“We of this generation are the stewards of the land in which we live. The next generation will call upon us to give an account of our stewardship.” Anonymous
Whose responsibility is it to care for the environment and the natural realm surrounding us? Can environmental concerns be considered as part of human spirituality regardless of our religious affiliation? Put more blatantly, should Christians care about the manner in which the environment is managed?
Looking at the Bible, it is clear that the first responsibility human kind was given was to take care of the environment within which the human race lives. In the Bible we are told that “…the LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it,” (Genesis 2:15). Placing this responsibility on the shoulders of the first woman and man set the tone for the responsibility which would be vested in all Christians, and indeed all members of the human race, to care for mother earth.
The Scriptures and Human Stewardship
The canonical instruction as to the manner in which the environment is to be taken care of according to the verse quoted above directs us to think of the role of a steward. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, a steward is “a person whose job is to protect or is responsible for money, property, take care of, [or] to manage land and property of another person”, see also Psalm 24:1. While thinking about stewardship, it is proper that we think through the main guiding principles to be able to offer services worthy of the stewardship role. Good stewardship considers the creation of value, the sustained order and purpose of the property, and the future effects of proper or bad stewardship. In the latter, lies the connection between human spirituality and environmental stewardship.
Spread throughout the Christian scriptures is the instruction to practice good stewardship by being caretakers or managers of nature. The word “steward” and “stewardship” – which can also be translated to mean manager or servant – is used throughout the Old and New Testaments of the Bible (Genesis 15:2; Genesis 44:1; 1 Chronicles 28:1; Matthew 20:8; 1 Corinthians 4:2; Luke 12:42; Luke 16:1-2). Being a good steward requires faithfulness, wisdom and a responsible attitude. The main concern of a steward revolves around meeting daily basic needs and not harvesting excessively. It is important for stewards to shun wastefulness and maintain self-control, thus following the instructions given by the owner, the origin of all beings. This has a reward (Luke 12:42- 46). Gandhi in his writings put it simply as, “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.”
Activity against nature and human wellbeing
Similar to what the scriptures tell us about the disconnect and disaster that occurred between the Creator and human race’s first Biblical ancestors (Genesis 3:1 – 24) is the situation human kind faces with its unending desire for excellence [commodities? material possessions?] in life. The mode of production of knowledge and wealth are always pushing the boundaries of human existence. One of the most impacted realities is Mother Earth. Human habitation and the subsistence environment has been abused by multinational corporations’ activities, particularly, by mining and hydroelectric power projects which claim massive parcels of land. One of the tragic truths of our day, as it was in the days of Adam and Eve, is that it takes only a fraction of the world’s population to trigger disaster.
The desire to accumulate wealth by a few has led to improper management of the habitation of both human and non-human beings including the plant world. In what could be said to be taking the creation order found in Genesis 1: 26 and 28 too far, humankind acts with impunity toward the environment. This poor stewardship has allowed the original functions of natural systems to be degraded or ruined. The results of this are seen in high levels of environmental pollution and unending wars, strife and population displacement. The impact of this impunity spreads to other inhabitants of Mother Earth, including plants.
At this point I believe that many of us are struggling and may be asking questions such as, who should be blamed for such crimes against the environment and all that dwell in it? This is a difficult question to deal with but one thing I can say for certain is that the globalised mode of production takes a larger share of the blame. It suffices also to say that the structures of governance have been eroded. A few countries have dominated sociopolitical, economic and environment spheres with their agendas leaving the majority of the world’s population helpless and in want. Unfortunately, a number of us fall into the latter category.
Is there anything that any of us caught in this complex situation can do? Certainly! Each one of us has the responsibility to share our experiences and educate others about the atrocities we have experienced. Through sharing and public witness, we call upon our fellow human beings to join forces to protect our environment and in return protect the earth’s inhabitants.