In one of the most northerly sightings of man-made waste ever, scientist have found blocks of polystyrene in the Arctic Ocean just 1,000 miles from the North Pole.  As global warning causes sea ice to melt, ocean currents are drifting further northward – bringing detritus with them.  At the same time plastics once trapped in sea ice may now be being released into the ocean.  It is estimated that there are five trillion pieces of plastic in the world’s oceans.     On the other hand, part of the River Thames has seen a remarkable change – Mucking Marshes. Essex.

This major landfill site servicing London, close to the Hamlet of Mucking, was one of the largest landfills in Western Europe filled for decades with municipal and commercial waste floated 30 miles down the River Thames in barges to Mucking Wharf.   In 2012, the site was reclaimed for community and environmental use in a project involving The Cory Environmental Trust, DP World port, and the Essex Wildlife Trust creating the Thurrock Thameside Nature Park.  This beautiful wildlife site is open to the public and hopes to include approx. 845 acres establishing a safe environment for the protection of wildlife and bird populations.

Two portraits of our environment in the 21st Century; one a betrayal, the other a renewal or protection, but what stance should a believer take? Should Christians be concerned about taking care of the world we inhabit?   I think we should!

The bible has little to say about our environment but has an awful lot to say about our stewardship of it!

Scripture is clear that the earth and everything in it was given by God to man to rule over and subdue. “And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth”.1 Truthfully, in my youth, I had a problem with the terms ‘subdue’ and ‘have dominion’.   Surely we shouldn’t abuse the earth and all it offers to mankind, so a little bit of Hebrew understanding came to the rescue.

First the word “subdue”. In Hebrew this is kabash.  You can’t get around it; it does mean “subdue” or “enslave”, and even in the harshest instances “molest” or “rape.”  But here’s the catch:  it only means this when the party being subdued is already hostile.   Hence it’s used to speak of military enemies in scripture.  Not to subdue an attacking army would lead to death, therefore ‘subdue’ used in verse 28 implies that creation will not do man’s bidding gladly or easily and that man must now bring creation into submission by sheer strength, and it is not to rule man.   Take your own back garden for instance; it will soon become wild if left unattended. Every agriculturist together with other life-giving uses of nature at some stage will subdue nature thus fulfilling the command of God.

In Gen 1:26-28, God uses the word radah, a Hebrew word that is often translated as ‘have dominion over’. But I question whether we Western Christians have misunderstood its meaning? It is a word that is used in only a dozen places in the Old Testament, and thus is rather special in its meaning.

Most of us have taken it to mean ‘dominate over’ just as a mediaeval ruler or potentate would dominate over his subjects, using them for his own ends, his own pleasure, his own prestige, his own wars, etc. But further examination of radah shows that this is NOT the type of ‘dominion’ that Christians are called upon to have over the creation. For example, radah as used in Ezek 34:2-5, shows an attitude by uncaring shepherds that God condemns.

“Woe to the shepherds of Israel, who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled [radah] them harshly and brutally.”

I support the argument, that as believers we must show the heart of God, whose image we are made in, and translate that image to creation.

Therefore the term radah, in relation to creation, is not to be harsh, cruel and selfish, but to develop, refine and beautify it for its own sake, not for our sake, but for the sake of the creation.   We should heal those parts of creation that are sick, bind up those parts that are injured, bring back those parts that are straying, search for those parts that have become lost.

This is especially important in this age where disregard to creation and humanity is affecting the entire planet.   In the last few days, The Lancet report has found that Pollution has been linked to nine million deaths worldwide in 2015.2 “Pollution is much more than an environmental challenge – it is a profound and pervasive threat that affects many aspects of human health and wellbeing,” said the study’s author, Prof Philip Landrigan, of the Icahn School of Medicine, at Mount Sinai in New York.

Creation is warning us, in its Creator’s Name, that we have been abusing its wealth in so many ways and for centuries.  Even when we see ourselves as stewards, do we love the creation as God does whose image we assume we bear? Environmental destruction and climate change are not merely biological, political or economic matters, but a matter of our attitude of heart which should be open before the Living God?

And finally, no mincing of words – ‘You can’t love God and ignore the Earth.’

Tags: The Observer;  Mucking Marshes Landfill;;   Essex Wildlife Trust.   Architect’s Journal;    BBC News;   Poiesis Theou;   Theological Wordbook of the OT.   The Bible 1Genesis 1:28

2The Lancet Commission on Pollution & Health