To Work It and Keep It
by Justin Horst
“Judeo-Christian religion encourages exploitation of the environment,” my professor intoned as I sat in lecture. I was attending my Environmental Psychology course like I did three days out of every week, and I took notes as I listened. A slide of Bible verses appeared on the projector screen. “These verses send a very specific message,” my professor said. “In the Bible, the environment is portrayed as a cornucopia of resources, a fountain that will never run dry, something given to us for our unrestricted use.”
I read over the verses as he spoke, and interestingly enough, he didn’t seem to be wrong. Genesis 1:26-28 looked especially indicative of this perspective, with God telling humans to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” After a pause, my professor continued. “There are other religions that take a different approach to this issue. Various Native American religions promote the idea of stewardship, the sense that we are part of the system rather than the rulers over it. In this way, religion can either support environmental sustainability or work against it.”
After lecture was over, I walked across campus considering what I had just heard. It was difficult to believe what my professor had told me, but I didn’t have the information to refute it. I knew that Saint Francis of Assisi was known for caring about nature because of a deep appreciation for God’s creations, but I was unsure if he was following biblical teachings or just his personal feelings on the subject.
Later that night, I met my friend Hannah to study for the upcoming Environmental Psychology final. When we reached the section of my notes where I had written about Christianity and the environment, a frown appeared on Hannah’s face. “He’s wrong about that, you know,” she said, her eyes intense. “Actually, I don’t know,” I replied. “But if you you’d like to share, I’d love to hear about it.”
We took a break from studying and looked at what the Bible had to say about caring for the environment. “Stewardship,” Hannah said, “is encouraged in various parts of the Bible. It can be less obvious than the verses we heard about in class, but that doesn’t make it less important.” She was right. One of the most important examples comes from the very beginning: when God gives Adam the Garden of Eden, a never-ending source of everything Adam needs, He has a stipulation. In Genesis 2:15, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” The garden is not just a gift to be used, it is also a responsibility. God charges Adam with taking care of the garden, to maintain the gift he has received.
I went away from that conversation with a different perspective on my responsibilities as a Christian. I have always done my best to be environmentally friendly, but it had always been a personal choice without a connection to the word of God. Now I realize that I have a responsibility to care for the world I have been given; the earth can be a source of everything I need, but it is not there for me to take everything I want without thinking about the consequences. Instead, it is a garden and I am its steward. The earth is a gift that must be tended and maintained, and I will work it and keep it for the glory of God.