Genesis 1-2 reveals two important truths about humanity: We are created in the image of God, and we are to be caretakers of the earth.
God cared for all things in creation, and humanity is given a similar role. We are to occupy the earth, to multiply our human race upon the earth and to rule, or have dominion, over the creatures of the earth.
Dominion is a strong, forceful word, speaking of power or right to governance and control. It has been used to describe structures, land and territory and to designate who is in charge.
So it’s easy to think in this context that our role is to rule the created world with an iron fist as we wish without any consequences to our actions.
When we remember that God is the narrator in this passage, then our responsibility falls into a different light.
We are only told then to fulfill our caretaking responsibilities after God gave them to us.
Our role is to care take, to bless, but not to run the show. Yet, too often, our relationship with the created order is not one of respect as God has asked us to care.
When groups of Christians start talking about what our relationship should be as human beings to the created world, I’ve heard often several statements:
â— “What does it matter if we destroy our wetlands or pollute our oceans, and if the lists of endangered animals increases by the day?”
â— “We’re more concerned with Jesus’ return to earth and that’s a time when what is living on this earth won’t matter so much anymore.”
There are even a number of political leaders who are vocal about the non-existence of global warming.
For some, it is a stance taken out of their Christian beliefs that ask us to spend more time focused on human relationships, not the non-human ones.
But where does this leave us with our seemingly scriptural command to become caretakers of this planet?
This is what I know with certainty: Just as God has loved us richly and lavished on us every blessing, we too are to be good stewards of what we’ve been given on this earth.
We are currently journeying through the Lenten season and I can’t think of a more appropriate time to re-examine our relationship to the world.
If the goal of this season of the year is to stop and realign our lives with the ways of Jesus, then isn’t how we treat every living thing a part of this relationship? I know that this is an area on which I have much work to do.
After all, it’s easier to buy a beverage in a cup I will soon throw away that might pollute the landfill than it is to tote around a mug that can be reused.
And it’s simpler to consume meals without consideration of where it came from or how it was produced than it is to make an environmentally sound choice when it comes to what to eat for dinner. The list could go on.
It’s a lot easier not to care about the earth. It’s so much easier to create a soul-centric theology that cares nothing for the body and the space in which the body dwells.
But this is not the way in the kingdom of God, which calls us to be caretakers of this world, no matter how hard it might be.
Pope Francis, who is named after St. Francis, the patron saint of all creation, said in a recent sermon, “A Christian who does not protect creation, who does not let it grow, is a Christian who does not care about the work of God; that work that was born from the love of God for us … And this is the first response to the first creation: protect creation, make it grow.”
Being fruitful and multiplying in this earth is more than about having babies and raising them right.
It’s about how the space we inhabit can be cared for in such a way that it brings glory to our God.
Lent offers us an opportunity to confess the ways in which we have failed to care for the earth – both the conscious and unconscious choices we’ve made.
We can then commit to pay more attention as we make choices about what we eat, what we wear and how we walk on this earth in light of the great responsibility God gave us as caretakers.
Elizabeth Evans Hagan is a freelance writer, interim pastor at the Federated Church in Weatherford, Oklahoma, and ambassador of social advocacy at Feed the Children. She regularly blogs at Preacher on the Plaza, where a longer version of this article first appeared. You can follow her on Twitter @elizabethhagan.
Elizabeth Hagan is senior minister of The Palisades Community Church in Washington, D.C. Other hats she wears are as a preacher, author and executive director of Our Courageous Kids, a foundation dedicated to orphan care.