If one were to pick one word to encapsulate human’s relationship to and care for the environment and all creation, this word would be stewardship. The concept of stewardship in the Christian tradition is rooted in the story of Creation. God created the heavens and the earth and everything in them and declared them good. He then created humans after his image and likeness and entrusted them with the high calling of caring for his marvelous work. Genesis 1:28 states, “God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth’” (NASB). In the text, we see the way in which humans were appointed as representatives of God’s sovereignty in the created order. In essence, God blessed them to protect, watch, and care for his staggeringly complex and magnificent universe. According to the narrative, after this installation act, God rested on the seventh day.
The Creation story not only shows us the amazing acts of God and the goodness of all he created, but it also gives us a glimpse into God’s caring relationship with his creation. By entrusting those made in his image and likeness with the task of stewarding the earth, God demonstrates how much he cares for the world he created. God neither abandoned creation nor gave humans the right to destroy it; rather, he carefully positioned humans as administrators of justice, care, and love.
The ideas of image and likeness are crucial to understanding righteous stewardship. Humans were not meant to abuse their positions as ambassadors and become tyrants over creation. Neither were they meant to take a passive role as resources are wasted. The higher calling of stewardship is connected to displaying God’s image and likeness in every action. To be righteous stewards is to be holy as God is holy. As stated by Sandra Richter in her book Stewards of Eden, “Humanity plays a critical role in God’s plan for the flourishing of his ecosphere. YHWH is the ultimate sovereign, but humanity has been positioned as his custodian for the purpose of enacting his will.”1 The high calling of stewardship entails loving as God loves, acting as God acts, and ruling as God rules. We are meant to act in this calling as servants, not as kings.
Genesis 2:15 further explains this dynamic: “The LORD God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it.” The work of humanity as stewards began in the garden, a training environment to begin exercising their calling. I often imagine what it would have been like for Adam to cultivate the land and care for all the animals. I wonder how being in contact with God’s creation would have deepened his communion and friendship with God. The task of stewardship of the earth was meant to serve more than one purpose. Not only would humans learn to co-labor with and worship God by caring for his creation, but they would also grow in their understanding of who God is. Can you imagine Adam holding the dust from the ground as he cared for the plants of the Garden and being in awe of how God created him? What a wonderful experience that would have been for him—to breath in and look around and experience wonder and gratitude!
To be a steward is to fulfill a high calling by approaching creation with reverence and gratitude. It is to recognize that God has dignified his creation, and so should we. Stewardship, unfortunately, has not been the framework humanity has chosen to relate with the earth. When sin entered the world, humans stopped seeing the earth as a means to God and, instead, began to see the earth as an end in itself. Resource scarcity, the extinction of numerous species, and pollution are evidence of this. In addition, history shows that Christians have misunderstood the command to subdue the earth and interpreted it as an allowance to abuse creation. Theologian Jürgen Moltmann once pointed out, ”For centuries, [humans] have tried to understand God’s Creation as nature so that they can exploit it in accordance with the laws scientist has discovered. Today the essential point is to understand that which we call ’nature’ must be lifted into the totality of being and be acknowledged as ’God’s Creation.’”2
For several years, I have spent time thinking about what truly acknowledging our world and the universe as God’s creation would look like. I have spent time wondering what stewardship should look like in today’s world as well. If we as Christians are meant to live as redeemed people and reconcile the world to Christ, we ought to care for what God cares for and exercise our calling to steward God’s earth rightly. Thankfully, I have found guidance in the Scriptures, particularly in those texts that address the institutions of Sabbath and Jubilee.
According to the Hebrew tradition, our relationship with the world is reflected in the way we act on the Sabbath Day. How we act and do not act determines how we understand our place in the world and our Creator. An example can be found in our relationship with life on earth. The Torah teaches that the Sabbath ordinance includes a provision for animals to experience rest and satisfaction on the seventh day: “You have to complete your task in six days, and you must stop on the seventh day so that your cow and the donkey can be satisfied” (Exodus 23:12). Sabbath and Jubilee are compelling pedagogical provisions that teach humans how to act in dignifying ways towards the creatures of the earth, the environment, and our fellow humans. They help us to recognize that “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1), and that we must approach the world with humbleness and gratefulness.
Both the Sabbath year and the Jubilee year indicated that the land should rest and not be cultivated for a year. The Jubilee year also extended to the land: humans do not cultivate it for a year (Leviticus 25.11). Margaret Barker observed, “In contemporary terms, this means caring for the land rather than tilling it to the point of exhaustion.“3 So the problem is not the part of the forest that is cut down to cultivate a piece of land, but the relationship between it and humans, and the inefficient ways they use it.
Sabbath observing has the potential to transform a person’s self-understanding of his/her relationship with nature. It helps individuals to not see themselves as beings that hold creative and technological control over nature. It reshapes human desire and disposition towards nature and promotes the cultivation of environmental virtues. Sabbath practice can disrupt the suicidal econometric fantasy that grows unabated in our world. In a way, Sabbath has the potential of saving our world by teaching us how to steward its resources.
In conclusion, the concept of stewardship has its roots in the Creation story. It highlights the responsibility that believers have to take care of the earth and everything in it. As stewards of the planet, Christians are called upon to live out their faith by protecting the environment and using its resources wisely. By doing so, they are not only fulfilling obligations but also demonstrating their love for God. To be a steward is to embrace God’s high calling to care for that which he cares for. The world we live in is complex, but thankfully we are not left without answers. The Scriptures provide us with helpful frameworks to tackle modern issues, namely the institutions of Jubilee and Sabbath (Leviticus 25:3-5, 11–12; Exodus 20:8–11; Deuteronomy 5:12–14). May we grow in our understanding of God’s truth as we walk rightly and justly in our calling to steward the beautiful world he has entrusted us with. “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God” (Romans 8:19).
1 Sandra Richter, Stewards of Eden: What Scripture Says About the Environment and Why It Matters (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2020).
2 Jürgen Moltmann, God in Creation: A New Theology of Creation and the Spirit of God (Cambridge: International Society for Science and Religion, 2007), 28.
3 Margaret Barker, Creation: A Biblical Vision for the Environment (London: T&T Clark, 2010).
Alejandra Guajardo-Hodge serves as executive administrative assistant to Bishop Jeffery Davis, executive director of Leadership Development and Discipleship for the Church of God of Prophecy International Offices. Alejandra earned both a BA in Biblical and Theological Studies and an MA in Theological Ethics from Lee University. In 2019, she received the Zeno C. Tharp Award, which is given to the Lee University senior who shows the greatest promise of making a significant contribution to the church. Alejandra has been married to Stephen Hodge since January 2022.
As published in the August 2023 issue of the White Wing Messenger.