Today is Earth Day with an emphasis on the environment. I prefer to think of environmental concerns as care for creation. God gave human beings both rulership over creation and responsibility for creation. Both are necessary to keep a proper perspective on “green” living and stewardship of the planet.
Here is an excerpt from a sermon on Psalm 8 that discusses these issues more fully. You can read the full text of the message here: Our Place in Creation.
God made man ruler over all creation. As David writes in Psalm 8: “You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.” (Psalm 8:6-8) God made man the ruler over all creation – over all the animals on the ground, over all the birds in the air, over all the fish of the sea.
Does that mean that man can do whatever he wants with creation? The answer is no, because as image bearers of God, our rule over the created world should reflect God’s wise rule over his creation.
We read in Genesis 2:15: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” The verbs here are very significant. The word translated “work” is the Hebrew word for “serve.” The word translated “take care” is a word that means “to keep, to guard, to watch over and protect.” In other words, man is not to be a tyrant ruler over creation, but a servant leader over creation. God gave man the stewardship of the earth, to serve the land and take care of it under God’s care. God gave man both rulership and responsibility.
This is where so many groups get it wrong concerning the environment today. When it comes to the creation, God gave man both rulership and responsibility. If you leave out one or the other, you are going to be out of balance. If you leave out responsibility, you get the view that the world is ours to do with as we please and so it is okay if we trash it. That is not a biblical view of the environment. If you leave out rulership, then you get the view that man is on the same level as the rest of creation. This is not a biblical view of the environment either. This view gives just as much importance to a spotted frog as to a new-born baby. And that’s just not right.
An even more extreme version of this view would be the type of environmentalism that worships the planet instead of God who created the planet. In this extreme, the planet actually rules over man, instead of man ruling over the planet. Notice we are not to worship the earth but to take care of it. The Christian cares for the earth because God created it, and because God gave us the responsibility to take care of it. And that is where Christian environmentalism is so radically different from much environmentalism today
It is important to note that these final verses in Psalm 8 are applied specifically to Jesus in the New Testament. (see 1 Corinthians 15:24-27; Hebrews 2:5-9) We have been crippled in our attempts to fulfill our rightful place in the world because of sin. But Jesus came as the perfect Son of God and perfect son of man to deliver us from sin and to lead us one day to our rightful place as rulers over all creation. Jesus came to restore the creation to its original glory and then give it all back to us. This time we will do it right. This time we will be faithful stewards of God’s creation, rejoicing in the gifts of creation and returning those gifts in thanksgiving and praise back to God. That in fact is your individual place in this world – using the gifts that God has given you to serve God in this world and to bring him glory.