I was with my son surfing small waves at the beach near our home. The ocean blended with the horizon and the sky. No wind. Sunshine licked the surface of water. I sat on my surfboard and watched William ride whitewater to the beach. I felt the warmth of the day upon my shoulders. I watched a pelican that looked like a rusted crowbar dive from the sky. As I watched the pelican emerge from the water with a mullet, I thought about my responsibility to help preserve ocean. I thought to myself, “As one person I can't do much. After all, the ocean is so large. It spans continents, borders countless towns and cities from here to Africa, and beyond. It borders homes and churches and…” And then I thought, “Churches—yes, that's it. That how I might help the ocean, that's how I might help the earth. Earth Day and the Church. It could be a perfect match. After all, Earth Day is about God's creation. From a Christian theological perspective, Earth Day concerns the responsible stewardship of God's planet.”
Historically, the Church, as well as our larger culture, has understood stewardship as the proper management of financial resources. Stewardship has, within the confines of the Christian community, especially denoted the once-a-year pledge-drive. This understanding of stewardship has its place. As the New American Dictionary states, "A Steward is one who manages another's property or financial affairs." Yet stewardship, as the definition goes, also implies managing the real property of another. From a Christian perspective, the earth is ultimately God's real property. As such, the Church is called, in general, to be a responsible steward of God’s property.
Since the rise of earth consciousness many critiques have been rightly leveled against the Christian tradition and its understanding of the earth as something to be forcefully conquered, rather than responsibly cultivated. The traditional and incessant misreading of "God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it (Holy Bible, Genesis 1:28),’ has errantly guided the Church in its handling of the earth’s resources. Furthermore, this errant reading continues to cripple the Church in its moral obligation to protect God's creation.
Admittedly, the phrase to, "subdue the earth" is used in Genesis 1.28 (though nowhere else), but the concept does not reflect an idea of destroying or mismanaging resources—quite the contrary. In the context of this particular text, the Hebrew term kabash, rendered as "subdue," connotes the cultivation of land, as does its English counterpart. It may be said that Genesis 1:28 embraces the responsibility of humanity to wisely keep the earth like a house—clean, properly managed, and with attentive care.
The idea of keeping the earth clean and orderly like a house is aptly reflected in the word ecology, which is derived from the Greek word oikos ("Doctrine of the House"). Accordingly, and as the creation narrative in Genesis suggests, we might understand the earth as our dwelling, our house—our home. We are but tenants on the soil—one part of the creation community. As such, we are not to be destroyers of creation, but responsible stewards.
As the ecological crisis continues to worsen, Christians are in a pivotal position to either make a faithful stand for the protection of the earth, by living earth-friendly lives or to watch from the sidelines as the ecological situation becomes even more burdensome for our children’s children. Though Christians have traditionally been on the wrong side of the environmental issue, we have the political might to become leaders in the responsible stewardship of God's creation.
As I watched my son catch another wave
, the breeze picked
up and the sun started going down. I caught a wave, walked to the nose of the
board, back peddled, and rode to the beach. William was waiting for me. We were
full of smiles. The sun and horizon merged completely and it seemed that all
creation was melting into one loud song of joy. Everything blended together.
And it seemed to me that God was saying, “Not alone, but together. Together you
can make a difference. Together.”