Formations 02.01.2015: Caring for Creation

Genesis 1:26-31; 2:15-17

Wind farm, Power County, Idaho

Wind farm, Power County, Idaho

You might think environmentalists and religious believers have little in common. Though that might have been true in the past, in recent years, more and more evangelical Christians have taken steps to do a better job as stewards of creation. In the United States today, 67% of people say they care about the environment precisely because it is “God’s creation,” and close to half the members of the Sierra Club report attending worships services at least once a month.

For people of faith, the opening chapters of Genesis provide not only a theological reflection on creation and on God’s role as Creator, it also provides a mandate for how humans are to interact with the natural world. Genesis 1 describes humanity’s role in mastering or taking charge (1:28) of the earth and its creatures. In chapter 2, God places the man in the garden of Eden to farm it and take care of it (2:15).

Explore what this divine charge means in terms of how humans relate to their physical environment today.

Greg Haegele, “‘Creation Care’ – A Growing Movement,”, 3 July 2008


• What does good stewardship of creation look like?
• What are the dangers of exercising this stewardship poorly?
• How does the fact that humans are created in God’s image shed light on how we should exercise our stewardship of the earth?

Reference Shelf

Creation and Salvation History

The precise relationship between creation and salvation history is currently a matter of debate. Gerhard von Rad’s opinion that the creation accounts in Gen 1–2 are merely the prologue to God’s redemptive acts in history has been quite influential. In texts like Ps 136, Isa 42:5-9, and Isa 51:9-10 where creation and salvation are spoken of together, creation is ancillary, while the accent falls upon God’s saving deeds. In von Rad’s opinion, creation does not achieve the status of an independent theme. When one reads ”But thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine’” (Isa 43:1), one sees that the prophet quickly leaves creation to talk about salvation. For von Rad and those persuaded by him, creation is merely the first of God’s historical acts that paves the way for redemption.

Current scholarship is concerned to hear what the many biblical creation texts have to say without imposing von Rad’s salvation-historical schema upon them. This, along with consideration of extrabiblical creation texts, has led many scholars to understand that creation says as much about order as origins. The priestly creation story in Gen 1 is clearly concemed with order. The waters above are separated from those below; light and darkness, seas and earth are distinguished from one another. One plant is distinct from another plant, and one animal unlike another animal. All boundaries are crisp and sharp. Within this divinely established order humans have their place. When humans act righteously and uphold the order of the cosmos, the world is at peace. When humans display unrighteousness, the order is usurped and, in Hosea’s words, ”the land moums, and all who dwell in it languish…” (Hos 4:3). As the prophets see so clearly, cosmic and social order are intricately connected. The observation that a divinely established order inheres in the cosmos cautions against subordinating creation to salvation history and calls for a balanced estimation of their relationship.

V. Steven Parrish, “Creation,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 182–83.


In the now popular indictment of the biblical tradition the notion of human “subjugation” of earth is blamed for the abuse of nature by way of technology…. It is doubtful, however, if that indictment is appropriate. The “dominion” here mandated is with reference to the animals. The dominance is that of a shepherd who cares for, tends, and feeds the animals. Or, if transferred to the political arena, the image is that of a shepherd king (cf. Ezek 34). Thus the task of “dominion” does not have to do with exploitation and abuse. It has to do with securing the well-being of every other creature and bringing the promise of each to full fruition. (In contrast, Ezek 34:1-6 offers a caricature of the human shepherd who has misused the imperative of the creator.)

Moreover, Christian understanding of dominion must be discerned in the way of Jesus of Nazareth (cf. Mark 10:43-44). The one who rules is the one who serves. Lordship means servanthood. It is the task of the shepherd not to control but to lay down his life for the sheep (John 10:11). The human person is ordained over the remainder of creation but for its profit, well-being, and enhancement. The role of the human person is to see to it that the creation becomes fully the creation willed by God.

Walter Brueggemann, Genesis, Interpretation (Atlanta: John Knox, 1982) 32–33.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.


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