How are Christians to treat God's creation?

Just a little problem that’s been getting at me. I’ve decided that an adoption of Christianity is inevitable for me. Since a young age I’ve been fascinated by wildlife and the environment. But how are we, as Christians to treat wildlife, and the environment? As I subscribe to the view that Genesis 1 describes the universe as a temple, I like to think that since we are given dominion over the earth, we are the priests of the cosmic temple, and it is therefore our role to look after it. At the same time though, the Old Testament uses very violent language to describe our treatment of animals, as Ben Stanhope explains here.

How would you respond to this problem?

I haven’t listened through the entire video, but I did enough to the point where he speaks of the “harshness” implied in the original Hebrew of the phrase “rule over” or “have dominion over” so that I think I get the gist of your question.

Not being a Hebrew or Bible scholar myself, I leave it to others if his handles this end of things well. It doesn’t bother me over much if he is correct, though. I don’t think modern sensibilities (which are themselves very blinkered even in our own context here) are going to find complete and consistent support in either testament. Your youtube friend finds the many occasions of cruelty in the O.T., but then one wonders why any cow should prefer to live in our hamburger-eating culture rather than theirs. At least in their culture they had a mandate that animals were included in a Sabbath rest mandate. Do our modern animals (and fields too!) ever enjoy a Sabbath rest? Yes, we treat animals as property just as they did then, with all the attendant cruelties that some associate with ownership. But tenderness can be found (both then and now too). Nathan’s story to David about the poor man and his precious ewe lamb is interesting. Apparently it wasn’t unheard of in ancient times that animals could be the recipients of tender care and mercy (if you could just keep the rich man away!) Yes, it was “only” a parable, but the peripheral content of parables is revealing too about typical behavior of the time. So no culture then or now seems to have any monopoly on gentleness and tenderness. And in general I think we can find more scriptural imperative exhorting us to gentleness than we can to cruelty. In fact can you think of any scripture anywhere that lifts up cruelty in a favorable light of commendation? I can’t think of one. That doesn’t change the fact that then and now we certainly eat animals, which many vegetarians will point out as an unambiguous cruelty. Answering that needs more than this one short post. I would only say here that non-vegetarians can also feel tenderness and show care towards animals (even the ones they will eventually eat.) Teddy Roosevelt would be a great example back from that time when hunters and environmentalists had not yet diverged into different political quarters.

I would respond the same way I respond to observations that the Old Testament uses very violent language to describe the treatment of women, foreigners, and war prisoners. Not everything in the Bible is intended to be taken as prescriptive or exemplary.

If you want to read intelligent stuff on the Christian responsibility for environmental stewardship, check out Katharine Hayhoe. She is a leading climatologist married to an Evangelical pastor in Texas.


True, and Ducks Unlimited has done far more for habitat preservation than any other organization.
Perhaps it is our priestly duty to care for and manage the environment. That at times may bring into practice things that seem cruel (thinning of the herd) but ultimately promotes the health and welfare of the general population.
It also impacts how we manage the natural resources of the earth if we consider that they are to be managed, not consumed. As all good things come from God, we need to act accordingly.

Sorry, I didn’t listen to your video yet. It is true that Genesis used a violent word to describe our dominion over animals (Robert Alters translation of Genesis and commentary). However, Genesis 2:15 says “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” (NIV) And Proverbs 12:10 says “The righteous care for the needs of their animals, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.” And The Talmud has instructions on taking good care of animals. If you still have any doubts, you need a meet a Jewish animal rights person!

For an expansive treatment of Christian concern for creation, I recommend the following article:

God’s story and the Earth’s story: grounding our concern for the environment in the biblical metanarrative
by Meric Srokosz

The author writes,

Christian concern for the environment and the Earth is often grounded in
the notion of stewardship of God’s creation and so based primarily on the
opening chapters of the Bible. Here the aim is to broaden the basis of
Christian environmental ethics by considering the full sweep of the biblical
metanarrative, and to develop a Christocentric approach that takes account
of the whole Bible – both Old and New Testaments. By doing this we
situate the Earth’s story within the context of God’s story and thereby
provide motivation for our participation in God’s mission to redeem his

The author is an oceanographer at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, UK, with degrees in mathematics and theology, and a Ph.D. in applied mathematics.

Published in Science and Christian Belief, October 1, 2008

The article is available on Academic Search Premier. If you don’t have access to it I can get you a copy.

Oh, I forgot to mention William Wilberforce ((1759-1833), the pious Christian who fought to abolish slavery. He was also an animal rights activist, and founded the first animal protection society.

Here is my current personal view on environmentalism and scripture:

  1. The Universe created by God in Genesis 1 is a temple to God.
  2. By saying we are to rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky and every other living creature which moves across the face of the ground, God is saying we are to have dominion over the land, sea and sky, which were the regions of the universe in Hebrew cosmology.
  3. We therefore have dominion over the whole universe.
  4. We therefore are the priests of God’s holy temple.
  5. It is therefore our role to take care of it.
1 Like

This topic was automatically closed 6 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

This is a place for gracious dialogue about science and faith. Please read our FAQ/Guidelines before posting.