In Genesis 1-2 we find a beautiful poetic narrative full of imagery, sights, sounds, colors, light . . . wonder. Here, at the beginning of the Story, we also find the starting point for some of the deepest and most enduring questions of the human condition: How did we get here? Who am I? Is there a God? Why am I alive? Do I even matter? What is the purpose of life?
Bible-believing Christians may draw different conclusions about the scriptural genre and interpretation of Genesis 1-2. For some it is a literal, historical, scientific account describing exactly how God created this earth. For others, it is a divinely-inspired literary, historical, symbolic, and poetic description of critical theological ideas and ultimate Truth. (If you’re unfamiliar with this literary interpretation of Genesis 1-2, you can read more about it from pastor and author Tim Keller here.) And for some, it’s somewhere in between — understood as partly literal/scientific and partly literary/symbolic.
Whatever one’s view of the scriptural genre of Genesis 1-2, however, all who uphold Scripture’s authority and primacy in our lives can find compelling common ground and agreement in the call God immediately placed upon humanity from the very start: to “rule over” and “subdue” the earth and it’s creatures (Genesis 1:26, 28). It’s restated in Genesis 2 as the first man’s first job in the Garden: to “work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15).
And how ought humans do so? Should we “rule” as sin and selfishness entice us to? Should we model ourselves after the rulership of many human kings and leaders—domination, power-grabbing, destruction, self-centeredness, greed? Is it all about taking what we want when we want it?
We find a clear and sonorous answer to this question before we even ask it. Right smack dab in the middle of God tasking humanity to rule and subdue the earth is this statement: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). The charge to rule, to subdue, and later to work and to care, all must be interpreted through this framework: We are made in God’s image and meant to reflect God’s character.
So what is God’s rulership like? If we are to mirror that image in our lives (including our stewardship of earth), then what is God’s character that we are to reflect? How does God himself rule and care for the earth and all his creatures (including us)? In what ways ought we pattern our stance toward the created world after his?
Scripture is full of answers, from Genesis to Revelation. In terms of the stewardship of this beautiful world that God made, sustains, and reveals himself through, we can reflect God’s character in our stewardship: faithfulness, wisdom, gratitude, creativity, ingenuity, sustainable use rather than destructive use, frugality rather than waste, peacemaking, generosity, faithfulness, joy, blessing and goodness, self-control, redemption rather than destruction, and so much more.
God gave us this earth both to steward and to use its resources. So part of stewardship certainly is enjoying the ongoing gifts of this planet that sustain and bless us. This can and ought to involve industry, harnessing energy, scientific discovery, making things from earth’s resources (craftsmanship, manufacturing, etc.), eating and drinking from earth’s bounty, and so on! But, for the Christian, the manner in which we do all of these activities ought to align with Scripture’s call for us to reflect the character of God.
Do you believe that God has called you to be a caretaker of his created world? How might God be leading you to pray and think about your role as a steward of his very good gift? How is God calling you through his Word today?