Stewards of Creation


We have just seen the awful destruction by the wildfires on the island of Maui. Although there were multiple causes, one factor that looms behind this disaster is climate change. Dry conditions also have led to unprecedented fires in the western United States and elsewhere; rising ocean levels and increased atmospheric water have led to record flooding in other places. Each year the average high temperature for our planet breaks the previous record. The result worldwide is the loss of homes, crops, and businesses, resulting in the displacement of people and a rise in world hunger. 

Though there are still skeptics, the overwhelming evidence is that this extreme weather results from human-caused climate change. Yes, the climate has changed throughout geological history. But apart from being hit by an asteroid or massive volcanic eruptions hundreds of times more potent than any known in human history, the climate has changed gradually. What we are seeing now is exceptionally rapid climate change, not due to an asteroid or gigantic volcanoes, but due to our putting immense amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.   

Can humans affect the climate of an entire planet? The answer is yes. We are the only species to spread over the whole planet. The one commandment of God we seem to obey is to be fruitful and multiply. We are the only species to develop an extensive culture, create industries, and harness the power of fossil fuels. We can do this because we are created in God’s image, which enables us to understand nature, utilize resources, and create new things. No other creature can do this.

Our problem is two-fold. We are fallen into sin so that instead of serving God and fulfilling God’s direction to care for the earth, we act in self-serving ways. Second, we are not God—we are limited in knowledge and judgment and are often not aware of the unintended consequences of our actions. This has been bad news for our relationships, human societies and creation.

In his day, John Wesley did not know about the new coal-powered industries’ effects on the environment. But he does remind us of two things that can guide us now that we are aware of those effects. First, he was convinced that God loves the entire creation, especially the animals. God’s care for creatures runs throughout the Bible.

Second, humans were created to be God’s viceregents upon the earth, to govern the world such that “all the blessings of God flowed through” humanity “to the inferior creatures.” We were meant to be “the channel of conveyance between” the “Creator and the whole brute creation.” (The General Deliverance) 

In our fallen condition, that channel has been blocked. Wesley speaks of human savagery toward animals as exceeding their savagery toward each other. What is now evident to us is that in addition to that, climate change is leading to the extinction of many species. So it is, as Paul says in Romans 8, the entire creation groans for redemption. 

As persons redeemed by Christ, Wesley encourages us to undertake our original calling as stewards of creation. We should imitate God, “whose mercy is over all his works,” and “soften our hearts toward the meaner creatures.” Given what we now know, would Wesley not also encourage us to care for the earth and all its inhabitants, human and otherwise, by acting to put the breaks on climate change by taking personal and societal actions to reduce carbon emissions?