Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Fundamentals of Conservation, Part 1 "Serving With" Our Creator -- Article #1 Biblical Foundation

Spring is here and with it, green grass, colorful flowers, and joyful people breaking forth from the confinement and discomfort of a long winter.  Our thoughts turn to breaking out the rakes, mowers, and other implements to spruce up the grounds.  Some of us have only a tiny lawn and perhaps a flower bed along a foundation or sidewalk.  Others have an extensive lawn and maybe a “back forty” that requires hours to manage each week.   Regardless of the acreage, our work takes on a rich meaning when we recognize the biblical responsibility of being stewards of the land entrusted to our care.

This blog entry is the first of three parts on the subject of conservation, or as some call it, land (or Earth) stewardship.  Both conservation and stewardship carry the notion of serving with or for the benefit of another as opposed to serving oneself.  The word conservation is derived from the Latin, con- (with) + servitium (service).  Therefore, as explained by Dr. Calvin DeWitt a highly respected leader in Christian environmental stewardship, a conservationist is one who serves with the household of life.  That is, as humankind acts responsibly in service toward creation, the creation will continue in its service toward humans and all life—hence, a con-service.  DeWitt more completely explains this derivation of conservation in his book, Earthwise (2011, Faith Alive Christian Resources, 3rd ed.).

As humans obey God and "keep" creation, God and His
creation will "keep" mankind--the essence of "con-service"
The Bible teaches in Genesis 2:15 and elsewhere that God appointed Adam and his descendants as stewards of creation. A steward is one who is appointed by his or her superior to manage a household or property to which the superior holds title.  DeWitt asserts that conservation and stewardship are both empowered by a commitment to serve with creation.  Furthermore, the steward of God’s creation recognizes that he or she is not only called to serve with creation but to do so out of a commitment to serve with the Creator God Himself.

Our three-part series in Oikonomia will consider conservation and creation stewardship from the perspective of Judeo-Christian teaching in Scripture.  Specifically, we will consider what it means (a) to serve with God, the Creator and Sustainer of Earth, (b) to serve with creation out of a knowledge of the ecological relationships we understand from science, and (c) to serve with our neighbor, given that our stewardship of God’s creation will always impact not only creation but also our neighbor.   

My thesis for Part 1 is that while many today have a deep sense of caring for the Earth in the face of possible human destruction, God’s plan is moving toward a second judgment, one that will lead eventually to a New Earth as part of His plan to bring reconciliation and resurrection to all who have accepted Christ’s sacrifice for sin.  As Randy Alcorn teaches, Jesus Christ died to secure for us a resurrected life on a resurrected Earth (Heaven, p 131; Tyndall House, 2004).   Those who accept this claim about the future of Earth and mankind should view conservation in a different light.  That is, we should recognize that every act that is intended to do good toward the Earth should be done with the reality that unless the contributor has individually reconciled with God and accepted His atonement for sin, he or she is on a path to eternal Hell.  Meanwhile, the Earth has a much brighter future in spite of its current groaning under the weight of sin (Rom. 8: 19-22).  But how do we balance or reconcile these two legitimate priorities—concern for individuals needing reconciliation with God; and, exercise of our responsibility to be stewards of Earth as part of our dominion mandate from God?

The Bible teaches us that God created the universe (Gen. 1:1) and granted to humans alone the privilege of exercising dominion over creation to serve Him in part through serving and keeping creation (Genesis 1: 28; 2: 15).  The great theme of Scripture is the unfailing love of God for His creation and for all of mankind.  God’s desire for fellowship with mankind is expressed in the creation of Adam and Eve whom He invited into perfect communion with Him in the Garden of Eden.  We understand that Adam and Eve did walk with and serve with God for a period of time (Gen. 2: 28: 3: 8-9).

The metaphor of walking with God is presented throughout Scripture to describe the intimate communion God desires with anyone who will return His love in obedient submission.  Enoch (Gen. 5: 22, 24), Noah (Gen. 6:9), and Abraham as well as other patriarchs (Gen. 48:15) walked with God.  Their faith and obedience faltered at times but was hinged upon God’s revelation of His covenant plan to them—a plan that would ultimately result in descendents as many as “the sand of the sea” (Gen. 32: 12).

When I think of the Enoch, Noah, and the patriarchs, I think of the list of giants of the faith in Hebrews 11.  My reaction:  Who am I to compare with these giants?  Yet, the Apostle James challenges us to walk with God as the giants like Elijah did, saying, Elijah was a man with a nature [just] like ours… (James 5: 17).  Each of the “heroes of faith” is just like us.  And, just like them, when God calls us to a life of obedience, He expects us to respond by understanding and following His leading.  Thus, Noah was warned of coming judgment and he constructed the ark (Heb. 11: 7).  And Abraham was called to go out to a land God would provide for him and his descendants (Heb. 11: 8).  

God has done more than call us to walk with Him.  He even puts within our hearts the capacity to know and believe in Him-- because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them (Rom. 1: 19-20).   While all living cells, microbes, and plants can respond in predictable ways to God’s provision of warmth, water, nutrients, and light, these forms of life are incapable of higher level thinking that shows an ability to take responsibility for their survival through complex behavior that anticipates future challenges.  Only certain animals including humans can build safe shelters to protect them and their young against predators or other danger; or, store food during the favorable seasons so that they have a supply during the unfavorable season.  But mankind is the only creature of God capable of abstract reasoning.  Humans can imagine events thousands of miles away or build mathematical models that enable them to travel or send spacecraft to the moon or other planets.  Above all, God has given humans the capacity through faith to believe in Him, to understand His redemptive plan for mankind and His creation, and to walk in obedience to that plan.

