Thankful Stewardship of Creation's Resources
One of the dominant themes in modern western culture is "Take care of BIG Number ONE! If I don't watch out for myself, who will? This consumptive, self-centered mind runs squarely into the whole question of "Who am I?" and "Why am I here?" Everyone has heard the story of the German philosopher asleep on a Berlin park bench who was asked by a policeman: "Who in the world are you? And what in the world are you doing here?" to which the philosopher replied with great perplexity: "I wish I knew!"
We want to address these questions: Who are you? And what are you doing here?
Who are you? You are a steward, an image-bearer of God, created in His likeness to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.
Why are you here? You are here to give thankful stewardship to the One who is the master, who has placed us here on this earth to "occupy" until He returns. We are here to enjoy what He has made, to examine it, to develop its potential, to bring all of it under the lordship of Jesus Christ.
This calling is based on the doctrine of creation, especially the creation of man in the image and likeness of God to whom was given the "cultural mandate" to subdue the earth, to have dominion over all that God has made: the land, the sea, the air, the natural resources, the animals, the fish and the birds in order to confess "O Lord our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!" (Psalm 8:1).
The Lord has protected this responsibility by giving the commandment, "You shall not steal." In this command God tells us that we are stewards of all He has given and we must work with it to bring out all of its potential. We are not to take what belongs to another, but we are to do whatever we can for our neighbor's good. We treat others as we would like them to treat us, and we work faithfully so that we may share with those in need.
This month we will be looking at thankful stewardship of our natural resources, our talents, our time and our money. It is our prayer that we may so live that the confession of Psalm 8 may be actualized in our lives.
That joyful song of Creation, Psalm 104, teaches that the work of God brings water to beasts of the field, makes grass grow for the cattle, and gives plants for people to cultivate. It teaches that the earth is satisfied by the fruit of God's work. And our daily living confirms this truth as we walk God's fruitful Creation — reaping abundant harvests, observing productive forests and prairies, enjoying endless waves of migrating birds. God's work is fruitful. Creation is fruitful!
The fruitfulness — the resourcefulness — of God and God's Creation receives our repeated doxology: "Praise God all creatures here below." We and all creatures are tended by our Provider; we are cared for on good pasture and clear water.
Thanksgiving for our Lord's care and Creation's fruitfulness is every creature's daily joy: "Let the heavens rejoyce, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is within it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them" (Ps. 96:11-12). We sing with grateful thanksgiving: "Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!"
Creation's Praise Diminished
Yet, today we find Creation's thankful praise being diminished and strained. Our blessed expectation that all creatures here below can bring God praise — expressed in our singing of the doxology — is shaken by the daily extinguishing of those very creatures that praise their Creator.
In the night of many cities, the reading of Psalm 19 does not provide the inspiration it clearly is intended to give — for how, beneath a blanket of obscuring smog, can we join with the psalmist to proclaim "The heavens declare the glory of God!" In going their own way people are impoverishing the Creation's ability to declare God's glory. In their exercise of selfish power and profligate wasting of Creation, people are making God's everlasting power and divinity (Romans 1:20; Belgic Confession, Art. II) less clearly seen. Once green with perennial vegetation, pastures of the countryside have been diminished as the cattle of a thousand hills have been removed off the land. Once quiet and still with ecological health, waters of streams and ponds have gained a disquieting turbulence as they bear their wasteful loads. Creation's evangelical testimony is increasingly smogged and muted. Creation's song of praise — its testimony — is being impoverished by insatiable, grasping hands and machines.
These are times of going for everything we can get. In so doing we say, "we're looking out for number one." By "number one," incredibly, we mean self, not God! It has not been enough for us to feed on good pasture; we have destroyed it. It has not been enough for us to drink pure water; we have polluted it. The creatures, whose preservation was commanded by God (Genesis 6:19), are now extinguished three species each day; the Cedars of Lebanon whittled down to twelve small groves, tropical forests the size of Indiana removed every year. House is added to house and field is added to field and we become the sole occupants of the Land (cf. Isaiah 5:8). God's creatures are relentlessly displaced and diminished. It is to fewer and fewer species in the diminishing diversity of God's Creation that we now sing our doxology: "Praise God all creatures here below." We ask God's creatures to praise their Maker even while we wipe them off the face of earth. God keeps providing and doing wonders in Creation, and human beings keep going their own way. Our Maker reminds us through Creation and by the Word to respond with gratitude to Number One; but human beings keep looking out for "number one." Disciples of the first Adam say "seek first yourself, and everything will become good." The Second Adam says "seek first the Kingdom."
