Last article, we questioned why we should study our Father’s world. The first reason we discussed was that, in God’s world, we can learn a fair bit about God Himself and His invisible attributes (Rom. 1:20)! God has created the world for His own glory, and so as we study His character, we ought to give thanks to Him and glorify Him. Now, we turn our attention to another reason we should study our Father’s world: namely, we are to caretake God’s world.
God has created us to be caretakers of His world. In Genesis 1, we learn that God created man in His image to have dominion over the earth. In Genesis 2, we learn that God created man to work and to keep the garden. We also learn that man named the animals. Thus, here at the opening of Scripture, we see that man was created to reflect God on the earth. Man was to rule as God’s representative over the rest of the created world. He was to care for the plants and the animals just as God Himself cares for His creation (e.g., Matt. 6:26-30). God does love His creation. He loves the plants and animals He has made – in fact, the Holy Spirit utilizes an entire Psalm, Psalm 104, to detail God’s caring provision over the animals. So we also, being made in God’s image, ought to caretake the world He has made. This is part of having dominion.
In order to caretake, we must know about that which we are caring for. In this case, that means learning more about the created world. Again, this does not mean we need zoology degrees. But in a very basic way, we ought to observe and know about the world in order to care for it. This principle makes sense to us. A husband must know his wife to care for her (1 Pet. 3:7); parents must know their children to care for them. Similarly, you must know a good deal about dogs or fish to have a pet of that type. People have observed dogs and fish and written little pet-store guides or internet posts to help us know how to rightly care for those animals. You must know something before you can care for it. Thus, we must study our Father’s world in order to rightly caretake.
Now, there are a couple caretaking traps that we may fall into. Both are common in the world today, so it’s best we are aware of them.
First is the trap of environmentalism. This is all too prominent in the world today. Dominion does not begin and end with caretaking for the animals. Our primary concern as image bearers who have dominion is to reflect God’s righteous character to the world. Yes, as human beings, we must live righteously. That is our foremost concern – not whether our dog has eaten lunch today. We also recognize that animals are not equals with man. Animals are not created in God’s image. Animals are not recipients of justification and salvation. Animals in this life do not go to heaven. While we want to be caretakers, we must not become activists. There is a great difference between fulfilling God’s design for us and fulfilling man-made agendas. We must have a biblical view of animals and plants. Yes, we care for them, but we ought never to do something in the interest of an animal or plant that brings harm to a human being. We would never kill babies to “decrease the surface population” in the name of a healthy environment. We would never destroy human houses and cities in the name of replacing them with returning to natural forests and greenery. We would never, in the name of saving our money, feed our dog and cat to the full but let children go with less. We caretake for the animals – but of greater importance, we live righteously, which means that we love one another as fellow men.
On the other side of the pendulum is the pitfall which sees animals as inconveniences and worthless objects. This view sees dominion as license to do whatever we please, and as with the former trap, is quite predominant in the world today, though in very different circles to environmentalism. While we do have dominion over the animals, dominion does not mean we can treat them however we please. A king having dominion over his subjects does not mean he is at liberty to torture them, enslave them, or kill them simply for pleasure – that would be a tyrant indeed! We still treat animals, in particular, with care. For example, it is unnecessary to step on little ants outside just for fun. There are plenty of other ways to have fun, and we need not take the life of little creatures God has created (of course, that is quite different to the hornet threatening to sting your child or the fly that has invaded your house). This may raise some questions about practices common in certain circles. For example, while we should not pamper our pet dogs, should we instead kick them around, neglect them, and provoke them? Of course not. We might also question whether hunting purely for sport, without any thought of nourishment or provision, is justifiable. Animals are created by God. He cares for them. So we, too, are to treat them with care.
One fascinating implication of the above points regards animal population. There are two sides of the coin here. One the one side, many people today are worked up about conservation and preserving animals. Though activists may take it too far, this is actually a biblical concept! Part of caring for the animals is looking to save them from extinction. God has created diversity and beauty in the animal world, and we want to help retain as much diversity as possible! Yet, there is another side – a danger for animals – and that is overpopulation. Though overpopulation is really only discussed in relation to overpopulating humans today, it is quite possible for an animal species to overpopulate and thus throw off the balance of a particular ecosystem. As caretakers of the world, it may be the responsibility of humans to kill off the animals which are overpopulating until they are returned to their God-given, natural rate of population. The curse has had effects not only on men, but also on the rest of creation (Gen. 3:17). As caretakers of God’s world, we look to work around some of these effects with the abilities God has given to us.
So, where have we been? Well, we’ve sought to better understand the relationship between science and theology. Why should we study science? Why should we devote time to observing and thinking about God’s world? We found two answers:
God has created the world to glorify Himself, and by seeing His character in the world, we can give Him glory and thanks. We can also fulfill God’s design for us as we look to care for His creation. We do not elevate and worship the creation, but we also do not denigrate and abuse it. When considering creation and nature biblically, we end up having much to be grateful for and much to care for!