Tuesday, March 22

Under Our Authority

I've begun to work on a post (or three) on the issues surrounding drilling for oil in the Alaska Wildlife Refuge. My plan is to take an even-handed look at both sides of the debate--the side supporting oil drilling and the side against it. It's a complicated question, but they always are, aren't they?

Before I discuss the real issues, however, I've decided to explain what I believe to be humankind's rightful relationship to the earth and it's resources, because that can't help but affect the way I judge the issues. I've tried to base my viewpoint on God's revelation to us in scripture, but this still involves making inferences from things that may not be laid out clearly, so there is room for disagreement. You may not have exactly the same understanding of our human responsibility for the earth that I do, but knowing where I stand should help you come to your own conclusions from from my presentation of the arguments.

Field dressing a bison
After the flood, God gave Noah permission--maybe even encouragement--to use living creatures for food, along with the plants that had already been given to humankind to eat in the Garden of Eden. "Everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea," God said, "are under your authority. You may eat any moving thing that lives. As I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. (Genesis 9: 2,3 NET)"

The earth belongs to the Lord, of course, but he's chosen to give human beings rulership over the plants, the animals, and the rest of the earth's resources. God told Adam and Eve to fill the earth and subdue it (Genesis 1:27), and we inherit that command. The idea of subduing the earth, in context, is that of managing the created order to our advantage, or harnessing it's potential for our continued benefit. We need what the earth has to offer us, and God have given us the authority and the responsibility to use the earth's many gifts as we see fit.

The Boss of the earth has delegated managerial authority to us. We have the freedom of our status as managers, but also the headache; for along with the freedom to act as we see fit comes the responsibility to act in a way that assures, as much as possible, the continued welfare of the whole system. We are to be rulers but we must be benevolent rulers. It's not an easy job, but one that requires careful attention and wise decision making.

Thanking the Lord for a safe
and successful hunting trip
We needn't be afraid to use what is there for us. From the Old Testament record we can gather that God wanted his people to have everything they needed to subsist and then some, for he provided things for pure enjoyment as well. God gives "wine that makes people feel so good, and so they can have oil to make their faces shine, as well as food that sustains people's lives. (Psalm 104:15 NET)" He created and sustains that creation in order to give to us what we need to live, and also to give us pleasure in our lives. That we would use those gifts and see in them the magnificance of the Provider is one of the ways God intended creation to work, and if we deny ourselves the gifts without good reason, we may be missing out on one of the ways He intends for us to know and understand His generousity.

At the same time, Psalm 104 gives us a picture of God as provider to all living creatures. The given purpose of the rain that falls on trees is to grow and sustain them so that they in turn will provide places for birds to nest. The high mountain is made for the wild goats, and the cliffs for the rock badgers. There is something wonderful about all the living things God has made and the way He provides for all of them. There is something glorious in the whole working system as he sustains it, for after listing all the ways God provides for his creatures, the Psalmist says:
May the splendor of the Lord endure!
May the Lord find pleasure in the living things he has made! (Psalm 104:31)
All of creation pleases Him, the whole of it shows His splendor, and He values it all.

Celebrating the successful
hunt with a community feast
Disregarding the value that creatures and their environments have simply because they were created by God and were made by Him to work the way they do is devaluing something that is of significance to God. If He values the rocky mountains and the goats that trip there, so should we. The created systems and the creatures within them ought to be preserved as they are as much as possible because God derives pleasure from them.

It's in balancing these two principles--using and enjoying what is given to us, and valuing the created system and caring for it--that the difficulty comes. This is where we need to be wise and thoughtful as God's delegated caretakers of the earth. We won't always agree on what is the best move, but at least we should take some time to consider the issues carefully before we decide to act in a way that may significantly change things within the created system.

All photos taken from the Yukon Bison Hunt, a page belonging to my youngest son's former elementary school. Our family was at the feast pictured, and youngest son went on the school bison hunt that year. I've written a bit more about this here.