Reply – Re: Stewardship and the Environment
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Re: Stewardship and the Environment
— by Noey Noey
Stewardship and the Environment
By Stephen Terry
Commentary for the March 9, 2013 Sabbath School Lesson
“We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign. The nations were angry, and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your people who revere your name, both great and small—and for destroying those who destroy the earth.” Revelation 11:17-18, NIV
Much has been said about the word “dominion” (KJV) in the creation story of Genesis, chapter 1.[1] Translated “rule” in more modern versions of the Bible, the word is in intended to portray the creation of man as vicegerent of this Earth as a suzerainty of God. It is an appeal to this concept that is often presented as an argument in favor of man’s need to responsibly steward the environment and the various resources and creatures of the planet. However, this is a pre-fall concept. According to the account of Genesis, chapter 3, mankind abrogated his vicegerency in favor of another suzerain. Perhaps for this reason, it became a test for Christ thousands of years later. Mankind fell on this point, but Christ stood resolute and uncompromised. He was offered the entire world as his dominion if He would only switch allegiance and serve the same master that mankind had accepted.[2] Christ declined the offer, much to our benefit, as He paved the way for our restoration.
In the Garden of Paradise,[3] man chose to pledge his allegiance to the Fallen One, instead of his Creator. That fallen being, known as Satan or the Devil, promised the man and the woman that they would become gods by throwing off the rule of God. However, the only godlike quality that seems to have been understood by Satan was a self-centeredness untempered by the qualities of compassion, beneficence, kindness, and love contained in the character of true Divinity. Without all these aspects of God, one ends up with a negative of the actual thing, like the portrayal of the fallen world related in C. S. Lewis’s “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” where it was always winter, but never Christmas. Fallen man is sometimes tempted to pose as godlike without these positive attributes of divinity. Such posers can end up being little more than selfish abusers of whatever power they are able to garner.
In spite of the brevity of the dramatic confrontation between Satan and Eve portrayed in the Genesis account, the fall of mankind may have been a more protracted affair. The later account of Jesus regarding the nature of sin[4] reveals that when such confrontations between good and evil take place, the contest may have been decided some time before the actual fall takes place. God’s counsel regarding the matter had probably already been questioned and perhaps even doubted in her heart. Possibly both Adam and Eve may have been already looking for a way to disregard what God had said. Perhaps Eve was wondering what the fruit tasted like compared with those she had already tasted. Was it sweeter? What was its texture? The Serpent may have only offered “permission” for what was already in her heart. Then she may have felt she had justification to do what she had already envisioned doing in her mind, perhaps many times. How often have we succumbed today with the simple question arising in our minds, “Why are you denying yourself this thing?” This is the very question that Satan sought to raise with Eve.
Seeing the Serpent slithering among the branches of the forbidden tree, she may even have asked herself “If we have dominion here, why is this lower being allowed to be in this forbidden tree, and I must stay away from it? Are we not the rulers here?” Of course the Bible says little about what she was thinking apart from her willingness to accept the Serpent’s words as fact, God’s caveats notwithstanding. But her willingness to believe Satan may be demonstration of an ongoing process of distancing herself from a relationship with God, a process that is all too common, today.
Perhaps when we envision the fall, we see the first pair making their decisions against God and for self against a soundtrack of music in a minor key and darkening clouds gathering overhead as God storms into the garden demanding justice. Instead, God, who knew exactly where they were and what they had done (after all, He’s God), comes walking in the garden in the cool evening and not finding them calls out, “Where are you?” One can almost sense the sadness and heartache in that question. The Bible does not say how long Adam, Eve, and God enjoyed their daily fellowship in the garden, but this was obviously an occasion where God expected their companionship and not finding it, cried out. Once they revealed themselves and what they had done, He had no choice but to tell them the results of their decision. Then, acknowledging their violation of trust, He did as any landlord with untrustworthy tenants would do, He evicted them. Forced to use their new “godlikeness” to deal with the world around them, they discovered that it takes more than disobedience to be a god.
The poverty of this new situation was eventually evidenced when murder came into the world as one of their sons slew the other.[5] The downward spiral into depravity was rapid and nearly universal.[6] The biblical account tells us that it became so bad that God felt it necessary to intervene directly to stop the torrent of evil. After many generations, only eight individuals were found that had enough of a relationship with God to survive the coming cataclysm. Noah and his wife with his three sons and their wives were those people.[7] Nonetheless, in spite of that record, we are told by Jesus, that the same downward trend would repeat itself, and God will intervene again.[8] As we look around us, what we see speaks for itself.
Mankind has grown in his depraved ability from the first brother to murder brother to where we now sweep millions violently into the grave and excuse it by calling it war. Paradoxically, every nation feels that they are waging a righteous battle and therefore have a moral justification to take life on a massive scale. The only thing that matters is winning, because in the end, who is righteous and who is not is declared by the victor. This is the result of harkening to the Serpent’s call to become godlike.
We have a world where a few wealthy and powerful countries and individuals harvest the vast majority of the world’s resources, while accumulating most of the world’s wealth. In return they give to those who have lost these things polluted air to breathe and fouled water to drink. Promoting policies that deny them food, clothing, shelter and healthcare, their methods are no less effective at slaying their brothers than Cain’s club was that crushed the skull of Abel. Attending church weekly as homage to a messiah they cannot understand, their actions speak the homily of Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Scrooge had suggested putting the poor in prison to some gentlemen who were soliciting funds to help those poor. When the gentlemen said that most would rather die than go to prison, he responded “…they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
Too often when considering the needs of the rest of the planet, whether we are speaking of impoverished humanity, threatened wildlife species, or simply climatic response to our depredations, we find it difficult to appreciate anything that cannot be monetized. If a Spotted Owl is endangered in its habitat, we place the slight weight of the feathered creatures into the scale against the solid mass of gold with which we hope to line our pockets and the owls come up wanting. After all, a cow can be bred for herds of steaks on the hoof or milked for dairy products to sell, but what can you do with a Spotted Owl? So the cows survive as a species. Will the owls?
Perhaps this is the significance of the story of Noah and the Ark. Is it coincidental that the family worth saving was the family willing to do what it took to save the animals? Is this story an allegory that those who destroy the Earth will in turn be destroyed, and those who show compassion and understanding for creation will in turn find compassion and salvation for themselves? All of creation is waiting to find out it seems. “For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”[9] Perhaps when Jesus said it will be like it was in Noah’s day, He was not only referring to the evil, but also to the attitude of the children of God toward creation and the world God has blessed them with. After all, in order to be like Noah’s day, one cannot have only the wicked there, some Noahs must be there as well.
[1] Genesis 1:26
[2] Matthew 4:8-10
[3] The Hebrew, גַן־עֵ֔דֶן, often transliterated as “Eden” literally means “paradise.”
[4] Matthew 5:27-28
[5] Genesis 4:1-16
[6] Ibid., 6:5-6
[7] Ibid., chapters 6-9
[8] Matthew 24:36-39
[9] Romans 8:19-21, NIV