What is man that you are mindful of him?
The son of man that you care for him?
Yet you made him a little lower than the heavenly beings,
And crowned him with glory and honour.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
All sheep and oxen,
And also the beats of the field,
The birds of the heavens,
And the fish of the sea,
Whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
Translation: ESV (with Australianised spelling)
What Happened This Morning…
Anglicare holds a devotion for staff every Monday morning. This morning one of my co-workers reflected on Pslam 8, which is a magnificant psalm about God being a magnificant creator. All up, it was a very encouaging morning!
When he got to the part quoted above, our co-worker reflected on the role of humanity to rule over the rest of creation. He pointed out the bleeding obvious: we are not in control of creation (a point clearly illustrated by the recent Queensland floods). But it’s not the way things are meant to be. Humans are supposed be in control.
The Way Christians Talk About The Environment
It was a quick throwaway reference to a very complex issue of how Christians should be interacting with the non-human world, and I was a little put out by the way he phrased it. His choice of words emphasised that the rightful place of humans is to be master over creation. This is true of course – Jesus is the true human and the one who reigns over the creation right now (even as I write)! But the choice of words still grated with me. They were words that could be easily twisted to justify the attitude of those people who have no scruples with using any and all of the earth’s resources at whim.
If you are a Christian who has given a lot of thought to the concepts of power and dominion, you will know that dominion is not about abuse, but about service. Jesus’ lordship culminated in his greatest act of service. He is a servant king, and he calls his followers to be servants of others too. In the Christian circles I move in, this idea is pretty commonplace. We are encouraged to be people who serve others at great personal cost. We look to famous examples, like Mother Theresa, but we also acknowledge those who serve unnoticed, like the person who spends their Saturday cleaning the church building for the sake of everyone else. Even at work, Anglicare encourages its leaders to be servant leaders, following the example of Jesus.
So if we are all on board with the idea of “power as servanthood” when we interact with people, how come I never hear people use this concept when they talk about the rest of creation? When we talk about creation, we use words like dominion and stewardship. How about servant leadership? Is it OK to talk about us being the servants of non-human entities?
You can pass this off as my inner greenie dancing on a soapbox, but I think there’s something here. Don’t you think it’s weird to have one model of dominion for interacting with people and another version for the rest of creation?
Ideas To Flesh It All Out
After reflecting on this during the day, I came up with some ways that I think we could be better servants of the rest of creation:
1. Understand ecosystems better
In a completely ecological sense, this is seeking to understand why the earth behaves the way it does, and how humanity interacts with the earth’s processes. We should be understanding what we are serving! But I think Christians could be doing even more – we should also be integrating our understanding of our ecosystems with our understanding of God. I’m not 100% sure how to do that though, due to me not being a theologian. Any tips?
2. Be prepared to put the needs of ecosystems above your own
We say that about people, and I think it’s OK to say that about environmental processes too. This could end up being a useful discipline that helps some of us combat selfishness. There are so many places I could start here: buy local produce, use less water, don’t buy too much food, avoid consuming products that generate lots of waste, use re-used goods as much as possible… (Argh! This list is starting to make me feel like I shouldn’t be buying anything else from Ikea!!)
3. Find beauty in creation – even the non-beautiful parts
Phil McManus, one of my geography lecturers, used to remind us that even though the “charismatic megafauna” are very very cute and beautiful, it’s not just the whales, tigers and pandas that make up our ecosystems. There is beauty and imoprtance in the ugliest and most annoying of organisms. Even mosquitoes. And if you are good bible-believing Christian, you can get excited about the day when Christ will redeem all creation – even those guys. I’m not quite sure what a redeemed mosquito will act like, but I’m looking out for the beauty anyway…
4. Remember that often abuse of the environment goes hand in hand with abuse of other people!
And often, when we abuse the environment, we are also abusing other people. I am currently wearing a cheap skirt that I bought for a grand total of $10 from a chain store. It’s lined with some kind of synthetic fabric and travelled all the way from China (most likely on a large, fossil fuel burning container ship). That can’t be good for the environment. But it was probably also made in a poorly ventilated sweatshop, by someone whose monthly wage is a tiny fraction of the amount of money I will spend buying food for dinner tonight. And the size of their dinner tonight will probably also be a fraction of mine. I wish I had thought of this before I bought this skirt. That was definititly not something that served the environment, nor other people.
Well, that is all I have for now. What do you think? Can Christians exercise “servant leadership” over creation? Or is that kind of leadership only expressed towards other people and other people alone?