missiles have carried powerful telescopes into space, allowing us to get a glimpse into the vast recesses of the universe. Many manmade objects have been launched into space. Some have actually landed on planets or other celestial bodies or are in an orbit around such bodies. Unfortunately, not all space exploration has peaceful purposes. We are presently seeing an increasing militarization of space, and “space wars” no longer are just harmless fiction, but have become a “real and present danger” for mankind.
The pollution of space has also become an ugly reality. The US Space Surveillance Network reported that presently almost 20.000 artificial objects, including over 2,200 operational satellites, are now in an orbit around the earth.3 Regrettably, these space activities have produced a lot of space junk. Tens of thousands of discarded objects float in space. Scientists and parties with commercial interests, but also politicians and generals, must become more aware of man’s obligation to be stewards of all that is within his reach, including outer space. Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Apostolic Nuncio and Permanent Observer of the Vatican to the United Nations, last October rightly stated to a special committee of the UN General Assembly that “outer space is fully a part of our comprehensive environment, and thus it de- serves as much care as our environment here below.”4
If the last decade has made anything clear, it is that proper stewardship of the atmosphere is more urgent than ever. The vast majority of scientists agree that the heating up of the earth’s atmosphere is to a major degree responsible for dramatic climate change and that the emission of nitrous oxide (N2O) is one of the main culprits. There is also considerable consensus among these scholars that we can, and must, take measures—difficult and costly though they might be—to ensure that this heating up of the atmosphere remains below two degrees Centigrade. We should call upon our politicians to take the necessary measures and our personal stewardship responsibility includes electing the kind of leaders that are ready to take the necessary actions.
The space around us
The literature about the topic of space usually describes four different zones of space: public space, social space, personal space and intimate space. A great deal of the world around us is public space, that is in principle accessible to us all. Public space must be cared for, maintained and often protected against influences that pollute it or make it less useful and less enjoyable. This requires stewardship, first of all from authorities at all levels, but also from individual citizens. Christians will regard this not only as a sensible civic duty, but also as a God-given charge to “keep” the earth.5 Examples of such public spaces are the world’s oceans, the beaches, the forests, the parks, the motorways and the high street in our cities, towns and villages.
The country we live in is, in an important sense, also a public space. It is important that it becomes, and remains, a space that can be enjoyed by all citizens. Unfortunately, many people feel that those coming from the outside (immi- grants and asylum-seekers) invade our national, ethnic and cultural space, and are a threat to the enduring wellbeing of our national public space. Christians will agree that rules and regulations are necessary to deal with the problems connected with mass migration, but they should also re- member another key Christian principle: Welcoming the “stranger” in our midst.6 Stewardship of space implies not only protecting our public space, but also sharing it with others in a loving and responsible way.
Much could be said about the stewardship of our social and personal space. The discussion mostly focuses on the physical distance that feels comfortable between us and other persons. We do not like people to come too close to us as we talk with them. If we travel by bus and the bus has plenty of empty seats, we do not choose a seat next to another occupied seat. How much social and personal space we want depends not only on the circumstances, but also on aspects of culture. In general, women want a bit more personal space from strangers than men. And it seems that older people on the average tend to want more personal distance than younger people and that people in colder climates also keep a greater distance to others than people in warmer regions of the world.
The aspect of personal space also plays a role in how we worship. In western countries we do not like our churches to be too crowded and do not like to squeeze into a pew and sit in close physical contact with others, while in African churches this is no problem. Research has shown that a church should begin to think about plans for enlarging its worship area if more than 65 percent of the seating is regularly occupied!
Space for others
Our stewardship of space has another important dimension. We object to people invading our physical and psycho- logical personal space. That even applies to our partner and children, other loved ones and close friends (and church members). We need others around us to enjoy a healthy social life, but we also need privacy and personal space. There may be times when people who are in a relationship ask for emotional and physical space, to take stock of their feelings and make decisions. In such situations Christians do well to seek counsel from others whom they trust and to seek special direction in prayer.
Children and teenagers need parental guidance and protection, but they also need space, even if this brings the very real risk that they will make mistakes. Without a responsible granting of space, young people do not develop the independence they will need as they enter adolescence and adult life.
Stewardship of our social and personal space includes welcoming others, at appropriate times and in appropriate ways, into our space. We must guard the privacy of our home and carefully nurture our circle of friends, but Christians will also share their space with others. A country that claims to be founded on Judeo-Christian norms must be a country that welcomes strangers. A Christian home is by definition a welcoming home. A Christian church must offer the kind of space where all people who decide to enter, regardless of culture, color or sexual orientation, are welcome. And individual Christians are ready to enlarge their circle of friends when they meet people who long for love and friendship.
Space to grow at our own speed
There is yet another dimension to stewardship of space. This is space in the spiritual realm. As members of a church we are united in our thinking about essential tenets of our faith and we agree on a number of lifestyle principles. How- ever, we all have our own background. We are different in temperament and in life experience. We do not all think alike and are not at the same point in our spiritual experience.
We must all have the space to be who we are. We must allow others to ask their own questions, to agree with us or to disagree with us. That is not always easy. We may tend to think that people have wrong ideas, that they are in danger of compromising ‘the truth’ and that we need to warn them, criticize them or even discipline them. At times that may be the only right option. But in a real community, where “members of the body of Christ” support each other and complement each other, we must give our “brothers and sisters” the space to think for themselves and to develop at their own speed.
The other side of the coin is that we also have the right to ask for the space we need to be who we are and to grow in our spiritual life in ways that are different from those of others.
A few years ago, I came across the term generous spacious- ness in a book written by Canadian author. She admitted that she had borrowed the term from some other writer. I have come to like that term. It encapsulated what I think our Christian stewardship of space is all about. Let’s try to practice “generous spaciousness” as we relate to the multiple spheres of space, but, in particular, as we learn to give others the space they need and in welcoming others in our space.
Reinder Bruinsma has served the Seventh-day Adventist Church in publishing, education, and church administration on three continents. He writes from the Netherlands where he lives with his wife Aafie. Among his latest books is a daily devotional “Face-to-Face with 365 People from Bible Times” and “I Have a Future: Christ’s Resurrection and Mine.” Email him at: [email protected]
5-Genesis 1:26-30; 2:15
6-Psalm 46:9; Matthew 25:31-40