The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him.
Psalm 24:1 NLT
The Bible is often ignored, or seen as something hostile, with little but toxicity to add to the national debate about, well, almost anything. It’s hard for those of us that love the story of hope and redemption that drips from its pages, but it’s a reality that many perceive it negatively – and few would expect it to make a positive contribution to the future relationship between humanity and the earth.
It’s hardly surprising though, as throughout history people have found ways to weaponize and misuse the Bible for their own ends. It has been used to promote hard-line attitudes, shore up regimes, underpin division; it’s been waved as a flag of separation, discrimination, political justification – and people have lined up either side of debating lines around some of humanity’s most vital life issues, including our relationship with the climate around us.
One of the most misused verses in the Bible is Genesis 1:28.
Here we read God’s words to the first humans: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
If you’re looking for an excuse to do what you want with the world, this verse comes in handy. God told people to, “subdue” and “rule over” the earth, so there’s nothing wrong in shaping the environment to meet our needs. We can clear forests to create farms, mine for resources and put animals to work for us. We’re in charge!
It’s a convenient interpretation, but ignores the very next verse, where God gives humanity the plants for food – but not the animals (Was eating meat part of God’s original plan for us, or a result of a broken relationship with animals? Discuss!). Or Genesis 2:15, where it says that God put Adam in the garden of Eden, “to work it and take care of it” – which makes it sound much more like we’re there to serve the planet, rather than the other way around.
Clearly, there is a balance between those two approaches: we can use the earth’s resources, but not exploit them. We are invited to, “subdue” wild nature, but not to abuse it. And Psalm 24:1 gives us the reason: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” We’re appointed as stewards. The earth has been entrusted to us to look after, but it isn’t ours.
The Bible asks us to be aware of each other, and of the home we all share – to make it a better world, and to make the world better. Maybe it’s time to look again at the Bible’s message of unity, common cause, and living lightly on this earth.
Adapted from a piece by Jeremy Williams, a writer, blogger, and founder of Earthbound Ventures, which finds new ways for people to connect with nature. If you need a regular dose of wonder, check them out here – www.earthboundventures.org
Bible text taken from:
New Living Translation (NLT) © Tyndale House Publishers, 2015
New International Version (NIV) © Biblica, 2011