Skip Bell, DMin, is professor emeritus of Christian leadership, Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States.

It was New Year’s Day, 1970. I was about to give the most important gift of my life to someone whom I loved. How I hoped she would like it! I also hoped that she would say yes to my proposal for marriage. I lifted the top from the case holding the gift, a beautiful watch with four diamonds. She threw her arms around me and, with joyous laughter, exclaimed “Yes!”

What seems now to be a somewhat childish verbal exchange followed. After tears and hugs subsided, I asked, “Do you like it?”

“Like it? I love it!” she replied.

I confirmed, “You love it?”

“Yes! Wow! I love it!” she exclaimed.

However great that response was, the most important response in all of history was that of the first man and woman who opened their eyes, and, for the first time, observed their gift—the created world. I imagine hearing in that narrative a hopeful Creator inquiring, “Do you like it?”

“Like it? We love it!” they respond with the joy of a child receiving a prized gift on Christmas morning.

“You love it?”

“Yes! Wow! We love it!”

And God said: “Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground” (Gen. 1:28).1 It is yours—My gift to you. Accompanying the gift was a privilege, a responsibility of sorts. It is an expression of trust and stewardship that continues, for us, today.

Rejoicing in the gift

We find ourselves surrounded by beauty. Yes, there are scars on this creation everywhere, but remarkable beauty remains. We still enjoy this amazing planet.

We worship and experience spiritual connection, thanking God for the beauty of His gift. We do that each day, of course, and especially on Sabbath, when we affirm His creation.

The psalmist shared our joy in the gift of creation:

You formed the mountains by your power. . . .
You quieted the raging oceans
with their pounding waves. . . .
Those who live at the ends of the earth
stand in awe of your wonders.
From where the sun rises to where it sets,
you inspire shouts of joy.
You take care of the earth and water it,
making it rich and fertile. . . .
You soften the earth with showers
and bless its abundant crops. . . .
The grasslands of the wilderness become a lush pasture,
and the hillsides blossom with joy. . . .
They all shout and sing for joy!”
(Psalm 65:6–10, 12, 13).

On the first Sabbath, the Creator smiled at us, delighted to share His gift. “And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation” (Gen. 2:3).

What a gift, this planet. The sun gives energy and light. Our planet turns, providing day and night. There is oxygen for plants and animals. Water moves from the atmosphere to the ground; to rivers, lakes, and oceans; and back to the atmosphere. Everything in creation is connected to something else. The complexity of Earth inspires awe and humility.

The soil supports plants and trees with minerals, fungi, and microbes. The sun enables plants to convert solar energy into nutrients and oxygen. Plants return organic matter to the soil, feeding the organisms of the forest floor. The ecosystem provides for all living creatures.

Maltbie Babcock said it well:

This is my Father’s world.
E’en yet to my listening ears
All nature sings, and around me rings
The music of the spheres.2

Temperature rising?

However, we no longer listen to the music of the water, the earth, the air. We were created with the knowledge and skill to protect and preserve as God asked, but our fallen nature means we defer to distraction, indifference, or silence. We are neglecting the gift, and we are abandoning our stewardship.

According to a study conducted by NASA’s Goddard Institute, as affirmed by numerous other reliable studies, the Earth’s average annual global temperature has continually risen for 100 years. We are now about 1.6 degrees (Fahrenheit) warmer. The warming of the Earth is quickening. The 10 warmest years on record have all occurred in the last 20 years, and the 4 warmest years have all occurred since 2014.

Why should we be concerned about a 1.6-degree increase? Because it is an enormous feat to warm all the oceans, land, and the atmosphere by even 1 degree. All those elements have to go through tremendous change for the global temperature to rise. Global temperature is driven by the amount of energy from the sun that our atmosphere allows to pass through or to radiate back. That process is dependent upon the atmosphere’s chemical composition. Unfortunately, human activities emit large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) that are changing this chemical process.

We have come to a dangerous place. A tipping point, perhaps?

Three points

Some might challenge this fear or even dismiss it. But, before dismissing the concern regarding our stewardship of God’s gift, consider three things.

First, facts do not cease to be facts just because we ignore them. Of course, 50,000 people may ignore a fact, but it is still a fact. This information may be inconvenient or differ from what our group confirms, but it is still a fact. We often prefer to ignore facts, create an alternate reality, or remain in step with those we wish to identify with. We sometimes deny data, reason, or good research in preference for the bias of our crowd. We note some regretful moments in history in which we have gone so far as to vilify scientists or academics because they contradict an alternate reality we chose to identify with.

Second, we can observe with our own eyes the impact of human activity in the death of fish in polluted rivers, sterility of soils, or disease in animals from pesticides. We can see it. We may deny the science that tells us of the damage being done to creation; but we can hardly deny what we see.

