As I have been writing this series, my definition of stewardship has also evolved. I mentioned in previous articles the term “created co-creator” as a definition of what it means to be human. This is the idea that we have been brought into being to participate in the continuing action of God’s creation. To further expand on this idea, I will say that we have been made beautiful by God in order to make something beautiful.
This is not a new requirement that all Christians become artists or musicians, as though beauty was only confined to the art world. It is an understanding that we have been called to make and preserve beauty in the world. Stewardship becomes divided into two spheres of action. In one sphere, we are actively using the gifts that God has given us to make something beautiful. Art is beautiful. A garden is beautiful. A home run is beautiful. A loving family is beautiful. Community is beautiful. Peace is beautiful. Justice is beautiful. Go make something beautiful!
The other sphere is more about preserving the beauty that already exists. This is where we get into environmental stewardship. Many countries have areas that they consider so beautiful and important that they actively preserve them as national or state parks. As much as possible, they seek to limit the impact of humanity on such areas, restricting their use, in some cases restricting the number of tourists that can enter them in a given year. This is considered good stewardship.
As Christians we might consider our stewardship of creation in a similar way. What are we doing to minimize our impact on God’s good creation? How can we help preserve the natural beauty of clean air and water? Are the ways that we can better live in harmony with the forces of nature rather than trying to fight or control them?
For Christianity, it comes down to understanding of a word we rarely use in other contexts, “dominion.” According to the Genesis 1 creation myth, on the sixth day, God made human beings and gave them “dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” Historically we have often treated dominion as license, acting as though God said we could do whatever we wanted with the environment. Species can lose their habitats if it helps human beings to flourish. Air, land and water can be polluted in the long term if human beings are helped in the short term.
I would suggest that we need to let our understanding of dominion be shaped by the image of the human task in the Genesis 2 myth. God puts the first human being in the garden, “to till it and keep it.” Dominion is not power over creation but a responsibility toward creation. We have been made beautiful in order to maintain and preserve the beautiful.
The first task here is not to make picket signs or buy an electric car or solar panels. The first task is consistently to remind ourselves of the beauty of creation which means going and experiencing it. This goes back to the virtue of awe and wonder that I wrote about in December. We need to have the experience of being overwhelmed by the beauty that is already around us. We need to take the time to encounter the vastness of nature and wonder at the small and fascinating details. We need to get outside, celebrating the power and the mystery, the strength and frailty that make up the living creation. Then let the awe and wonder turn into gratitude. Let it inspire us to care for what God has made so that each day we ask ourselves how our plans for the day help or harm the creation. Will our next steps create, damage or destroy? We have been made beautiful in order to make something beautiful with our lives. We have been made beautiful to preserve the beauty that God has made.