Walk into a Christian bookstore these days and you’ll find many books addressing what I will term collectively “caring for the creation.” Baptists, Methodists, Catholics and others have written most of the books on this subject that I have examined. But Church of Christ preachers have been notably hesitant to inject what they may view as secular political or social issues into pulpit discussions. Why? In one sense, they are exactly right to do so. We need to focus on the things that are of interest to God rather than man. Perhaps we’ve also been hesitant to jump into subject matter that once past the issue of spiritual motivation might lead to fairly technical discussions of complex scientific issues. However, I believe Christians have a deep responsibility to the environment. I believe my daily work in wildlife management is deeply connected to my faith.
In the mid-1930s, Aldo Leopold, considered the father of the wildlife management and ecology sciences, wrote his classic A Sand County Almanac.
In his essay “The Ecological Conscience,” he lamented the absence in America — at the time — of any substantial social force for good stewardship of the environment.
“No important change in ethics was ever accomplished without an internal change in our intellectual emphasis, loyalties, affections and convictions,” he wrote. “The proof that conservation has not yet touched these foundations of conduct lies in the fact that philosophy and religion have not yet heard of it.”
I added emphasis to the word “religion” because — though Leopold may have overstated a bit relative to philosophy — concerning religion, he was right. Well before Leopold’s time, Emerson, Thoreau and a number of other literary figures had written about conservation. In Leopold’s own time, the American conscience had been much influenced by the efforts of individuals such as Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir and Gifford Pinchot.
Since the mid-part of the last century, we came too near the extinction of the bald eagle, our national symbol. In 1970, we inaugurated a national Earth Day. Thanks to the efforts of people like Rachel Carson and Jacques Costeau, conservation and environmental protection have developed into mainstream American social values.
What of Leopold’s assertion that religion is partly to blame for the public’s environmental ethics deficit? Does religion have a legitimate role to play in the realm of environmental stewardship, or are some people merely trying to use religion to legitimize yet another aspect of ever changing social philosophy?
I contend that mankind has an innate sense of awe and reverence for the beautiful, fascinating world we are a part of. Who among us hasn’t experienced some the most intimate moments of awe, reverence and closeness to God when viewing the colors of the trees in autumn against a cobalt blue sky; when taking in the grandeur of snow-capped mountains against the backdrop of a rolling prairie western landscape; or in viewing the intricacy of a dew-covered spider web early on a summer morning?
Why do you think camp settings are so conducive to spiritual revival and faith building? Do you think that the influence of the myriad of stars in the heavens, the sounds of the night, the cool mornings and fresh air, hiking though the woods, swimming in the lake and so forth, have no influence upon our souls?
Scripture provides a basis for such feelings. In Genesis, the first chapter of the first book of the Bible presents the marvelous story of God’s creation of the universe. What often gets overlooked by theologians is the significance of the second part of verse 26. It reads:
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’”
This is God’s first inkling of mankind in the account of the creation, and Scripture attests that we were conceived in connection with responsibility, and thus, duty to care for the wondrous creation in which he placed us. In Genesis 1:31, when God is satisfied with his work in forming the universe, Scripture pronounces it “very good!” Such a declaration is a singular event in all of Scripture and in itself, reason enough to pause and responsibly contemplate our roles as stewards of the creation.
Stewardship of the creation is not the most important topic discussed in the holy Scriptures. It does not rise to the level of preeminence that subjects like salvation, love for our fellow men and forgiveness do.
But couldn’t we do a series of lessons on what constitutes an ideal Christian personality, and as a part of that, recommend a healthy sense of awe and reverence for the gift of the creation that more than anything else, outside of the Scriptures themselves, serves to testify and continually remind us that we are under the watch and care of the author of the universe?
Based upon my experience, creation stewardship is a topic that will resonate with your congregations. Let’s open our eyes to the simple truth that cherishing arguably the greatest of all of God’s gifts to mankind (next to his Son as our Savior) should be reflected in gratitude and responsible concern, care and maintenance.
There is a spiritual basis for the instinctive sense of awe and wonder that you feel as you observe the splendor of God’s marvelous creation.
Maybe the next time your children or grandchildren or any of the kids in the congregation excitedly show you their Sunday school drawings of clouds, flowers, trees and animals, and cheerfully exclaim that “God created all these wonderful things,” you can say, “Not only did God create all these beautiful things, but he gave us the responsibility for taking care of them.”
MARK WILSON serves as the field supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Division of Ecological Services Field Office in Helena, Mont. He is a student at Harding Graduate School of Religion in Memphis, Tenn., and a member of the Big Sky Church of Christ.
Nov. 1, 2006