The cultural mandate of Christians, found in the Genesis story, is to care for, tend to, and cultivate the earth. However, many of us have gravely misunderstood the implications of power and the Imago Dei (divine image) that we bear. It’s blatantly evident in the way natural resources are exploited, animal species are hunted to extinction, the climate crisis grows worse every single day, and the land is continuously raped for the sake of consumption and greed. Bearing God’s image doesn’t mean that we humans are given the authority to lord power over the rest of creation, assuming our own authority.
Ahh. There it is. Assuming our own authority.
Remember that tree in Genesis 3, the one the first humans were told not to eat of? When they tasted the fruit, it was not just their disobedience that broke their covenant with God. It was their autonomy. Autonomy; a Greek word. Autos: self. Nomos: govern or rule. See, the problem with autonomy is that it makes us think we get to be God. It would have us believe (and act) as if OUR rights, OUR wants, OUR needs, OUR desires, OUR plans are more important than anyone or anything else’s. It tells us “me first!” and “mine first!” and even “America first!” and grossly perverts our calling to be God’s image-bearers in the world.
We humans are surely not nearly as important as we think we are. That’s the bad news. The good news is that there’s hope for us yet.
Here’s the thing: I really do believe in us. Some might tell me that I’m being naive. Silly. Simple-minded. And maybe they’re right. I could be wrong; Lord knows I don’t have all the answers, let alone most of them. But I’m willing to be wrong. I’m willing to stake my life on the fact that humans are inherently good because I know that Genesis 1 and my tov’ness (tov: Hebrew: good) came before Genesis 3.
Maybe I’m wrong. But I’d rather live like I believe I’m right because it is precisely that belief that propels me to work for restoration in my here-and-now life. Creation care is not just a political talking point but actually part of my responsibility as a believer in Christ. Things like reducing waste and my family’s use of single use plastics, growing my own garden to shorten the food supply chain, and walking more and driving less are all examples of how I am working to lessen my carbon footprint. Why do I care about that? Well, simply put, because I believe the earth matters. By taking care of it and stewarding it well, I am being obedient to God. I am also partnering with God in God’s redemptive work in the world. Salvation belongs to God alone, of course, but as God’s children, we are invited to participate in that.
Additionally, that participation is not limited to caring for the earth. Since I believe God is working to bring redemption to all things, it would only make sense that this belief will affect all things. It affects how I vote; I choose candidates whose policies promise to uplift and care for the most marginalized in our society, for I believe God has a special concern for them. It affects my relationships and how I conduct myself in the world, seeking to live at peace with all and to harm none. It affects what I choose to spend money on, as I opt to support businesses that give back to communities and the world instead of hoarding profits.
Can you imagine what this world could look like if we all stopped trying to be our own little gods?