What do we say to this thankless user-ship? To this self-directed abuse of Creation? Disciples of the Second Adam say this: As our Creator tends us and all Creation, so must we tend the Garden. As God keeps us, so must we keep the Creation (Genesis 2:15). Imaging our Sustainer, we must sustain Creation. Reflecting our Redeemer, we must also reconcile all things, even as we pray "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth…" As disciples of the Second Adam, we undo the degrading work of the first Adam and do the things Adam was supposed to do. Our discipleship is one of thankful stewardship — it is so living on earth that heaven will not be a shock to us!
We know such thankful stewardship to be a right expression of our love, respect, and gratitude to our Creator, Provider and Redeemer. We know this to be a proper response to our heartfelt desire to live lives of thankfulness to the One by Whom all things were made. God's expectation of Adam and Adam's descendants in their "dressing and keeping" the Garden (Genesis 2:15) is God's expectation of us. While invited to enjoy the fruits of God's Creation, we are warned not to diminish or destroy Creation's fruitfulness.
Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet?Ezekiel 34:18
Ours is not to trample the earth or muddy the waters; ours is to be thankful and caring keepers of Creation — even as we enjoy its fruitfulness.
Our thankful stewardship is one in which we are expected to bear fruit, imaging God's fruitfulness. We are asked together with the living creatures of the sea and the birds of the air to be fruitful (Genesis 1:22, 28). Fruitfulness and fullness for Creation — for the whole of Creation — is God's intent and design. Human fruitfulness and fullness — mandated to sinless Adam and Eve — must not be at the expense of Creation or of other creatures. We provide, as God does, space and sustenance for the creatures, room for the creatures. Imaging God, it is ours to assure that the whole of Creation remains fruitful — that it is enabled to proclaim continuous thanksgiving to God its Maker. "Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land" (Isaiah 5:8), warn the Scriptures. Ours is not to diminish Creation's fruitfulness. Ours is to foster it.
Thankful stewardship! A joyful calling! The land and its creatures have been entrusted to us by their Creator. Creation remains God's (Psalm 24:1), but God trusts us with it! For this trust in us we give our Creator thanks; for this trust in us we respond as faithful stewards. Thankful stewardship is our joyful vocation! As the Lord keeps His people, so we keep the earth and its creatures. As an art curator keeps the masterpieces of a master artist, so we keep the masterpieces of our Creator. Our keeping is not mere keeping — it is a loving, caring keeping. It is a keeping that lovingly uses, restores and preserves Creation. It is a keeping of Creation's fruitfulness. Such keeping is actualized gratitude; it is realized praise; it is thankful Christian stewardship.
In our thankful stewardship, imaging our Sustainer, we sustain Creation. Thus we are expected, for ourselves and the creatures under our care, to observe the sabbath days. So too are we to give the land its sabbath years (Exodus 20, 23; Leviticus 25-26). The sabbath day, the sabbath year, and the year of Jubilee — are required not to meet some legalistic rule, but, as Jesus taught us, for the restoration of ourselves, other people, other creatures, and the land — for their enjoyment of the fruitfulness of God's Creation.
We know from Scripture that early on we became disciples of the first Adam — the one who chose to go his own way — the one who chose to break through the boundaries of Creation to achieve things "bigger than life." But Scripture's admonition is not to follow this leader. Rather, it is to follow the Second Adam, Jesus Christ. It is Jesus who provides the example of thankful Christian stewardship — of sinless dominion. His is not an oppressive, degrading, destructive subjection of people and Creation. He shows us by life and example the meaning of dominion as stewardship. Honoring God, healing the broken, and respecting Creation, He takes "the very nature of a servant" (Philippians 2:7); Christ's stewardship is a sinless, serving, stewardship that flows from the One by Whom all things are created, in Whom all things hold together, and by Whom all things are reconciled. Christ's stewardship serves, restores, and reconciles all things. And thus, Christian stewardship also serves, restores, and reconciles all things.
In this magnificently fruitful Creation, we are to image Creation's Sustainer, giving thanks to God and being disciples of Jesus Christ. It is as disciples of our Master Steward that our lives in Creation can be lives of stewardly service — lives of thankfulness as we sustain and enjoy the fruitfulness of Creation. It is as disciples of Jesus that our thankfulness breaks forth with preserving, healing and restoring Creation's resourcefulness. Living lives of gratitude before our Lord we live lives of thankful stewardship of the world God has made. Thankful stewardship of Creation is our worthy calling. Thankful stewardship is our grateful praise!