What does it mean to be a good steward of God’s creation? The Bible gives us a number of helpful pointers as to what it is that we should do in order to take care of this world. In the first book of the Bible, the book of beginnings, or Genesis, we read how God made the world to be ‘very good’. You may think of the story of creation as a story that seeks to explain the genesis of the universe in picture- language rather than today’s language of science, or as a process that did occur where each of the ‘days’ of creation stands for a much longer period of time than the 12-18 hours that we now call ‘a day’ – after all, does not the Psalmist say that one day in God’s courts is better than a thousand elsewhere?
Whatever your own thought as to how this world came into being, we all can marvel at the ingenuity, the intricacy and the intrinsic excellence of the world in which we live. Our world is a good world, it’s ideal for humans and animals to live; with just the right levels of breathable air in the atmosphere to enable life, with just the right cycles of sunlight and night-time to enable good and consistent growth, with just the right distance of the moon from the earth to create tides that daily replenish our sea shores with algae and micro-organisms. Our world is very good for living. And we, in turn, are commanded to take care of this world that’s good for living, are entrusted with care for this world for the span of our lives, to pass it to the generations that come as a world that continues to be very good for living. That’s the task of stewardship of God’s good creation.
The Bible is very clear what will happen to our world when we don’t exercise our task or take it seriously. When people are motivated by greed, we read in the prophecy of Isaiah, the world suffers. Where people care more about merchandise or profit, than the wellbeing of the world and its peoples, then the world suffers: This is what Isaiah warned God’s people almost three-thousand years ago around 800 BCE: ‘The earth dries up and withers’, the prophet writes, ‘the world languishes and withers, the heavens with the earth. The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants, for they have transgressed laws’ (Isaiah 24.5-6). In the Gospels Jesus again and again addresses the same issue: ‘what will it profit people if they gain the whole world but forfeit their lives?’ he asks provocatively (Matthew 16.26). In his teaching stories, or parables, he reminds his listeners that there is no sense in building bigger and better barns to store our worldly goods, because God may claim our lives at any moment (Luke 12.19). Instead of hoarding treasure for ourselves, we ought to be rich towards God and one another, he tells us. Because ‘where your treasure is, there your heart is also’ (12.34).
How much better would our world be if we saw it not as treasure to be exploited – ‘gems of the mountain and pearls of the ocean, myrrh from the forest, or gold from the mine’ as the Epiphany-tide hymn Brighest and Best of the Sons of the Morning reminds us– but if we looked at it as treasure to be treasured for what it is. The treasure that is the live-able world that’s been made just right for humankind to live in. The treasure that is the miracle of this small blue globe in the darkness of a vast universe. God does not delight in us offering him the treasure that he has made, the hymn continues: ‘vainly we offer each ample oblation, vainly with gifts would his favour secure; richer by far is the heart’s adoration, dearer to God are the prayers of the poor’. Jesus tells us to look at creation and to see God’s care: ‘Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you— you of little faith’ (Luke 12.27-28).
Being a steward of God’s good creation, then, means three things:
- Firstly, regard the world as a treasure in and of itself, not as treasure to be exploited. God does not delight in gifts we have procured from his abundant provision, extracted from mines or hoarded in warehouses. God delights in the gift of ourselves, when we see the real treasure that he has gifted us: the grass of the fields in their splendour, the birds that have no need to sow or reap, the world that he has made very good. See the world as treasure to be treasured for our good and not to be exploited for our gain.
- Secondly, have faith in God’s good provision, and his enabling. God calls on us to have not a ‘little faith’ but a ‘lot of faith’. God does not intend to condemn the world, but to save the world. In order for the world to be saved, people need to come to know him and follow him, shift from a reliance of self to a reliance on him. And the way in which we can make that shift is by turning and believing in the good news that ’God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everybody who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3.16).
- And finally, act on your knowledge and empowered by your faith. ‘Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit’, Jesus tells the people whom he assured that their lives was worth so much more than the beauty of the fields. Stewardship of God’s good creation is never a passive thing 9Luke 12.35-36). It’s an active thing. It requires us to be ready to act—be dressed, be prepared, with lights lit and held high in the darkness of our age—at any moment. It means acting on our faith and being visible. ‘No one puts a lamp in a bucket, but everyone puts it on a lampstand. You are the light of this world’, Jesus tells us (Matthew 5.15). Act on your faith. Be seen, and be heard, and in that way help others come to share the light that God gifts.
Last month, I wrote to our Prime Minister to urge him to take action—the kind of faith-filled action, I have talked about in this reflection—to address the current climate emergency. I have had a letter back from him. He told me that ‘for Australia, it is not a question of if or when we reach net zero, but importantly how’. And he told me about the many economical measures the Commonwealth is adopting in ‘charting our own course to ensure [that] Australia is well placed to prosper in the new energy economy, consistent with strong action on climate change’. The Prime Minister concluded his letter to me by saying that ‘tackling climate change requires an economy-wide approach’.
I am glad and grateful that the Prime Minister took the time to respond to my letter. I would say to him that tackling climate change requires a global, planned and agreed approach that sets clear targets to prevent further damage to our world and reverses the effects of global warming. You can read the Prime Minister’s letter in full on our website. And I encourage you to write to him, and to your local MPs and Senators, to let them know what you feel about the course they propose, and what things you feel needs doing in addition to what’s proposed.
‘Be dressed for action’, Jesus tells us. ‘Strive for God’s kingdom’—the place where folks do not need to worry about clothing, or food, storehouses or barns, because they freely share God’s provision among all: ‘Strive for God’s kingdom and all these things will be given to you as well’. Do not hoard riches and exploit the earth’s resources, but create treasure that lasts: ‘Make for yourselves purses that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is there your heart is also’ (Luke 12.33-34).
God already gifts us all we need for living: A world that’s very good, to support human life and animal life. A faith that sustains our action. A vision that lifts our gaze from selfishness and greed to the good of all. A kingdom that’s lasting, and where all are welcome.
Let us pray.
God our creator,
we praise you for the gift of this world that you have made to be very good,
and thank you for the gift of your Son Jesus Christ,
whom you sent so that it might be saved
from our own selfishness and greed and be made very good again:
we pray now for the gift of resolve and strength
as we play our own part in addressing this climate emergency;
now grant us the gifts of discipline and ingenuity,
of advocacy and action, of creativity and collaboration
to work with people the world over
to ensure the continued flourishing of our planet,
for you are alive and gift the life that lasts, now and forever. Amen.
The Very Revd Dr Andreas Loewe is Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral Melbourne and Fellow and Lecturer at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society