What is the purpose of the human race? For generations of Presbyterians the answer was spelled out in the first question from the Westminster Shorter Catechism:
Q: What is the chief end of man?
A: To Glorify God and to enjoy him forever.
Of course this leads to the next question: What does it mean to glorify God? A lot of things go into this, but part of the answer to this question has to do with the relationship of human beings to the rest of the world described in the opening verses of the book of Genesis.
Read Genesis 1:26-31. This passage speaks of human beings being given dominion over the earth and all that lives in it. Sadly this has regularly been misinterpreted to simply mean that we can do whatever we want to the world. But those who first read these verses in Genesis would have recognized it as a contract like that between a Great King ruling an empire and the lesser kings and rulers who were given responsibility over smaller territories. These lesser kings were given dominion over the land they ruled, but with the expectation that they would take care of the land and its people, and live according the laws of the Great King. Dominion comes with significant responsibility and accountability.
Read Genesis 2:4-16. Why does God create the first human being from the dust of the earth (Adam is the generic Hebrew word for human being, which literally means ‘made of earth’)? Because, “there was no one to till the ground.” Adam’s role and ours is to be a kind of gardener of creation, tending to it and keeping healthy.
Drawing from Biblical texts like these the contemporary Presbyterian confession of faith called Living Faith, describes the role of human beings this way:
2.4.1 Though life is a gift from God, human life depends upon the created world. Our care for the world must reflect God’s care. We are not owners, but stewards of God’s good earth. Concerned with the well-being of all of life we welcome the truths and insights of all human skill and science about the world and the universe.
2.4.2 Our stewardship calls us to explore ways of love and justice in respecting God’s creation and in seeking its responsible use for the common good.
Have you previously seen a connection between care for the environment and being a Christian? Is care for the earth a part of your faith or the faith of others that you know?
In earlier sessions I’ve reflected on how our relative wealth and standard of living affect how we relate to God and to each other (especially to those poorer than us here in Canada and around the world). I would also suggest that they effect our ability to live out our calling to be stewards of God’s Creation.
- Climate change is an established scientific reality
- Mass extinction of millions of species and the endangered status of others is a reality
- The destruction of habitat around the world is a reality
- The depletion of a variety of natural resource is a reality
- This is directly linked to our present standard of living and way of life
- If everyone in the world lived like Canadians we would need 3.8 earths to support that standard of living
The Bible often talks about how our sins affect the land beneath our feet and our relationship to it:
- Read: Genesis 4:8-16 (the effect of Cain’s sin on the ground); Leviticus 18:24-30 (the land itself will remove Israel if they reject God’s purpose for them)
- Remember Leviticus 25 (the land and its blessings are God’s, and we are just tenants)
How might we make environmental stewardship a more integral part of Christian faith in a way that reflects the teaching of the Bible?