My Dad was a farmer. So was his Dad. They didn’t like “greenies” as they called environmental protesters. But they held the farm across generations, so they wanted to treat the land in a sustainable way.
My Dad always ploughed across the slope, so the furrows held the water, not down the slope where the water would wash the soil away. He hated overstocking: he reckoned farmers who carried too many head per acre had more droughts than those who looked after the land. In a time when many farmers burned off the stubble after harvest, he ploughed it back into the soil. Periodically he even spelled the paddocks (leaving then fallow).
He wasn’t perfect, but he taught me to respect the land, to see it as a gift from God for us to use and care for. It was just a small farm tucked away in a little valley with a creek running down between the mountains. When I go back there, I still feel that love of the land, a deep connection to country.
Most people throughout history have had feelings like that. But then our world changed. Large numbers of people moved off the land and into cities, to work in the factories of the industrial revolution. We dug up iron and burnt coal to build the machines that now dominate our lives. Those who owned the machines became wealthy, while the rest of us became cogs in the machines, working shifts to keep them running night and day.
Of course, somebody has to buy all the stuff we’re manufacturing. Otherwise the machines grind to a halt. Perish the thought that people might stop buying stuff: that’s called “recession.” The advertisers drive us, “More! More! More!”
Along the way, we lost our connection to the land. We stopped thinking about how we care for the earth, keep the rivers alive, and breathe fresh air. Those things aren’t on our radar if we only care about short-term gain.
There’s a better way. It’s how God thinks about the earth and our place in it. Earth is his idea. God established two realms, with earth under heaven’s management. God blessed the earth to make it fruitful (Genesis 1:11-12). We plant seeds, and it grows a crop. We plant trees, and fruit grows. The earth and its creatures are designed to be fruitful. That’s God’s blessing (1:22, 28).
And we have a role in this productive world. God appointed us as managers of his farm, to ensure the animals are controlled and cared for, to plant the seeds to grow the crops (1:29-30). God was pretty chuffed with how he’d set up his earthly realm (1:31).
So we’re tenants of God’s farm. That metaphor persists through the whole Bible. When God gave the Promised Land to Abraham’s descendants, God wanted them to see it as his land, not their own. They were tenants on God’s farm. They could sub-lease it but not to sell it, since it belonged to God (Leviticus 25:23).
Because they were only tenants and not the owner, the community of God had to look after each other and the land in the way their ruler intended. If they misrepresented God, he could end their tenancy and give the land to other people who would represent him well (Matthew 21:43).
It’s true: we never own the planet. We care for it on God’s behalf for the few years of our life, and then pass it on.
“The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1). When we understand that, we can’t abuse it for short-term gain, hunt species to extinction, or treat oceans as plastic dumps.
There is something inherently evil about the destruction of God’s world. If we behave as the enemies of God’s realm, he will have to bring us to justice. He will “destroy those who destroy the earth” (Revelation 11:18). We dishonour God when we mistreat his world.
People of God, let’s rise up and set the example of caring for God’s world. It’s our privilege — our “glory and honour” — to take responsibility for the earth and its creatures (Psalm 8:5-8).
Anybody can sing worship songs, but how we treat the farm gives honour to the owner:
Psalm 8 9 O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!