The Image of God and Creation

With respect to Earth Day, here’s an early excerpt from a book I’ve been working on (working title Theology for Normal People):

Scripture connects our status (the living images of God) and our purpose (rulers) most explicitly in caring for the earth. God makes us in his image so that we may rule over all the creatures of the earth.

Some people today have let that authority go to their heads. They see it as license to do whatever they please with God’s creation. I’ve heard people use their “dominion over the earth” to explain everything from disregard of the environment to abuse of animals. Here’s how one well-known writer explains her “Christian worldview” related to the environment:

The ethic of conservation is the explicit abnegation of man’s dominion over the Earth. The lower species are here for our use. God said so: Go forth, be fruitful, multiply, and rape the planet—it’s yours. That’s our job: drilling, mining and stripping. Sweaters are the anti-Biblical view.[1] Big gas-guzzling cars with phones and CD players and wet bars—that’s the Biblical view.[2]

Please don’t take anything in that quote as the “Biblical view.” Though the author quotes some parts of the creation account (note: you won’t find “rape the planet” in there), you could wonder if she had ever read the rest of it. Did she miss the part where God calls his creation good and delights in it?

Did she miss the part where God still claims ownership of it? “To the LORD, your God, belong the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it” (Deuteronomy 10:14).

Even if she understood the earth as God’s gift to us—after all, “The highest heavens belong to the LORD, but the earth he has given to mankind” (Psalm 115:16)—what kind of way is this to treat a precious gift?

The brilliant poet and farmer Wendell Berry gives us much better theology to live by:

The ecological teaching of the Bible is simply inescapable: God made the world because He wanted it made. He thinks the world is good, and He loves it. It is His world; He has never relinquished title to it. And He has never revoked the conditions, bearing on His gift to us of the use of it, that oblige us to take excellent care of it. If God loves the world, then how might any person of faith be excused for not loving it or justified in destroying it?[3]

When we take extra care to protect and preserve this earth, we don’t do it because we idolize creation in any way. We do it because we bear the image of the God who created it and loves it and calls it good.

When we make small decisions (like in the clothing and foods we purchase) or large decisions (like adopting pets from shelters) that support the humane treatment of animals, we do it because we bear the image of God. This is how God desires his creatures to be treated.

In our current culture, many people debate the scientific findings about what’s good for our earth and what’s not. Sadly, some Christians have allowed their political leanings to take them beyond the science to an entrenched stance against any concern for our environment. We may debate the science. We should certainly do our best to learn what truly benefits the earth and what harms it. What we have no excuse for, as Christians, is to behave as if God’s creation is anything less than a precious gift.

[1] She was arguing against someone who wore a cardigan sweater while he talked about turning down the thermostat.

[2] From Ann Coulter in “Oil good; Dems bad,” Jewish World Review, October 13, 2000. Some people have asked me if this was an attempt at irony. “Surely no one really believes this!” Go back to the original source and see its full context. No irony here.

[3] From “God and Country” in What are People For?: Essays, p. 98