What is the best term to describe our human relationship to the non-human Creation? This is the question raised in the recent book Beyond Stewardship: New Approaches to Creation Care edited by D. P Warners and M. K. Heun. A steward cares for something that belongs to the true owner. The concept of stewardship assumes that the owner is absent, with the steward acting on behalf of the owner while they are away. This fits the Parable of the Talents, which suggests that the owner, God, is absent – (Matthew 25:14ff). Yet scripture also describes God’s moment by moment sustaining presence within His Creation – Psalm 104 and Hebrews 1:3.
The term stewardship also has been questioned because it seems to show a hierarchical relationship with humans dominant over the less-than-human creation. Yes, we are in some mysterious way made in the “image of God”; yet we and all creatures are made of the same stuff – the humus of the ground. From dust to dust! Debra Rienstra suggests in her recent book Refugia Faith, mentioned in an earlier Creation’s Corner, that there is a kinship between all of God’s creatures. It is an interchange of mutual serving that is distinct in crucial ways from the concept of Creation Care and Stewardship.
Our word “conservation” provides an essential hint. The root “con” indicates a con-service; the prefix “con” means together, mutually, or in common. This reciprocity is a reciprocal serving as parts of the community of Creation meet each other’s needs. A friend, Stan Schmid, captured this question well in his duality titled Renewal – a painting by Stan on a photograph by William Farnsworth. We are to serve Creation by maintaining its fruitfulness but, at the same time, we depend on Creation’s abundant provisions. What is the best descriptor of the human role in this relationship? The word stewardship is understood and will most likely continue to be used, but reciprocal reciprocity, in my mind, is perhaps a better descriptor of God’s intention.
How well is this reciprocity working out? We all know how creation serves us. Indeed, we could not survive without the “support services” of Creation. Is gratitude expressed in both ways of this con-service? Does our serving Creation allow Creation to raise its voice in praise for our efforts on its behalf? Most of our mineral and fossil fuel “resources” – here, the term itself denotes something that we can exploit! – are of finite supply that the Lord has provided for our needs until He returns. How are we doing? What percentage of these resources are we managing to assure a long-term supply? They are not renewable! Would there be “trash” to dispose of in landfills if we were truly living sustainably? What is the best use of our fossil fuels? Once burned up, they are gone. And what about the other than human Creatures? Would the U. S. Endangered Species Act or the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List be needed if God’s image bearers were obedient?
Some food for thought! How are we doing in our part of con service? Are we takers or givers? Do our lives demonstrate reciprocity with Creation? One day at a time. One step at a time.
Thanks for listening.
— Joe Sheldon
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