Christian Earth Stewardship—A Critique: Principle Three

June 8, 2016 § Leave a comment

Principle 3: The purpose of our earth stewardship is to glorify God

This principle defines the proper purpose of an economic system in a Christian community. The word ‘eco-nomics’ literally means the laws of the household. The purpose of the earth household, as earth stewardship interprets its laws, is to glorify God. For thousands of years, human households accommodated themselves to the divine laws of earth household, more or less, or they perished. And, according to the Bible, the divine laws of earth household have served the divine interest, to divine glory.

Until now. As Thomas Berry puts it, industrial human civilization has taken creation off of God’s ‘auto-pilot’ system and put it on manual control. Human tools—human technologies—have given humans the leverage that makes ‘manual override’ of creation possible. Now human ‘laws’ govern how we use these tools, whose interests they serve. In practice, this mostly has been the interests of stockholders and private property, at least in the modern Western, over-developed economies. The earth stewardship principle of God-glorifying purpose challenges this usurpation of purpose. Earth stewardship demands that we align the interests of human households of every scale with the laws inherent in earth household.

This applies to all four types of human ‘households’—that is, to the four types of human organization that produce and consume:

  • family households;
  • businesses, ruled by the laws of profit and loss;
  • nonprofits of all kinds, including religious organizations; and
  • communities, and the governments that manage not just the business of the community (justice and peacekeeping, education, war and the military, records, public health and welfare, etc.), but also the commons and the community’s infrastructures.

Earth stewardship writers, like their secular environmentalist counterparts, have focused primarily on family households, as consumers, and on governments, as regulators. They have focuesd less consistently and less vigorously on direct challenge to corporate households, leaving that to governments as their surrogates in this arena. They also have tended to forget about themselves, to forget about congregations, in particular, as communities that produce and consume, and as communities that could model new ways for households to live on the land.

I believe the main focus of earth stewardship should be on these latter two hitherto less attended-to kinds of households. Business cares not a fig for the glory of God. Its purpose is profit. And business drives most of the destruction of creation.

Earth stewards should develop a much more creative and aggressively prophetic voice regarding business and economics, challenging both the system and the organizations and institutions that give it a body. On the positive side, earth stewardship should guide the creation of businesses that praise God and augment rather than diminish God’s handiwork. We should redefine business interest from profit and loss to service and protection. And we should redefine work.

Work as worship

If we believe that the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament proclaims His (sic) handiwork, then how, in practical terms, should our own handiwork—our earth stewardship and our human labor—add to creation’s worship? Beyond, that is, the obvious responsibility to do nothing that would diminish or degrade creation’s praise, which basic principle we have almost completely forsaken in our wantonness. What positive implications flow from the principle of purpose, beyond the obligation to restore what we have destroyed, to the degree that we can?

We are the only creature that, like God, creates with our handiwork. This means that the work of our hands and minds should be offerings of worship.

We should be able to joyfully lay what we make and do upon the altar of our worship as tokens of our gratitude, in imitation of God’s love of beauty and goodness, in respect of God’s abundance. The products and services of a faithful Christian economy, including our systems of delivery—transportation, packaging, advertising, etc.—should be fully recyclable and/or renewable, so as not to diminish but rather augment creation’s abundance and providence.

Just as importantly, work itself should be a blessing, not a curse, Genesis chapter three notwithstanding. The earth steward is right to question the Bible’s curse of labor. Yes, our toil is painful sometimes, but not always. Not all labor is a curse. Indeed, we often find joy in our work. And which glorifies God more, our pleasure in our labor, or our pain? Is the Judge of Genesis 3 so enamored of His (sic) judgment that only pain and sweat do satisfy? If so, then God would want us to deliberately add to the pain of work with workplaces of torture. Which, actually, greed and heartlessness all too often allow.

Rather, does not God’s judgment hang more heavily over bad business management, over the often distorted relations that govern our labor? Does not the Book of Life record whether we have loved our neighbor, down to the least of them—whether their wages can support a family and leave them an inheritance? Whether the wage slaves are set free? Whether the debtor finds mercy? Whether the worker, regardless of station, can know pleasure, growth and satisfaction in what she or he does? For whatever we do unto each other in our management of labor, we do unto the carpenter’s son. Thus, in how we make things no less than in what we make does the glory of God shine.


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