17 Apr Stewardship of Environment
In 2019, a 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist named Greta Thunberg received an honorary title from the Lakota Native American people with an indigenous name “Maphiyata echiyatan hin win” which translates to “Woman who came from the heavens.” The reason for such recognition was Greta’s support for the community and taking a stand in opposing an oil project that would lead to the contamination of drinking water, consequently affecting the Lakota community. But why was such a divine title given to a teenager for what we would typically see as something common or regular? Well, for the indigenous community, this oil project runs right down to their livelihood and will disrupt their existence. For something that has fed and sustained them for ages, the environment is nothing less of a deity to them, and thus in this context, Greta’s activism made her something akin to a savior or a herald of hope and strength. The environmental crisis is a reality that affects every individual and community the same, and as such, this is one concern that unites [or ought to unite] humanity as one. Ranging from something as small as using plastic in our everyday life to something as big as the Govt or a company pushing for a major project, our environment always gets affected, resources get exploited, and so on. In such a time and such a world, what message does/can a Christian bring? Much to our shame, being faithful stewards of the environment is one responsibility that is perhaps the most neglected or overlooked.
What does the Bible have to say about taking care of our environment? Is there any scriptural mandate to begin with? The answer is a resounding “Yes!” I want to bring clarity to this point by talking about it from 3 different perspectives: Creation, Redemption, and Mission.
Talking from Scripture, being a faithful steward of the environment goes right down to the very heart and soul of creation. God gave the mandate to take care of His creation to our first parent in Genesis 1:28, where God told them to “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” in other words to take care of God’s creation. This is not just a normal or an ordinary role, for we see the discussion taking place in the heavenly council before the creation of mankind in Genesis 1:26. In every single instance of creation, God assigns a role to the creation and sees it as a good thing, it is only on the sixth day, God does not directly assign the roles but first “blessed them”(Gen 1:28) and only then proceeds to give them the command, we are to infer from here that taking care of God’s creation is a divine role that has a divine initiative and mandate having its origin in the Triune God Himself. This command to take care of the creation is again made very clear in Genesis 2:15 “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” It should not come off to us, as a reader, that this responsibility is limited only to the garden and our first parent only. For we see this command is repeated in Gen 9:1-3, and Gen 35:11-12, there is a clear indication here that even after the fall, God is reminding the people about His original and intended plan for mankind. To be “fruitful and multiply.”
Of course, the fall happened, and it is beyond mankind’s ability to redeem and restore the creation. We have failed and distorted the beautiful creation; we are not fruitful, and by multiplying, we further exploit and use God’s creation for our selfish desires and greed. This was taken care of by another divine initiative, the incarnation. Christ came to redeem the lost sinners but more than that, He also came to redeem the whole creation. The book of Revelation enthusiastically talks about the new heavens and the new earth, Peter reminds us to look forward to this new creation
(2 Peter 3:13), Paul labors to make this point over and over in his epistles in Romans 8, Colossians 1 and Ephesians 1 that Christ will reconcile all things in heaven and on earth. Have we discriminately lost sight of God’s holistic redemptive plan by focusing too much on ourselves at the expense of the whole creation? This could very well reveal the crack in our theology, to accept Christ as a one-way ticket to heaven but never really being transformed to render our service sacrificially for His kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.” If it is the case that other belief systems that are based on works of righteousness have utterly misunderstood grace by working very hard to earn something that is already freely given as a gift losing out on the gift altogether, then it can be said of the Christian that we have received the gift with open arms and then immediately proceeded to throw away the gift. We have taken grace for granted and have forgotten that not only is the atonement a gift of grace, but so is the very environment and ecosystem that surrounds us, “He causes the sun to rise on the evil and good, and causes the rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). Those things we take for granted, at the end of the day it is still grace, undeserved. To overlook our responsibility as a steward of God’s creation is to overlook the gracious providence of God and ultimately to overlook the work of Christ on the cross to redeem the whole creation.
The Great Commission reminds us that we are God’s instrument in proclaiming the gospel, but there is also another thing that God uses as His instrument to make Himself known to every individual, and that is the creation itself. Romans 1, in particular, tells us that God’s eternal power and divine nature are made known through His creation, so much so that people are without excuse; God has reached out to every individual through this general revelation. Whenever there is an attack on the churches in India (becoming increasingly common), or there is an attempt to suppress a believer from freely proclaiming their faith, we become indignant, and that is a good thing. We recognize injustice not only against humans but against God. All the more, it grieves us of the fact that they are suppressing or destroying the very instrument that God is using for their own good. Now, why don’t we see the same amount of indignation or grief when people, including Christians, destroy or suppress another instrument of God, namely His creation, our environment?
This should cause a stir in Christians worldwide to actively pursue protecting and conserving the environment keeping in mind that this in itself
is a part of God’s mission, and as such, it is an essential responsibility of every Christian.
It is definitely a sin to deify the environment, which will amount to idolatry, and this could very well be the reason why Christians are lacking so much in environmental care: Why bother to join hands with a certain group to protect the environment (their deity)? Why risk taking a stand when it might give out a message of affirmation for idolatry? “There is an easy way out just believe in Jesus and stop caring about trivial matters, the world is dying anyways!” This sums up a typical Christian response to the environmental crisis around us. And yes, while it is true that believing in Jesus is the only way, it is a sin to deify the environment. Still, even an idolatrous world experiences, without realizing, the reality of the consequences of sin when they see the destruction and exploitation of their environment. Even an idolatrous world longs for some kind of a savior and finds hope in someone like Greta Thunberg, a “woman who came from the heavens.” The world will have a different reason for why they are doing what they are doing, but Christians have a biblical answer, the problem is sin that has distorted the creation, and yet the world will not die because a Saviour has already died and rose, our hope is not in the “women who came from the heavens” but in the One who actually came from heaven “Immanuel, God with us”, the eternal Word who became flesh and dwelled among us. He saves us and calls us to be His hands and feet in this world. We have the great, unthinkable privilege to be stewards of his creation, faithfully and patiently, while we wait on Him, and in doing so, we also fulfill his commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Renlamo M Tsopoe hails from Nagaland but is currently involved with the UESI-Assam, holding the responsibility as President of Guwahati ICEU and also as a National Student Cell member. He is pursuing his Post-Graduation in Sociology and Social anthropology.