A wire sculpture sits above the harbor at Portsoy in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.
The graceful lines of a dolphin leaping toward the sea is a powerful and poignant symbol of life that is wild, untamed, beautiful and utterly natural.
There are many perspectives on the relationship between humans and the biosphere we call earth.
My own preference – intellectual, ethical and spiritual – is the Christian calling to a responsible stewardship of the created order.
We endanger other creatures when we see them as commodities, and when the earth’s resources are exploited as if they were our sole possession, inexhaustible and all the time forgetting our own dependence on them.
A theological imperative arises out of the Christian doctrine of creation and its associated doctrine of humanity. To speak of creation means that the natural world is held within a framework of purpose, value and care.
Stewardship as a Christian responsibility is, therefore, a call to responsible obedience, not to a free-for-all plundering as if there were no tomorrow.
Indeed, the mechanized plundering and unrestrained consumption of the earth’s resources may well mean a foreshortening of the number of tomorrows humanity can still count on.
The creator calls the creature to care for creation.
A Christian theology of creation is deeply embedded in what we believe about Christ. John 1:1-2 and Colossians 1:15-17 are sufficient in themselves to silence the voices that look on the earth as our property, our unregulated superstore where we can take and do and use to our heart’s content.
So stewardship is an attitude of responsibility, respect, even reverence for that which is the creator’s. Indeed, to confess Christ as Lord is to acknowledge that Lordship over creation.
And to believe in the cosmic reach of the cross as renewing, reconciling and redeeming the creation is to hear the deep heart cry of Paul’s words as a call to participate in the creative purposes of a God who does not give up on all that he has made: “The whole creation groans in travail, awaiting its redemption” (Romans 8:22).
The Genesis creation accounts are themselves replete with divine purpose and human blessing. God spoke and it came to be and it was good. God calls all things into being, and gives them to human beings to enjoy, and as the context of their own flourishing.
That is why stewardship lies at the center of the Genesis story, with the good creation entrusted to the care and enjoyment of human beings.
Whatever else the story of the Fall brings to our attention, it is clear that the greed for power, the grasp for knowledge of good and evil, the hunger for life and for self-fulfillment was followed by a growing disorder.
We have our own stories today about what the world is, what we each are as human beings, and the relations between ourselves and the earth on which we walk, the environment in which we live and move and have our being.
There is the green story, the sustainable development story, the consumerist capital story, the globalization story, the climate change story and variations and admixtures of these and other ways of looking at the world.
It is one of the tasks of Christian theology today to offer for Christians a way of looking at this fragile miracle of a planet that is congruent with our vision of a world that is God created, God loved and into which we are sent as light and salt.
The decision of the U.S. to renege on the Paris Accord, and that as an act of economic self-interest uninformed by the wider consequences for the rest of the world, is one of the stories that collides with a Christian theology of creation care, stewardship and human behavior modeled on the image of God.
But such reluctance to make any economic sacrifices, and appeals to so-called fairness and national self-interest, along with denials of the realities of climate change, are not unique to the current U.S. administration.
Christians are not in a position that is neutral when it comes to care for creation.
Reckless disregard for the health of this planet is an offense to deep principles of Christian theology.
To wreck the work of the creator, to pollute a creation which is called into being by the eternal word, who entered that creation and was crucified and risen as an assertion of life over death, to take whatever we want in a destructive free-for-all for our own generation – each of these admittedly stark statements offends against the primary doctrines of the Father who is creator, the Son who is redeemer, and the Spirit who is sustainer.
Christians are not in a position to be uninformed, neutral or hostile to those initiatives and strategies which safeguard, and where possible replenish, the health of the environment on which all life depends.
At the very least, we are answerable to the creator, whose greatest command upon us is not to defend our particular exegetical corner on the creation texts in Genesis.
The creator’s imperative, and therefore our obligation, is to care for the creation we believe is created by a God whose purpose is life not death, whose gift is to be enjoyed by generous sharing not by possessive greed, whose will is that humans be blessed and be a blessing to each other.
James Gordon is part-time minister of Montrose Baptist Church in Angus, Scotland, and the former principal of the Scottish Baptist College. He is on the advisory board of the Centre for Ministry Studies, University of Aberdeen, and is honorary lecturer in the School of Divinity, History and Philosophy. A longer version of this article first appeared on his blog, Living Wittily, and is used with permission.
Part-time minister of Montrose Baptist Church in Angus, Scotland, and the former principal of the Scottish Baptist College. He is on the advisory board of the Centre for Ministry Studies, University of Aberdeen, and is honorary lecturer in the School of Divinity, History and Philosophy.