To Protect and To Serve

Photo by Maurice Ashton

Wangi Point, Lake Macquarie, NSW, Australia. Photo by Maurice Ashton

“And the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and guard and keep it.” Genesis 2:15

A few years ago, when we were hearing quite a bit about lowering our carbon footprints, my kids and I had an ongoing joke. Because there seemed to be such a push to do away with all carbon output, taken to its logical, albeit extreme, conclusion all the earth’s animals would have to stop breathing and if there was no carbon at all, the earth’s plants would all die. Realizing the impossibility of that, whenever we heard someone talking about shrinking their carbon footprint one of us would call out, “Save the trees — exhale!”

All that is to make a point and ask a question – the first is that sometimes in our zeal to correct one problem we create at least one other one, and second, to what lengths should we, as Christians who believe in a literal seven-day creation go to take care of the planet that God created as our home?

Sometimes it seems like those who believe in evolution are more interested in saving and protecting the planet than many Christians. That seems backwards to me. If someone believes that the entire basis of nature is “survival of the fittest,” why should they expend any thought or effort on protecting the snail darter or any other endangered animal?

On the other hand, Jesus clearly told us to look after those who are the least in the world’s eyes.

What is the extent of our responsibility when it comes to looking after our planet? Do we go as far as the president of Bolivia did on April 20, 2011? That day …

“marked the International Day of Mother Earth with a ceremony in the Plaza Murillo, the center of political power. An ancient ritual shared center stage with speeches in which authorities in this Andean nation extolled the Law of Mother Earth – the world’s first legislation that grants to all nature rights equal to humans.

“The [Bolivian] Government intends to establish a Ministry of Mother Earth to implement the Law of Mother Earth, which will establish new rights for nature, including:
the right to maintain the integrity of life and natural processes
the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered
the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration
the right to pure water
the right to clean air
the right to balance, to be at equilibrium
the right to be free of toxic and radioactive pollution
the right to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities.”1

That all sounds great, except I think it’s a bit late for the “free from human alteration” bit. That ship has already sailed. So how would the Bolivian government go about implementing these rights? Is that what God intended when He put Adam in the Garden of Eden to “tend and guard and keep it”?

Of course, tend, guard and keep do not mean that we have the freedom to exploit nature in any way. That kind of thinking has created events like the Dust Bowl and hunting the bison to near extinction. Far from allowing people to exploit nature, we are asked to be wise stewards of all that God has placed under our care.

As stewards our job is to carefully shape and cultivate nature to produce the very best results – to benefit the most people and to glorify God. I think one of the ways in which the “Law of Mother Earth” and other secular earth protection movements, go wrong, is that they make man 100% of the problem – Earth would be better off without people. Whereas, according to God, man is His crowning achievement. He put man in the garden to take care of it, even before there was sin to destroy it.

“Will we consider this? In its human wisdom, the world knows not God. Its wise men gather an imperfect knowledge of God in His created works, and then in their foolishness exalt nature and the laws of nature above nature’s God. Nature is an open book which reveals God. All who are attracted to nature may behold in it the God that created nature. But those who have not a knowledge of God in their acceptance of the revelation God has made of Himself in Christ, will obtain only an imperfect knowledge of God in nature. This knowledge, so far from giving elevated conceptions of God, so far from elevating the mind, the soul, the heart, and bringing the whole being into conformity to the will of God, will make men idolaters. Professing to be wise men, they become fools. Those who think they can obtain a knowledge of God aside from the Representative whom the word declares is “the express image of His person,” will need to become fools in their own estimation before they can be wise. Christ came as a personal Saviour. It is impossible to gain a perfect knowledge of God from nature, for nature itself is imperfect. A curse and blight is upon it. Yet the things of nature, marred as they are by the blight of sin, inculcate truths regarding the skillful Master Artist. One omnipotent in power, great in goodness, in mercy, and love, has created the earth, and even in its blighted state much that is beautiful remains. Nature’s voice speaks, saying that there is a God back of nature, but it does not in its imperfections represent God. Nature cannot reveal the nature and character of God in His moral perfection.” (E.G. White, Manuscript 86, 1898, p. 348)

Do you remember the first time your parents left you “in charge” of your house while they ran an errand or went out for an evening? No matter how long your parents were away, you felt the responsibility for taking the best care you could of your home. You were very careful to maintain it in the way your parents had left it.

God has left us “in charge” of our home until He comes back. We have a responsibility to take the best care of Earth as we can, not because we worship it, but because we love and worship the One who created it.

  1. “Bolivia Celebrates Law Granting Rights to Mother Earth,” Environmental News Service,, accessed 3.1.2013


To Protect and To Serve — 5 Comments

  1. Lillianne, just as a matter of minor correction the bison were not hunted, they were under the process of extermination. It was a political move to force the surrender of the American Indian since the animal was the chief food and material source for them out on the plains. It is the same as the attitude taken toward the environment in Vietnam with agent orange.

    • Tyler, I think the picture of the Bison extermination is much larger than the extermination of a food source for the American original inhabitants. Most of the history books that I have read on the issue cite a number of causes, with human greed being a primary driver. There are in fact a number of instances where the American Indians took part themselves in the great hunts. For them it was a matter of pride and a source of income. It is true that one of the side effects was that it removed a vital food source for them, but I would hesitate to say that the extermination was a political move. It is a much more complex piece of history than just a single explanation. I suspect that to a large extent that greed was the major contributor to the near extinction of the bison heard and that when some people realized that it was having an impact on the American Indians decided that this side effect would help them make money also.

      Man has frequently exploited natural resources to the point of near extinction. At the same time as the Bison extermination, commercial whaling operations in the Pacific were decimating the whale population as well as the seal, sea lion and even the penguin population. The 19th century is filled with examples of exploitation of natural resources without consideration of the consequences. I am not sure that we have learned our lesson even yet. While whale hunting is largely a thing of the past (except for the Japanese), I still see the exploitation of deep sea commercial fishing that appears to be wiping out whole populations in our southern oceans. We still have a lot to learn about managing our environment.

      • Maurice, you have pointed out one of the problems of generalizations yet I do believe much of what was done was deliberate.

        On the other side of the coin is some of the very dumb decisions that man has made such as introducing foreign species into a country in an effort to control problems with agricultural pests. That usually ends up being a plague itself that has to be controlled as well. Then there is the problem of man trying to control nature such as groynes that jut out from a beach that tend to rob beaches of sand further down the beach which increases erosion. Dams also have contributed to greater erosion down stream and sometimes inhibit the movement of fish and other animals.

        Then of course there is the chemical based control methods such as insecticides and herbicides some of which are very toxic to larger animal life (including humans). Several years ago when I was in the trucking business I had to deliver a shipment of Fargo (a herbicide used by wheat farmers to control wild oats). While at the warehouse I snooped around and found a barrel of herbicide that directed applicators to wear full preventive suits with artificial breathing apparatus and directed them to keep all animals out of the area for three days after application. While herbicides such as Fargo is not nearly as dangerous when considering that over a 10000+ square mile area of north central Montana something close to 5 million pounds of the stuff is applied yearly. There is little doubt in my mind why that area has a significantly higher incidence of cancer than the average in the US.

        And I won't even bother going into genetic engineering whose effects we know so little about. In short you are right, greed is the primary motivating factor and I believe it is man's worst enemy and eventually will destroy him to a large degree, even before the Second Advent that puts the wicked in the grave until the second resurrection.


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