God's Creation

The Lesson of Genesis

The first command God gave after blessing the first humans was to

"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." (Genesis 1:28)

Wild Malus sieversii apple in Kazakhstan
Wild Malus sieversii apple in Kazakhstan
The word "dominion" raises lots of questions. What does it say about our responsibility to the rest of what God has created. Some Christians think it means just that we have control and the right to use the rest of creation. Others think it says that we are superior to the rest of creation. We look at a restatement of the story of creation in the second chapter of Genesis and see what responsibilities God gave the first humans as a way of defining what the word "dominion" should mean. In Genesis 2:15 we see that

"The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it."

This account indicates two responsibilities the first humans had with regard to God's creation

1. the responsibility to "till it" (plow and cultivate it) indicates that we have the right to use creation to provide our needs.

2. the responsibility to "keep it" indicates that we have the task of preserving and protecting God's creation.

According to this understanding we cannot merely use the rest of God's world without thinking of the consequences of our actions. We must be good stewards of creation.

What Does It Mean to Be Stewards?

When you have a pet, a dog, a cat, fish, a bird or some other animal, you have a responsibility to take care of that pet to feed it, water it, and care for its other needs. Even animals we use for food deserve respect and humane treatment including a humane method of death. This is part of the larger concept of stewardship. We believe that all that is really belongs to God and what comes into our hands must be respected as God's property. We care for it knowing that how we respect God's things is an indication of how we respect God.

Entomologist Elmer Ahrens (left) and animal caretaker Adolfo Pena inspect for cattle fever ticks, USDA
Entomologist Elmer Ahrens (left) and animal caretaker Adolfo Pena inspect for cattle fever ticks, USDA.
Sharing the fruits of what God has put in our hand with others is a way to respect what God has given us. This is the essence of what we do in our worship services when we take an offering. We give back to God a portion of what God has given us as a way of remembering that all that we have is really God's. In our worship services, we usually do that with money. But that is merely a convenient symbol. We are really supposed to be doing it with our money and our talents and our time. Giving in the offering is to be an outward, physical symbol of an inward and spiritual act of giving our whole lives to God.

You may ask, "How much should we give? The ancient tradition is for us to give God 10 percent of all we have. Then the question is, how much of what I give to God should be given to the church?" In the Presbyterian Church we recommend you give 6 percent of your income to God through your local church and use the other 4 percent of your gift to support other causes you believe advance God's work. For some people that may be a local food pantry or HIV/AIDS clinic, for others it may be an educational institution or a justice advocacy group, and for still others it may be a political group or even gifts given secretly to persons in need. But remember the issue is always giving back to God not how much one gives or where.

What About Evolution?

Any discussion of creation raises questions about the mechanics behind how the world originated. The information in the first two chapters of Genesis relates to God's act and our responsibilities. It is also written in poetic imagery designed to be understood at several different levels. There is no discussion of chemical processes, dinosaurs, ice ages or pre-human ancestors. The teaching of Genesis is more about our relation to God, to other people, and to the rest of creation than it is about mechanics.

We do not talk about a theory of creation because the biblical account is given to teach us about relationships and we progress as we learn and choose to follow the principles in that account more closely. Evolution is called a theory because we progress as we fill gaps in our information and reorganize our models on the basis of newly discovered chemical, geological, fossil, and DNA evidence.

We must never forget that the question is not, How did God make the world, but what is my responsibility to the world around me?

The problem with trying to make evolution and creation opposing ideas is that they do not speak about the same things. Evolution does not speak about values and creation does not speak about the mechanics. As Presbyterians, we believe there is nothing in science that opposes faith. Where faith and science often do connect is in the field of ethics. In ethics the questions have to do with what should be done with the possibilities science offers. How do those possibilities affect other persons and the world of which we're stewards?

Medicine, engineering, architecture, even music and art all have aspects that are informed by our understanding of the mechanics revealed and described through science. We must never forget that the spiritual question for us is not, how did God make the world, but what is our responsibility to the universe we were born into?

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