This post continues a series on ethics, which began here. My goal is to work my way through an Anglican process for developing sexual ethics. In recent posts, I have addressed love, obedience, and purity as possible candidates for core ethical principles. Here I turn to stewardship.
Almighty God, whose loving hand hath given us all that we possess: Grant us grace that we may honor thee with our substance, and, remembering the account which we must one
day give, may be faithful stewards of thy bounty, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
All Things Come of Thee, O Lord
Love of God requires us to love all that God creates. Far too often, we have seen ourselves as the paramount of creation and its only proper end. Scripture advises us otherwise. The whole book of Job counsels that there are things going on beyond the scope of humanity. Chapters 40-43 in particular speak of the vast extent of nature, which goes beyond our interest, our power, or even our comprehension. Jonah 4:11 reminds us that God cares for the cattle just as Matthew 10:29-31 (and Psalm 84:3) remind us that God cares for the sparrows. We are not alone in God’s regard.
The two accounts of creation diverge with regard to stewardship. In Genesis 1:29 God gives all the plants for our use, saying, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.”
Note 1: It appears to be a free gift, though made to all animals, not just humans. “And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” (Genesis 1:30) Humans are given dominion over the animals in 1:28, but no permission to eat them until after the flood (Genesis 9:3).
Note 2: There is, I think, an important distinction to be made between giving for use and giving for ownership, but that is a discussion for another time.
In Genesis 2:15, God is clearer about human responsibility: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” The accounts differ, but the ethical mandate is the same. We must care for creation. In the first account, we value the earth as a gift from God and a heritage for our children. In the second account, we value the earth as God’s own property, which we keep on God’s behalf.
We have an obligation to care for the land and its produce, just as the tenants in a vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16; I Corinthians 3:7-9). While that care may be derived from love of God and neighbor, I feel it worth setting aside as a particular ethical principle because it emphasizes a point. God’s care, and ours, extends beyond things with personalities. We have obligations to the animals, plant, even the stones of the earth.
I am not arguing that our care of these things should trump our care of humanity, but I do think we have this duty even when no human interests are being met. I think we are called to care for all of creation, which stands witness to the hands that created it.
A Temple of the Holy Spirit
We have a special obligation to care for ourselves, our souls and bodies, made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26) and temples of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 3:16-17, 6:19). That care extends beyond what we would wish for ourselves; it must include what God wishes for us and what service we may do. This is more than an appeal to obedience, though it has that aspect. It is also, I think, an important gloss on how we balance love of God, love of neighbor, and love of self. Thus we have a variation on the theme of purity that makes it into Christian ethics, if in a rather narrow way; it must always exist in tension with love (which sacrifices) and obedience (even unto death).
The Glory about to Be Revealed
Many Christians believe we have a special care for the world around us. We, being rational creatures, have a unique opportunity, and thus a unique obligation, to care for the world in a way that only we can. The issue will be less important in sexual ethics than in other areas – notably economics and environmentalism – so I will not go into greater detail here except to point out the important parallel between our personal physical health, the health of the church, and the health of the world. If we are to take seriously our commitment to the church as the Body of Christ, and the Bride of Christ, we must remain mindful of the health of the whole body. Likewise, we should remember Paul’s admonition in Romans that the new creation came through Jesus Christ not only to benefit humans, but to benefit all of creation. If we, the church, are to be part of that, we must share his concern for the last and least (even when they are not human) and act as his hands and feet in the redemption of the world.
“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” Romans 8:18-23
We must not forget that bodies are a central element in God’s plan for us and for the world. We must not forget that we are inseparable from one another and (if only for the present age) from the very dust of the ground.
In the next two posts, I plan to wrap up core ethical principles with a post on justice and a summary.