Environmental stewardship: what the Bible says

Creation of Adam / Michelangelo. Environmental stewardship
Creation of Adam / Michaelangelo (Sistine Chapel, 1510)

Not many people search Google to find out what the Bible says about environmental stewardship. Maybe no one sees a connection between “religion” and the issues of the day. 

Yet according to Psalm 24:1, the Earth and everything in it belongs to God. He made it. He put people in charge of running it. People choose to run it any other way but his. 

For most of human history, people have had little regard for the environment. Even prehistoric people hunted some animals to extinction. Even their farming and other technology were partly good and partly bad for the environment. 

But until the Industrial Revolution, we couldn’t do much more than local damage.

Then we started powering machines by burning coal. We used a lot of water to make things. And dumped it into our lakes and rivers when we were finished with it. Our industrial processes polluted air, water, and the ground. 

And now the climate is warming. At the very least, our machinery and lifestyles accelerate global warming if they haven’t caused it in the first place.

But remember—our current environmental crises come not because the Industrial Revolution brought anything new. It just brought environmental callousness to a greater scale than ever before.

That means that whatever the Bible has to say about environmental stewardship still applies, and on a larger scale.

Sin, the environment, and social justice

Of all the relevant scriptures, I’ll describe only Ezekiel 34:17-22 in this article. 

As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?

“‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another.

It compares rich and poor to fat and lean sheep. The fat sheep eat the best of the pasture and tread down the rest of it. They drink clear water and muddy the rest with their feet. The lean sheep have nothing left to eat and drink except what the fat sheep have fouled.

Sound familiar?

And for all the protests from American progressives about the 1% in the US, most of them are part of the 1% in comparison to the rest of the world. Some of them shop as if they care about textile workers in Bangladesh. Some don’t. Environmental stewardship means that humans don’t own the earth. God does. He put us in charge for his benefit and do to his will. Not a one of us does so, and many of us don’t care.

God pledged to judge between one sheep and another and rescue his flock. Beginning with the earliest prophetic writings and ending with Revelation, the Bible describes the coming day of the Lord when God will destroy the wicked. Only people who acknowledge God as God will survive. 

(By the way, we can only look at other people’s outward appearance. God knows the state of each heart and judges accordingly. Eventually, everyone will acknowledge his justice.)

In the meantime, we will continue to suffer the consequences of our bad choices. Reading the plagues in Revelation, it appears that humanity will eventually make the land uninhabitable. They are the consequences of poor environmental stewardship.

The end of this world is not a bad thing, but a good thing. After all, the result of God’s intervention will be the destruction of evil and the restoration of the bountiful goodness we were supposed to take care of in the first place.  

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The Bible and the Environment (Biblical Challenges in the Contemporary World)

Stewards of Eden: What Scripture Says About the Environment and Why It Matters

Creation Care: A Biblical Theology of the Natural World
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