Genesis 3 records how Satan deceived Adam and Eve by successfully tempting them to believe that their  walk with God would be more intimate if they would eat of the forbidden fruit and thus obtain a fuller (or “higher”) knowledge of God (Gen. 3: 5).  But instead, when they ate from the tree, they wanted to hide their nakedness and hide from God because of sin, guilt, and shame.  For the first time, their obedient walk with God was broken and they sensed that something was deeply wrong as they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8).  And, for the first time, the great God-given capacity of humans to walk with God and serve with God was turned to walk away from God, hide from Him, and to serve human interests. 

In spite of the infinite gulf which sin and the fall of mankind created between a holy God and sinful man, all humans still have the capacity for intellectual reasoning, a universal sense of what is right and wrong, and a tendency to react when moral standards have been violated.  C.S. Lewis has explained in Mere Christianity that there exists a common or universal morality known throughout all of humanity.  This “Universal Morality” or “Law of Nature” is expressed as a standard for behavior to which each person expects others to adhere.

In spite of the effects of sin and its curse on mankind and the whole creation, we have retained our reasoning ability but it is often distorted.  Romans 1: 21-22 states that we have become futile in our speculations and our foolish heart is darkened.    When we profess to be wise but we are actually fools.  Adam and Eve reasoned that they could use green fig leaves to make clothing to cover their nakedness and shame (Gen. 3: 7).   When Abel sought to walk with God and express his obedience through a better sacrifice, his brother Cain turned from God in anger and killed Abel (Gen. 4: 8; Heb. 11: 4).

Individual sin against God had brought grief to Adam’s family and, within several generations. Genesis 6: 5 records that every intent of the thoughts of [the human] heart was only evil continually.  God used the obedience of Noah and his family to spare the human race and the land-dwelling creatures from judgment. 

After the flood, God renewed His charge to humankind to exercise dominion and stewardship over the Earth, and He offered His covenant that He would not again judge the Earth with water (Gen. 9: 11).  The Book of Revelation describes the next worldwide judgment on God’s calendar which will also lead to a New Heaven and a New Earth.  We learn from the account of Noah that that (a) God is serious about judging sin,  (b) has a great love for humankind and His other creatures, and (c) is capable of altering planet Earth in a major way and yet is able to restore in modified form the Earth’s biosphere.  Yet within a few generations, sin had infected the institution of government as we read of the attempt to construct a tower to reach heaven in defiance of God because they sought to make for [themselves] a name (Gen. 11: 4).

And so, reading the Bible from Genesis to Revelation will reveal two opposing themes. God’s faithful love, justice, and mercy in the face of human rebellion versus the human attempt to build a society that glorifies mankind without God.   Although human reason remains intact, it is corrupted by sin.  Therefore, unless we apply a biblical worldview (filter) to our current sin-cursed state and the cursed state of creation, we cannot walk with our Creator.  Amos 3:3 rightly asks, Can two walk together, except they be agreed?  Anyone who wants their lifestyle of stewardship of the Earth to be a part of their walk with their Creator will be missing God’s mark if they do not understand from Scripture that God’s heart is broken over sinful man and the effects of sin on His creation.  There are several reasons why our walk would not be in step with God . 

First, epistemologically, we err and do not walk with God when we refuse to build our basis for knowing and judging truth claims on a biblical foundation.  For example, we err ontologically when we deny God’s special creation of a literal Adam and Eve.  Such denial would undermine belief in the uniqueness of humankind.  Some who view humans as just another evolved creature would solve Earth’s environmental problems by denying mankind dominion over creation and giving nonhuman creatures “equal rights” with humans; or viewing humankind as a blight or plague on the Earth as several Hollywood productions such as the movie Noah recently teach.

Theologically, we do not walk with God if we deny individual accountability for sin which Scripture teaches began with the “first Adam” and is atoned for by the “Second Adam”, Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:45; 1 Tim. 2:13).  It is possible to be active in conservation or “creation care” and do some good for the Earth.  But unless we walk with God in agreement, we will not understand that we are individually accountable to Him and responsible for the curse of sin and resultant groaning of creation that He now hears (Rom. 8: 19-22).

Failure to walk with God in agreement with His Word can lead to a failure to distinguish actions we should take as stewards out of an individual accountability to God as opposed to our giving unwise support to national or multinational bodies that claim to have the best interest of the Earth in mind but who are simply playing politics for gain of power and wealth.  For example, the wise steward who walks with God and abides in the Truth of His Word will be a diligent student of the current climate change debate—asking telling questions.  How valid are the scientific data?  What are objective, qualified scientists now concluding about climate change?  What are causes of ambiguity in the debate?  How practical are proposed solutions?  Who stands to gain or lose? 

In conclusion Christians in conservation are called to be stewards of God’s creation by wisely applying the gifts, talents, and opportunities available to them.  Actions must be based on good theology, good science, and a commitment to do what will provide the most good for both creation and the most people.  Above all, we should not forget the urgent need to present the Gospel to our fallen neighbors who are in far more immediate danger than the Earth if they have not heard of the coming judgment for their sin. 

In Article #2 on the theme of "Serving With Our Creator," we will consider the necessity of a child-like humility in which we submit to God through confession of sin as a basis for spiritual regeneration. As spiritually regenerate children of God, we can then "serve with" God and creation in a manner that reflects a humble, teachable spirit with which He is pleased.

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