In 1967 Lynn White Jr, professor of history at UCLA, wrote a paper entitled “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis”. In the article he placed the blame for our environmental problems at the feet of every Christian. He argued that because Christians have been taught to have “dominion” (see Genesis 1:28) over the earth we think that we can abuse the world and use it for our own ends, even if it means its destruction. White’s paper was widely read and republished in textbooks and magazines to the extent that, to this day it remains an influence in many people’s thinking about Christianity and ecology.
There is no denying that humanity has abused its dominion over the earth and many Christians view the planet as a temporary stop over on the way to heaven. Our world is seen, by some Christians, as something to be subdued and used for our profit as we make our way to eternal life. But is this what the Bible teaches?
This Sunday we will continue our study of creation in Genesis 1 as it impacts our vision together as a church. And as we study the text we will see very clearly that God never called us to exploit the earth for our own ends. We have been given the mandate to “subdue the earth” and “rule over it” (Genesis 1:28) as a king is called to rule over his people. But nowhere in Scripture are we told that kings can act in any way they like. Nowhere in the Bible are kings told they can use people as they please.
In fact, the exact opposite is true. Kings are constantly charged with the responsibility of caring for the people and protecting them. Psalm 72 gives us a complete picture of the duties of a king and states that he is to “act with righteousness” (verse 2), “defend the afflicted and save the children of the needy” (verse 4), “take pity on the weak… save the needy from death.” (verse 13), and “rescue them from oppression and violence” (verse 14). So our attitude toward the earth is to be the same. We are called to be stewards of the earth, not abusers of the earth.
Francis Schaeffer was one of the first Christian apologists to answer professor White’s complaint in a book entitled, Pollution and the Death of Man: a Christian View of Ecology. Schaeffer writes, “The Christian is called upon to exhibit this dominion, but exhibit it rightly; treating the thing as having value in itself, exercising dominion without being destructive.”1 Hundreds of years earlier John Calvin would interpret dominion to mean “a responsible care and keeping that does not neglect, injure, abuse, degrade, dissipate, corrupt, mar, or ruin the earth.” 2
“Responsible care and keeping”, not oppressive dominion, is the how God calls us to respond to the creation that he has made and declared good.
May God find us faithful in our kingly responsibility.
- Francis Schaeffer, Pollution and the Death of Man: The Christian View of Ecology (Wheaton, IL:Tyndale House, 1970), 72
- John Calvin, commentary on Genesis 2:15 in Commentaries on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis (Grand Rapids: 1948).