Have you ever felt like you were about to walk into a den of hungry lions? Well, in addressing man’s first stewardship assignment, I sense I am about to do that. And I expect by the time I am done, many of you may think I sound like some flaming radical, liberal, vegetarian, environmentalist.
As much as I bristle at that thought, in this one area of earth stewardship, I think the liberals actually have a more sound position and more appropriate concern for earth-care than most born-again believers do.
Please keep in mind, however, the liberals’ underlying motivation for carefully stewarding our earth is fundamentally different than ours. Liberals are compelled to steward our planet because they believe that earth is our Mother. Believers, on the other hand, should be compelled to steward our planet because we believe that God is our Father.
Even though the recommended action steps for earth-care may be identical with both ideologies, the foundational reason for our deep concern and respect for the earth will be strikingly different.
Hosea 4:6 says, “My people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge.” Unfortunately, their planet can be too. So, let’s expand our knowledge and see what we might need to do with this important first stewardship assignment.
To Serve and Preserve
There are actually two creation accounts of man – a general one (Genesis 1) and a specific one (Genesis 2). In 1:26 God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion (rule) over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
2:15 adds more detail. Here, God puts Adam and Eve in the garden and directs them “to work and to keep” (ESV) the land. The words translated “work” and “keep” can be misleading and seriously understate the fuller meaning of their assignment. The Hebrew word for “work” is actually a word used to describe the service a slave gives to his master. And the Hebrew word for “keep” means to preserve something for future generations. So, a more complete expression of our earth-stewardship assignment would be “to serve and preserve.”
What has gone wrong is that fallen man has mistakenly replaced the idea of dominion (to serve and preserve) with exploitation (to use and abuse). Man’s incurable lust for more, bigger and better has led him to view the earth as nothing more than a natural resource to be harvested for profit and pleasure. And then once he has extracted from it what he wants, he moves on often leaving the land and waters polluted, denatured and scarred beyond repair. We unconsciously consume our natural resources as if there is an unlimited supply. Because of our preferred lifestyles, hundreds of God’s created species have and continue to become extinct with little thought or concern on our part as to what that might mean to the earth or to their Creator. We contaminate our lands and waters with little consideration of the long-term impact on the planet or those who will come after us. We vehemently object to how our government borrows money leaving our children and grandchildren to figure out how to pay it back, yet we seem quite oblivious to the environmental destruction we are leaving behind for future generations to try to repair and/or clean up. Neither is likely possible.
Ezekiel 34:18 confronts this “I’ve got what I want – I’m not concerned about the rest” attitude when he asks, “Is it not enough for you to feed on the green pastures? Must you also trample the rest with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink pure water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet?” Is it any wonder that God’s “whole creation is groaning” (Romans 8:22) under our abusive exploitation?
Think about it. Should we not, as good stewards of our Father’s world, do all we can to reduce our current “consumption footprint” on earth – in order to better serve and preserve His planet?
Calvin Dewitt, a Christian environmentalist, said it well in his book Earthwise, “all the things we use, all the things we make, everything we manipulate, everything we accumulate, derives from the creation itself. If we learn to seek godly contentment as our great gain, we will take and shape less of God’s earth. We will demand less from the land. We will leave room for the other creatures.”
Give it a Rest
Let’s consider just one area of our earth stewardship assignment. One of God’s foundational commands to Israel was that the land was to have a Sabbath rest every seventh year. The lands were to lay fallow and not be worked (Leviticus 25:1-7). But as was often the case, the Israelites ignored this command. What is fascinating is that the amount of time the Israelites were forced to spend in captivity in Babylon (seventy years) is equal to the number of Sabbath years they failed to rest their land. God was clearly not happy with how they failed to handle their stewardship assignment.
He tells the Israelites, “I will make the land desolate so that your enemies who settle in it will be appalled over it. You, however, I will scatter among the nations and will draw out a sword after you, as your land becomes desolate and your cities become waste. Then the land will enjoy its sabbaths all the days of the desolation, while you are in your enemies’ land; then the land will rest and enjoy its sabbaths. All the days of its desolation it will observe the rest which it did not observe on your sabbaths, while you were living on it” (Leviticus 26:32-35).