Third, we confirm the value of stewardship in our daily lives. Every time we pick up, clean up, care for the soil and water where we live, or worry about the air in our homes, we are expressing stewardship. In doing that, we acknowledge the damage that can be done, that is inevitable, if we fail. There have been many reports also indicating the healing of the Earth during the COVID-19 pandemic. While people have driven and flown less, air pollution and CO2 have decreased rapidly.3

Where is the voice?

This is our Father’s world. The mountains of British Columbia, the coast of California, the islands of the Pacific, the soaring peaks of Asia, and the forests of South America all are a gift of God. In the beginning, He designed us for relationship, to live in proximity with others, and to care for the human family. Thus, the stewardship of His creation includes the air, oceans, rivers, parks, and even the streets and alleyways of our great cities. We are His stewards.

The world needs a clear prophetic voice defending God’s creation. Prophets are not popular. They have often been the object of ridicule and criticism. It should not surprise us that in the context of worry about jobs, suspicion of government regulation, and pursuit of financial gain, the prophetic voice of concern for creation is unpopular today.

Where is the voice of the church? Martin Luther King Jr., in his letter from a jail cell in Birmingham, lamented the silence of the church regarding human rights. “There was a time when the church was very powerful—in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.”4 I believe that lament can be shared regarding the silence of the church today in the matter of creation stewardship.

Where is the voice of the church? It is not so much the silence of the organization I lament. Seminaries and church entities publish position papers and statements that call for stewardship of the earth. However, people of the church too often remain silent in their daily lives.

Four things we can do

This inaction needs to change. Let us challenge ourselves as Sabbath-celebrating, Creation-affirming Christians to fulfill our stewardship of creation in four distinct ways.

First, confirm the creation of our world as a precious gift. The disciple John modeled that witness in his gospel:

In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him
(John 1:1–3).

We seem to be able to do this. We can find places of beauty and exclaim, “Wow! Thank You for the gift!”

Second, connect to the land, water, and air. We will love the earth when we come to know it. Study and interact with creation. Consider, for example, our connection to and dependence on water. We are forever linked, really intertwined, with every drop of water. So, learn the science of your watershed: the creeks, rivers, lakes, underground aquifers, and ocean. In enjoying the natural wonders of rivers, lakes, and oceans, we become familiar with animal and fish habitats, their fragile nature, and determine to protect them. Then we become stewards.

The third fulfillment of stewardship, we find more difficult. Confess and repent. We will be unable to sacrifice and act to protect the earth until we confess the damage that we have done, the damage that we do, and then—repent.

I have been saddened to see a reduction of the number of waterways protected from pollution, pained to see the scrapping of clean emissions plans aimed to cut down carbon emissions, and hurt by the rolling back of regulations requiring methane emitters to reduce methane pollution. I have been heartbroken to observe bans on the use of hydrofluorocarbons eliminated and that automobile fuel efficiency standards have been lowered.

However, we all share culpability. As good stewards, we must consider our role; our choices; and how we might, by God’s grace, reverse direction.

The fourth fulfillment is the most difficult. Act! Protect the environment and stand up for it. Pollute the waters? Stand up and say no. Pollute the air? Stand up and say no. Poison the soil with pesticides and chemicals? Stand up and say no.

It may not be popular to oppose pesticides, to lobby for renewable energy, to reduce carbon emissions, or to regulate industrial pollution—but it is Christian stewardship. The crowd we identify with may ridicule such efforts. However, we are servants of God, stewards of His gift. We should act.

“Do you like it?”

This is our Father’s world! Do you believe He created the earth? Then care for it. Let your creation stewardship be a witness. Some care for the earth because it means human survival. We care for the earth because it is a gift from God. We share His concern. It rings very hollow to confess the Christian faith and ignore the pollution of the earth.

My wife rejoiced in the gift that I gave her. We, too, need to rejoice in the gift God that gave us.

“Do you like it?”

“Like it? I love it!”

“You love it?”

“Yes! Wow! I love it.”

Good, now go take care of it, as good stewards must do.

  1. Scripture is from the New Living Translation.
  2. Maltbie Davenport Babcock, Thoughts for Every-Day Living (New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1901), 180. Retrievable at https://archive.org/details/thoughtsforever00babc.
  3. One example news release is Matt McGrath, “Coronavirus: Air Pollution and CO2 Fall Rapidly as Virus Spreads,” BBC News, March 19, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-51944780.
  4. Martin Luther King Jr., Why We Can’t Wait (New York, NY: Harper and Row, 1963), 80.
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Skip Bell, DMin, is professor emeritus of Christian leadership, Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States.

September 2020

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