by Maurice Hamel
"let us make man in our image ... and let them rule over... all the creatures"
We tend to assume that nature, as we see it, accurately reflects God's original design for his "good" creation, and therefore that everything in nature is an accurate picture of God's character. But nature was impacted by the curse pronounced during Adam's fall from Eden in Genesis 3. So then, if our view of nature does not include what the Bible teaches, we will have a distorted picture of its original design and of what God, its designer, is really like.
Consider how the Bible illustrates what happens when we apply imperfect knowledge to our interpretation of reality. The response Jesus gave to the Sadducees in Mark 12:18-27 was to point out the misconception that their question was based upon. They asked him which of her husbands a woman would be married to in heaven, if she had been widowed several times. Jesus told them, "Are you not in error because you do not know the Scripture or the power of God?" He then described to them things that the Scripture taught which could not be discerned by their observations of the world around them. The basic principle here is that a knowledge of Scripture is necessary for proper understanding.
Applying this concept to our relationship to the environment, we tend to forget that even though we are part of nature, the Bible tells us that are different from the rest of it. This difference is more than just the fact that mankind was separated from the creation through the Fall or that we are able to affect our environment far more than any of the other creatures. We have been different from the beginning. The historical record of the Scriptures tells us that following the creation of all the other creatures, God said "let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the wild animals and over all the creatures that move along the ground." (Gen. 1:26) We must understand that to view ourselves as merely on small piece of nature is denying the obvious fact that God has placed us in a position of responsibility to care for his creation. We are not just a participant with no greater value than the rest. We are the keepers of the creation.
A friend tells a story of how when she was a young child, she sat on the back step of her house watching a frog in the yard with fascination. It was not fleeing from her, resting only a few feet away. Then, without warning, a snake sprung upon the frog and swallowed it whole. The startled child began screaming. The sanctity of the peaceful creation had been defiled. Her momentary pet had been reduced to being a meal for an aggressor. She had been right there, but was powerless to rescue her little companion.
Her reaction seems normal enough for a child. But if this was simply part of God's good creation, why would we think that someone with an innocent young mind would react with such horror? Did our heavenly Father purposely design a world where his creatures would live in terror? Of course not! She reacted in this way because she was still mentally operating in the innocence of Eden. This event was part of her education concerning the effects of the Fall. Unlike adults who have become calloused over time, who watch violence on television for entertainment, she still reacted as one whose view of the world was pristine.
Throughout nature we see creatures stalking and consuming each other and we call it "nature's balance." We try to be noble in our squeamishness, saying this was God's "good" design to provide food to his creatures. There is a reason that the bloodshed in nature is abhorrent to us. But it does not stem from our sense of vulnerability. It is not merely a distant memory of what some suppose our ancestors experienced living in caves and hiding from predators for a million years. It is much more simple than that. We are the stewards of this creation. Our "memory" is that of being responsible for the care and safety of these creatures. We feel a sense of horror over our inability to be the shepherd our hearts desire to be. As stewards over God's creation, we have been given the ability to work the land and to care for its creatures. This means we have great creative potential for causing the creation to blossom and be fruitful.
God placed Adam in the Garden and instructed him to tend it. Imagine the wealth of knowledge that was imparted to Adam, the steward, during his daily walks through the Garden with God, the Creator. (Gen. 3:8) Picture Adam and Eve as graduate students of a master-gardener college professor. They had an advanced ability to comprehend the world they were placed in and had access to the Creator's experience and knowledge. They were equipped in ways that made them perfectly suited for their roles as caretakers of the creation. They were then instructed to "be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth" (Gen 1:28), indicating that their descendants would apply this stewardship to more than just the localized garden where they were placed.
In contrast, those tending the world today are merely grade school students. Having lost our intimate communication with the Creator, we lack understanding and have no one with the knowledge and experience to show us how things should be done. The earth has not prospered under our stewardship. Our impaired judgment has rendered our care for nature to be at best a process of trial and error. Today many have the view that nature is better off in its wild state, and that anytime man touches nature we do it harm.
If we are to once again be the caretakers we were meant to be, we must begin by applying the basic concepts given to us in the Scriptures. Without that we will not be able to understand and correctly use the stewardship skills and opportunities that we have been given.
© Maurice Hamel
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