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The creation of God was designed to exist in goodness and harmony. To keep this harmony, God entrusts human beings with the duty to take care of the earth. The message of Scripture encourages us to foster ethical behavior towards the creation, centered on caring and stewarding, for at least seven main reasons:
The original creation testifies in its beauty, complexity and biodiversity of the supreme intelligence and creativity of God. On the one hand, nature was created as a self-sufficient entity able to exist substantially well without humans. On the other, human individuals are entirely dependent on nature for their own survival.
This order presupposes that human beings are not the only ones who possess inherent value on earth. Humans are part of a very complex ecosystem in which every part contributes to the equilibrium of the whole. The entire system is envisaged to favor the full realization of life. Every kind of plant or animal, every cell, every atom, is a phenomenon of creativity, wisdom and genius (Psalm 104: 18-24) displayed by God, the Divine Engineer and supreme Artist of this cosmos. Thus, nature is not only our environment but also our partner. The beings that co-exist with humanity are not simple resources. As living creatures made by God, they are worth to be preserved and loved for what they are and for the sake of higher good (Psalm 104:18-24).
- The Ministry of Stewardship Entrusted to Humanity
The text of Genesis does not give free hand to humanity for the management of nature; instead, it orders the conservation of its resources (Genesis 2:15). Human beings received the responsibility, since the beginning, to keep the equilibrium of nature and to cultivate the delicate relation of solidarity between God’s created beings and their environment.
The fact that the care of the earth was promptly entrusted to the first human couple (Genesis 1:28, 2:25) suggests that the environment must never be entirely left to itself, but that human beings have a responsibility in the management of nature.
- The Earth Belongs to God.
Although nature was designed to sustain life, and therefore intended for the benefit of human beings as well, the environment does not belong to humans. The Bible affirms that God has ownership over the earth. Consequently, human beings have the moral duty of living responsible lifestyles that do not degrade the environment and promote the perpetuation of life (Genesis 1: 29-30). This entails respect for any kind of life, vegetal or animal (Hosea 2:18, Proverbs 12:10) and responsible management of natural resources (Deuteronomy 20: 11), with the permanent duty of protecting the environment (Revelation 11:18, 7:3).
- Biblical Laws on Environment
The Pentateuch establishes a whole series of laws of environmental value with the intention of helping to honor and preserve the received inheritance.
To avoid the exhaustion of cultivated lands, the Mosaic law prescribes one year of rest every seven working years, and tells that the earth deprived of its rest of fallow, “takes revenge” (Leviticus 26.14-35).
Numerous laws are apparently orientated to the maintenance of public hygiene and intended to prevent the most immediate forms of contamination, such as the health norms of “recycling” excrements and garbage, that is to say of “waste at risk” (Deuteronomy 23:13-15).
Among the precepts on the conservation of life we are surprised by the one which concerns the protection of fauna, notably the preservation of adult birds to ensure the perpetuation of their species (Deuteronomy 22:6-7).
Other laws favoring the respect for environment include dispositions restraining the cutting down of trees even in times of war (Deuteronomy 20:19-20). We could also mention the prescriptions against sexual unions between different species, laws against hybridization (Deuteronomy 22:9; Leviticus 19:19), and also laws promoting precaution in lighting fires (Exodus 22.6).
- Sabbath: Memorial of Creation
Among all biblical prescriptions with an environmental impact, the most interesting is probably the one that concerns the Sabbath rest.
The original concept of “work” (melakhah), used in the fourth commandment, refers principally to the relationship between humans and the earth. Therefore, the biblical request of suspension of labor during the Sabbath encompasses the systematic re-establishment of harmony between humans and the earth.
This command, without counting its spiritual beneficial effects, has the important secondary effect of leaving nature at rest every seven days by reducing the consumption of energy and its related pollution. The Sabbath day message affirms not only that human beings need a weekly day of rest, but that the earth also needs a respite and an opportunity to recover from the strain imposed by human labor.
- The Hope in the Promise of the New Earth and Heavens.
When the prophets announce the final restoration of humankind and its environment (Isaiah 40:4; 42:16, 41:18-19; 43:19; 48:21; 49:10; 54:13-17; 55:13), salvation is extended to all categories of living beings in the renewed world (Isaiah 11:6-11).
This salvation, at the moment, is only a hope. The earth suffers and is waiting eagerly for its adoption and redemption (Romans 8:18-23). However, if God’s plan is to bring a new creation to fruition and make everything new (Revelation 21:1 – 22:5) why should humans care to act responsibly in managing the present world?
On this issue, the Bible is clear: to have access to the new promised world, it is necessary to respect here and now the present creation and its Creator (Revelation 14:6-7). In the last book of the Bible, one of the most serious condemnation is pronounced against “those who destroy the earth” (Revelation 11:18). If the best manner of honoring an artist is to safeguard its work, the best manner of honoring the Creator is to protect His creatures and creation. The respect for the Creator includes respect towards His work. It is a logical conclusion to think that God reserves life to those who love life.
- Jesus and His Teachings on Nature
In the gospels, Jesus often leads his interlocutors to observe nature as a sign of his message of life: the fig which burgeons (Mark 13:28); the growing seed (Mark 4:3-9; 26-29; Matthew 13:24-30); the sparrows which are sold in the market (Matthew 10:29); the flash of lightning which shines in the night (Matthew 24:27); the splendor of dusk (Luke 12:55).
The very fact that Jesus uses nature to bring insights for our everyday life affirms that God’s creation is a witness of God’s will. In this environment, human beings can find divinely intended messages and applications. Therefore, to destroy God’s creation means not to be able to listen to His teachings, and therefore be cut off from an important source of communication.
In conclusion, the teachings from Scripture inspire me to adopt an ethical behavior towards creation. The care for the environment in which I live is not just a duty I should fulfill; it becomes the expression of my personal faith towards my Creator.
by Davide Sciarabba
Assistant Professor of Religion