As Keil and Delitsch, the Old Testament commentators say, “By causing the land to remain uncultivated for seventy years, God gave to the land a time of rest and refreshment, which its inhabitants, so long as they possessed it, had not given it.”
Allowing fields to periodically lay fallow has long been accepted as beneficial to the land. Why then, don’t today’s farmers allow their land to occasionally lay fallow instead of keeping it under constant production as they do? The answer is painfully simple. They just can’t afford to. Modern agriculture is so expensive – the machinery, fuel, pesticides, fertilizer, and even seed – that farmers have to keep every inch of their farmland in full production just to pay their debts and make a modest living.
To better understand this situation and the causes for it, consider the following staggering statistics:
• 80% of the US farmlands are being used to raise food for the animals that we eat. (Major Uses of Land in The U.S.)
• 30% of the world’s entire landmass is in production to feed the animals that we eat. (Livestock’s Long Shadow)
• 70% of all grain grown in the U.S. is used to feed the animals that we eat. (Plants, Genes and Agriculture)
• Nearly 50% of the fresh water used in the U.S. is used to raise the animals we eat. (The Food Revolution)
• It takes about 2,500 gallons of water to produce a single pound of meat. It takes only 25 gallons of water to produce a pound of wheat. (Newsweek)
• Animals raised for food produce about 130 times as much excrement as the entire human population and animal farms pollute our waterways more than all other industrial sources combined. (U.S. EPA)
• More than a third of all raw materials and fossil fuels consumed in the United States are used in animal production. (Ecological Cooking)
• Seven football fields of forestlands are being bulldozed every minute to clear more room for farmed animals and the crops that feed them as emerging nations adopt our western, meat-eating diet. (Smithsonian Institution)
• It takes 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of meat. (PETA)
• It takes four acres to feed a meat eater and only ½ acre to feed a non-meat eater. A ½ acre can produce 5 tons of apples and ten tons of potatoes. That same ½ acre can produce only 100 pounds of meat. (FAO)
Do you see the close connection between our appetite for animal flesh, which was not part of man’s original Garden of Eden diet (Genesis 1:29), and our exploitation of the planet we are to serve and preserve? We could easily give all the farmland a periodic rest if we simply ate the food we raise instead of feeding it to animals and then eating the animals. If we did this, we could also totally wipe out world hunger without needing to plow even one more new acre of farmland. As Jeremy Rifkin poignantly observed, “Meat makes the rich ill and the poor hungry.”
Can you see the close connection between these two stewardship responsibilities? By choosing to be better stewards of His body, we will automatically become better stewards of His earth. It is all tied together.
Unfortunately, I have only scratched the surface of this massive, earth stewardship responsibility. But here are a few key questions I think we ought to ask ourselves. Will this new knowledge and awareness actually change how I live? Will I choose to do anything differently that will reduce the size of my current consumption footprint (1.) for the good of this planet, (2.) for the sake of those who will come after me and most importantly (3.) to show respect for the Landlord who entrusted this planet to me to serve and preserve?
As Jeanie Greenough recognized, “I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything; but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.” May this become our attitude as we each seek to be good stewards of our Father’s world.
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E. G. “Jay” Link is the President of Stewardship Ministries, a teaching, training, mentoring and content ministry working with churches and nonprofit leaders to equip them with the biblical knowledge and training resources needed to serve all ages and all economic levels of believers to effectively live their lives as good and faithful stewards of all that God has entrusted to them. He is the author of three books, “Spiritual Thoughts on Material Things: Thirty Days of Food for Thought,” “To Whom Much is Given: Navigating the Ten Life Dilemmas Affluent Christians Face” and “Family Wealth Counseling: Getting to the Heart of the Matter.”
Mr. Link may be reached via email at jlink@StewardshipMinistries.org