Humans have a mandate to be wise, loving, faithful and responsible stewards of all that God has entrusted to our care, writes Tim Healy.
That type of question is indicative of the fact that many mainstream evangelicals have developed what Brian McLaren calls “an eschatology of abandonment” - one in which Jesus returns to rapture His desperate Bride in a dramatic skyhook rescue as the world below spirals spectacularly into a cataclysmic and fiery end.
This type of eschatological perspective, which is largely a misinterpretation of 2 Peter 3 and Revelation 21, has perpetuated the idea that earth is not our ultimate home, and that heaven is in fact our final destination. This, in turn, has led to a kind of spiritual indifference toward the earth and an unhealthy preoccupation with its temporal instrumental value.
If we truly love people, we will care deeply about the environment on which they depend for their very existence. If we care about humanity, we will care about the quality of air humans need to breathe and the quality of water they need to drink. If we genuinely love people, we will care about our environment.
While the “end of the world” will no doubt continue to fascinate many from all walks of life (and feed our insatiable demand for apocalyptic consumables), the fact remains that much of how the world will end is shrouded in mystery and, I believe, deliberately so. For reasons unknown to us, God, in infinite wisdom, has chosen not to reveal too many specifics about the “end of the age”.
Now it may well be that human history as we know it will come to some sort of dramatic and possibly even catastrophic conclusion, but whether or not it does is quite frankly irrelevant, at least as far as stewardship of the earth is concerned.
That is simply because our mandate to care for the earth is not so that the world will be preserved for another “age” beyond our own, but so that it may be preserved for the benefit of those who will live in the gap between our present and that inevitable Day when the end of this age will come.
That may be ten years from now or a thousand: no one knows for sure. What we do know is that between now and then people will need to live on very limited resources embedded in a fragile network of highly interdependent eco-systems and it is precisely these systems on which we depend, not only for quality of life but for life itself.
Humanity may be the pinnacle of God’s creation and human beings may well bear the image of God, but this does not mean we are independent of the context in which we live. Quite the contrary.
All known life in the universe exists in a tiny sliver of habitable space called the “biosphere”. Relatively speaking, it is about as thick as a layer of varnish on a cricket ball, yet all living things depend on it to survive, including us. We need fresh water. We need clean air. We need plants and soil and minerals and shelter. We need the earth.
So, if we truly love people, we will care deeply about the environment on which they depend for their very existence. If we care about humanity, we will care about the quality of air humans need to breathe and the quality of water they need to drink. If we genuinely love people, we will care about our environment.
Our actions toward the earth’s systems and resources today will seriously affect the lives of those who live tomorrow and it’s for this reason that those actions ought to demonstrate the love and consideration for others that Jesus encouraged through His life and teaching.
At the end of the day, our acceptance of the God-given mandate to care for the earth is an expression of obedience to Jesus’ command to “love our neighbours”. It simply recognises that we live not only down the street from those neighbours but “downtime” as well and it’s those who live in the years beyond our own who stand to benefit the most from our faithful and responsible stewardship of the earth and its resources.
Personally, I’m quite comfortable extending our understanding of “neighbour” beyond our human counterparts to include the non-human sentient beings with which we share this planet. After all, God is the author (Gen. 1:1), sustainer (Heb. 1:3) and redeemer (Col. 1:15) of all things and the plants and animals we live with all reveal His glory, enjoy His delight, express His love and deserve the care of His people.
So, what does the future hold? In part, only God knows, but to some degree the immediate future will depend on how faithful we are willing to be to the mandate given to all humans to be wise, loving, faithful and responsible stewards of all that God has entrusted to our care.