Rev. Dr. Niveen Ibrahim Sarras
Environmental Stewardship: Genesis 1:26-31
August 14, 2022
We heard on the news about unprecedented heat in the United States, floods in the state of Kentucky, and wildfires in California. We can no longer only talk about environmental stewardship on Earth Day; we should discuss it more. The creation story in the book of Genesis describes how God loves the world and our responsibility towards it. Let us explore the text today.
- Then God said, "Let us make humans in our image, according to our likeness…So God created humans in his image,
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
According to God's image, Imago Dei means we are being fashioned as God's physical representatives on this planet. We are the embodiment of God's sovereignty on earth and are appointed as God's custodians and stewards over the world.
- Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over the cattle and over all the wild animals of the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.
Because we are God's representatives on earth, God commands us to “have dominion over,” "take possession of" and "rule" all of God's creation. We are not owners of the earth but stewards and renters. God entrusted us to manage and take care of the planet earth. So, we are not entirely free to do with it as we wish. Genesis 2: 15 explains the purpose of human creation, "The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it." Hence, our purpose is to cultivate and take care of the land and everything God created, not to abuse them for profit or pleasure. God empowers humans to care for the earth as God does in love.
Do you think we follow God’s command to care for the planet? Some of us do, but the majority don't. Human activities pollute the land and water. "The causes of freshwater pollution are varied and include industrial wastes, sewage, runoff from farmland, cities, and factory effluents, and the build-up of sediment. Emissions from factories and vehicles are released into the air." The result is excessive heat, hurricanes, wildfires, and floods.
We have a global ecological crisis, which leads to an increase in "migration, food insecurity due to changing agricultural landscapes, national security issues, and health problems." The global ecological crisis is spiritual too. When we have a good relationship with God, we have a good relationship with the earth and animals. How did we violate God's commandment to take care of the animals?
- We put "Four or more egg-laying hens are packed into a battery cage, a small wire enclosure that none can spread her wings. Being held in such close confines, the hens peck at each other's feathers and bodies.
- We force pregnant sows to spend their pregnancies confined to a gestation crate—a metal enclosure scarcely wider and longer than the sow herself. Unable to turn around, sows develop abnormal behaviors and suffer leg problems and skin lesions.
- We confine growing pigs to slatted, bare, concrete floors. Stressed by crowding and boredom, they frequently bite and inflict wounds upon their pen mates.
- In factory dairies, cows spend their entire lives confined to concrete. To boost production, some cows are injected with the growth hormone rBGH or rBST, which increases a cow's likelihood of developing lameness and mastitis, a painful infection of the udder."
In 1999 "A European Union scientific committee had evidence to show that a growth hormone used in U.S. cattle production is a "complete carcinogen and warned that other hormones could cause a variety of health problems." Despite the FDA’s disagreement with the EU, the EU insists on importing only food and meat labeled with non-genetic modifications from the USA. We are not only harming the animals and polluting the air and the water, but we are also harming ourselves.
For example, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is on the rise. Dr. Selah Naser of the University of Central Florida found a link between autism and consuming processed foods during pregnancy. Other scientists found a link between processed foods and dementia and cancer. What are we doing to ourselves?
Someone might challenge me by quoting (Gen. 1:26), God created us according to God's image to "have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth." My answer is yes. Still, I do not understand God’s command to mean abuse God's creatures and the earth. Subdued and dominion means accepting our responsibility to take dominion over the earth and to be a part of preserving, sustaining, and caring for the earth and all God's creatures.
- God said, "See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the air and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food."
God is inviting us to share with the animals what the earth produces. God did not create the earth to feed humans alone but also all of God's creatures. That means I need to preserve the forests, valleys, and wildernesses that the animals depend on for food. I shouldn't destroy these places for my profit.
Is there any hope?
Of course, there is hope. God is still working in this world. Jesus Christ died for us and showed us how we should live for each other and seek the well-being of our neighbor and the welfare of God's creatures because God loves the world, which includes humans, nature, birds, and all animals.
Dialogue is already underway in our nation and our Church. Public concern is growing; some public policy is shifting, and private behavior is beginning to change. From broader participation in recycling to negotiating international treaties, people are searching for ways to make a difference on behalf of the environment. The ELCA takes environmental stewardship seriously. For example, our seminaries offer courses about ecology and Christian worship, ecology and theology, and environmental sustainability. Every one of us can take small steps to be a better environmental steward. Do not undermine your small steps.