We are Confusing Stewardship of the Earth With Worship of It

Our obligation to care for the earth should be in reference to the created order. Without a theological foundation, calls to preserve the earth become twisted, arbitrary and pointless.

By Timothy M. Jackson Published on August 5, 2017

A couple weeks ago, The Guardian cited a study that claimed the best way to fight climate change is to have fewer children. Are there too many human beings on this planet and should we abstain from having children to preserve it? This is the lifeboat dilemma writ large. As we debate these questions, we should have a proper perspective on what our priorities should be either way, given the value of boats and men.

As to the concern of value, is there any question that you are more valuable than a rock? I would hope not. Not only are you more valuable than a rock, but the difference between you and a rock is one of quality, not quantity. This means you are more valuable than a rock regardless of its size. Even if it reaches, say, the size of an entire planet.

You are more valuable than grass. The difference between you and any kind of vegetation is also a qualitative difference. Even if there were endless fields of vegetation, enough to cover a planet sized rock, it would not compare to your value.

You have more value than a goat. You are more important than many goats. Even if there were enough goats to eat all the grass on a rock the size of a planet, they would not compare to your worth.

Human Beings are the Reason the Boat is Important

Now back to the boat. If there is only room for a few more people on this lifeboat, then we should not try to stock the boat with goats and grass for their own sake, and certainly not for the sake of the boat. The only purpose to have vegetation or goats on a lifeboat would be to keep people from starving.

Those wanting to diminish the number of human beings on the planet seem to be expressing the opposite sentiment. Their primary concern appears to be for the boat or the rock or the goat. They, like agent Smith in The Matrix, are identifying human beings as a virus that is infecting the planet. We need to acknowledge that we are by far the most valuable beings on earth, and it is primarily human beings that give the Earth real value.

 

Assuming How Things Will End

Given the understanding that human beings have this great value, some will still express the fear of putting too many on the boat to stay afloat. This kind of anxiety suggests, consciously or unconsciously, an eschatology where we are really alone in a vast ocean with no help on the way. If this is really the case, then not only the Earth, but the whole universe is sinking out of existence and there is nothing we can do about it. If God is not out there, we are without hope and will be undone regardless of what we do.

Philospher William Lane Craig affirms this predicament. He writes in his essay, “The Absurdity of Life Without God”:

Whether it comes sooner or later, the prospect of death and the threat of non-being is a terrible horror. … And the universe, too, faces a death of its own. Scientists tell us that the universe is expanding, and everything in it is growing farther and farther apart. As it does so, it grows colder and colder, and its energy is used up. Eventually all the stars will burn out and all matter will collapse into dead stars and black holes. There will be no light at all; there will be no heat; there will be no life; only the corpses of dead stars and galaxies, ever expanding into the endless darkness and the cold recesses of space—a universe in ruins. So not only is the life of each individual person doomed; the entire human race is doomed. There is no escape. There is no hope. … Suppose the universe had never existed. What ultimate difference does it make? The universe is doomed to die anyway. In the end it makes no difference whether the universe ever existed or not.

Those calling for population control seem to be gripped with this hopelessness. They are clinching their fists and gritting their teeth, refusing any more passengers on the boat because they believe our sinking is inevitable. They deny an ending of this world that is orchestrated by God Himself.

They are also denying the logical outworking of their assumptions. If we are not a part of a created order, then there is no order that we are obliged to follow. The universe will cease to exist and it will have made no difference what we tried to do in this life. There is no grounding for the claim of an obligation to preserve anything.

Stewardship Rather Than Worship

An obligation to preserve the planet only makes sense with the understanding that we are a part of a created order. This planet is God’s, and He gives us the task to be its caregivers. We are still called to be stewards of the garden God has given us. We have failed to fulfill this obligation in many respects, but without this perspective we make the earth itself our god. We are confusing stewardship with worship. We are sacrificing our children to the god of mother earth. A world with more human beings is a more valuable world.

Throughout this debate, lets keep this in mind. If you get nothing else, remember that you are more valuable than a goat eating grass on a rock.

