Today is Earth Day, a great opportunity for Christians to confess with the Psalmist, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Ps. 24:1).
An immediate corollary to this confession that the world belongs to God is that whatever we have is entrusted to us by him. We therefore have a responsibility as stewards over those aspects of creation that we have control over, most notably our bodies, souls, and property.
Over at The Federalist, I take on Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s conception of stewardship, particularly as applied in the case of the Keystone pipeline. “Tutu’s depiction aligns with a view of the environment as a pristine wilderness which must be preserved rather than cultivated and developed, and is in this way the antithesis of responsible stewardship,” I argue.
One particularly fruitful discussion of the stewardship responsibility of the Christian is contained in Abraham Kuyper’s reflections on the Eighth Commandment in his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism. We published these remarks in the latest issue of the Journal of Markets & Morality:
What Scripture says about the owner as steward points us in the one and only safe direction, and Christ’s Church abandons her calling if she does not constantly and unceasingly preach and imprint on humankind the holy truth that the Lord God is the only lawful owner, and that no person ever is or can be anything but a steward over a part of that which belongs to God alone.
This conception of stewardship has implications for all kinds of human relationships and activities. In a particularly noteworthy section, Kuyper expounds upon the significance of the human relationship with animals:
God does not as Creator have some things that he keeps with him and others that he places at the farthest edges of his estate. Instead, every object is always present to him, and his divine power works in every object at each and every moment of time. Even when he gives certain earthly possessions to man, he never allows them to leave his hand completely; before and after he keeps the things he created in existence. No man can therefore hold onto them in any other way but as God holds onto them for him, and he can never own anything except under the condition that God’s power remains free and that the law God gave to that object is honored. On his horse, a rider may think that he is lord and master, but God and not he remains the creator of that noble animal. For that reason the rider cannot use the horse in any other way than God willed it; he cannot make his horse do anything but that for which God gave the horse the abilities and skills. The moment God ceases to bear and sustain the life of that animal through his omnipotence, the rider loses his ability to keep that horse as his property. The animal dies, and the rider loses it.
Human property is therefore bound by a kind of natural law, the law of nature particular to different kinds of created things. Horses must be fed, watered, and so on. Gardens must be tended. Houses must be repaired.
In this way human stewardship is a call to a responsible kind of agency, one which develops the creation according to the will of its Creator. That is a truth worth remembering this Earth Day.
Addressing topics ranging from the family to work, politics, and the church, Jordan J. Ballor shows how the Christian faith calls us to get involved deeply and meaningfully in the messiness of the world. Drawing upon theologians and thinkers from across the great scope of the Christian tradition, including Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, Abraham Kuyper, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and engaging a variety of current figures and cultural phenomena, these essays connect the timeless insights of the Christian faith to the pressing challenges of contemporary life.
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