This series of reflections dips into the well of Scripture as regards the Quaker testimonies of: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Stewardship/Sustainability.
Stewardship as an essential Christian virtue calls us to care for each other out of love and to care for the earth the same way. Unfortunately, some of the earliest passages in scripture that have been foundational to human understanding of how to care for all living creatures have been misinterpreted through the centuries to create the more prevailing view of domination over creation rather than stewardship. The first creation story (yes, there are two) typically translates Genesis 1:28 to say that God gave humans “dominion over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air.” In this passage, the Hebrew word radah translated as dominion, has been interpreted as the permission to exploit and destroy for one’s own ends. The term actually refers to the radah of a king – but what kind of royal dominion is being referred to here? Psalm 72 uses the same Hebrew word to describe the king as one who “delivers the needy when they call, the poor, and those who have no one to help them. He has pity on the weak and the needy…from oppression and violence he saves them” (Psalm 72:12-14). So, the dominion set forth here refers to protecting the defenseless and providing justice to the oppressed – in another word, stewardship. This is a very different approach from using people, things, and the earth for our own gratification.
Thus, as Friends, we aim to hold to this description of stewardship and to teachings such as in the Christian Scriptures “Keep loving one another earnestly…Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:8-9). We have all been gifted with the ability to love. We need to take that love into every encounter with another and show divine hospitality to them.
There is a great deal of evil in the world – but this is nothing new – it only appears under different guises at various times. What we are called to do in the face of this is to “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to what is honorable in the sight of all…if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12: 17…21). This is stewardship; this is doing right in the eyes of God, our loving Creator.
In addition, our stewardship must take the form of actions, not only words. As the epistle of James says, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warm and filled’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that (James 2:14-23)? The same can be said of our care for the earth. We can go on marches and shake our heads at the state of the environment, but if we do not take practical steps to save our planet from destruction, we continue to be part of the problem and are not being stewards of the gifts God has given us.
So, let us take a hard look at how we treat one another and the natural world and ask:
- Do we see others as God sees? How can we open our eyes to the divine spark within each person and then treat them accordingly?
- How can we use the gifts we have been given in order to pass on the legacy of care for one another as well as the natural world rather than exploiting others and the earth for our own purposes?
- How can we be true stewards in all areas of our lives as Scripture demands?