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  • Unionville

    “We are confusing stewardship with worship”

    This is very true. DDT is a perfect example. Malaria was all but wiped out, and except for the hyperbole of a burgeoning environmentalist movement emboldened by a book, it would have been. There was more concern for what MIGHT occur versus what WOULD occur if the mosquitoes were not eradicated.

  • Trilemma

    The attitude that I have personally heard from some Christians is that since we are living in the Last Days, stewardship of the planet is a waste of time and effort. This is an irresponsible attitude. Overpopulation is a real problem and if humans don’t control it, then famine, disease, and/or war will.

    • GLT

      Trilemma,

      “Overpopulation is a real problem,…”

      The entire population of the world can be put into the state of Texas with each individual having approximately 1,000 square feet to themselves. That is hardly a picture of overpopulation. The fact people are going hungry is not the result of overpopulation or the inabilitty to produce enough food. That people are starving is due completely to politics and the general sinfulness of man.

      • Trilemma

        Putting the entire population of the world into Texas would result in a population density of about 28,000 people per square mile. That’s the population density of New York City. So, imagine New York City duplicated almost nine hundred times until the entire state of Texas is covered. That would be a picture of overpopulation.

        It’s true that more than enough food is produced to feed everyone on the planet. Some of this over production is used to feed animals and some is used for biofuels. It’s also true that there are people starving due to politics. But many are starving because they live in poverty and cannot buy the food they need. Getting food to people is also a problem. I give to a charity called Food for the Poor. They have the food; they just need money to transport the food to the hungry.

        Another problem with overpopulation is that there is not enough clean drinking water. Another is the planet is being polluted. Another is that natural resources are being used up faster than they are being replenished. Rain forests are being cut down. Aquifers are being drained dangerously low.

        There’s a limit to the number of people the planet can sustain. What do you think that number is?

    • Emma2

      Since my children and grandchildren show no interest in welfare of the planet they and their offspring will live on, I’ve decided not to bother much about the end of life on earth. It’s a bigger problem than I am and the inheritors wlll get the planet they deserve. Makes my life so much easier.
      But I do think about the oceans filled with swirling islands of plastic trash, the Yemeni children starving b/c of climate change wiping out any chance of their crops producing food for the people; the fact that people are eating the “seed stock” of the ocean as they consume ever more juvenile sized cod. (When Europeans came across the atlantic they wrote that there were so many fish they could walk on the backs of those in the ocean along the east coast).

      But I’ll be dead soon and none of this will matter to me. The insects will win in the end anyway.

      • Trilemma

        My son and his wife are very interested in the welfare of the planet. But it would take a large majority of all humans interested in the welfare of the planet for any meaningful changes to happen. So yes, it looks like the insects will inherit the Earth.

  • Thank you, Timothy. That was uplifting, even if those addicted to dilemmas want to claim otherwise.

  • John

    Thanks for this insightful article. It brings to mind the increasing public concern for animal welfare, contrasted with indifference to the horror of abortion. As long as the current pervasive Darwinian worldview dominates the thinking in so many institutions, campuses and governments, this hopelessness and futility will prevail and human life will be relegated to a secondary position. A biblical worldview gives us the only true perspective, and the assurance of the new Heaven and the new earth revealed through John. This is consistent with the expanding universe and so many observable phenomena on the planet, the increasing salinity of the oceans being another example. There is a reason that evolution cannot be questioned in public schools; kids might find out that GOD’s WORD IS TRUTH!

  • Howard

    One of your lines reminded me, probably intentionally, of Matthew 10:29-31 (RSVCE):

    Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

    Of course the study cited by the Guardian is not merely wrong in the relative values of humans and sparrows, but also in assuming that the Father’s will can be frustrated by too many sparrows falling to the ground. Even when our greed and stupidity cause us to suffer real, permanent loss — such as the passenger pigeon, which has fallen to the ground never to rise again — we can be sure that this takes place within the context of God’s plan for humanity. It’s not exactly news that that plan permits ugly sins with grave consequences, apparently for the purpose of shocking us out of our pride.

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