What does the Bible have to say about humanity’s care and concern for creation?
To answer this question, we need look no further than the Bible’s opening narratives.
Both creation accounts (Genesis 1:1-2.3 and 2:4-25) state that humanity was formed in the image of God and given responsibility for creation.
In Gen. 1:28, humanity is granted “dominion” over creation. This has, at times, been applied as a license to do with the world whatever we like. The second creation account, however, helps clarify the meaning and purpose of human dominion.
In Gen. 2:15, humanity is instructed to “till” and “keep” the earth. The word translated “till” has connotations of service, while “keep” alludes to cultivation. This reveals that earth’s resources are to be used in a responsible way. Dominion over creation is properly expressed through caring, conservative actions, not exploitative, profligate practices.
In Gen. 3, there is an account of humanity’s rejection of God’s boundaries. The resulting negative consequences not only affect humans, but also all of creation. This reveals that living within boundaries is important and that there is a direct connection between human behavior and creation’s well-being.
When humanity lives within God’s boundaries and practices dominion responsibly, creation flourishes. When humanity transgresses these boundaries and practices dominion irresponsibly, creation suffers.
The opening narratives of the Hebrew Bible make clear the importance of boundaries (restraints on how we exercise dominion) and the direct link between human actions and the flourishing or floundering of the eco-system.
The negative results that human actions can bring is most clearly revealed in the flood narrative of Gen. 6-8, where all of creation is affected by human transgression of divine boundaries.
After the flood, there is a covenant renewal that involves all of creation in Gen. 9:8-17, which places every living thing on an equal plane with regards to God’s promise. This stresses the importance of human dominion being exercised in a manner that protects, preserves and seeks to prosper all of creation.
Many texts from the Hebrew Bible speak about the non-human parts of creation giving praise to God through their very existence. A compilation of verses can be found here.
Perhaps the most familiar texts are Psalm 19:1—“The heavens declare the glory of God and the skies proclaim the works of his hands!”—and Psalm 148, urging all creation—humans, angels, sun, moon, stars, waters, sea creatures, plants, animals and even the mountains—to praise God.
These verses reveal that the non-human parts of creation have an important role to play in proclaiming the glory of God. This suggests that human dominion should involve focused effort to preserve and perpetuate the testimony the earth provides through the beauty of its existence.
Moving to the Christian Scriptures, we should begin with 1 Thessalonians, the earliest text in this canon. In chapter 4, verse 17 we encounter Paul’s statements about humanity being “caught up with [the resurrected dead] in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air.”
Popularized as teaching that humanity will be taken out of the world, most commentators believe the image used is about humanity going out to meet Jesus and ushering him in with all due praise and adoration (as the citizens of a city did when a dignitary arrived for a visit).
This suggests that while waiting for this day, creation should be protected and preserved in anticipation of the Lord’s return to earth, rather than neglected or abused before our departure from it.
In Romans 8:18-27, Paul shares that the earth longs for a day of redemption when all creation “will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”
This aligns with the interpretation of 1 Thess., which emphasizes Christ’s return to earth. It also envisions a future time when the will of God will be done on earth as it is in heaven (see Matt. 6) and suggests that doing God’s will means helping heal creation.
Finally, though other texts could be cited, Revelation 21-22 reinforces the picture of a renewed heaven and earth. This culminating text of the Christian scriptures envisions a world where humanity relates to God, creation and one another harmoniously once again. This reiterates the need for humanity to exercise dominion by tilling (serving) and keeping (cultivating) creation in a manner that collaborates with God in renewing all of creation.
As our knowledge of the environment increases, so, too, will debates about climate patterns resulting from natural cycles or human causation. The biblical witness cannot end such discussions.
What it can do is reveal an intimate connection between human activity and the well-being (or lack thereof) of creation, and issue a consistent call to exercise dominion in a manner that protects the world that continually proclaims the glory of God.