What does the Sabbath teach us about nature and creation stewardship? Is it simply a day to admire the handiworks of God, or is there a deeper lesson we can glean? Adventists are not the first Protestants to recognize the principles of creation stewardship.
Stewardship of the earth is a Reformation idea. Martin Luther, who sparked the Protestant Reformation, recognized the principles of stewardship theology. In his commentary on Genesis 2:15, Luther recognized that humans are the guardians of the whole earth, that we are “earthkeepers.”1 He even went as far as to recognize that eating of meat was not in God’s original plan and was only permitted due to the fallen state of the world and thus, he promoted a vegetarian diet. Luther’s understanding of the creation was that it is not divine but is marked by the hand of the Creator. We can see, however dimly, marks of God in marred creation. Luther believed that nature points us to worship the Creator and Redeemer.
Seventh-day Adventists, as God’s last day remnant people, are a culmination of the Protestant Reformation. We are tasked with taking the Three Angels’ Message of Revelation 14 to the world. What is this message? The first angel’s message is given in Revelation 14:7.
“[The angle said] Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters” (KJV).
The message of the first angel is that of the Gospel, that God is love and He has redeemed humanity and all of creation, including nature, through the death and resurrection of His Son (John 3:16, Romans 8:20-21). It is also the message that God is coming a second time. Verse seven warns that God’s judgment is near, and we should therefore worship Him. What is interesting about verse seven is how the angel distinguishes who God is.
The angel describes God as the Creator, the One who made everything. This same language is used to describe God in another place, the Ten Commandments. The Commandments were authored by God’s own finger. He identifies Himself in the fourth Commandment. “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is,” Exodus 20:11 (KJV).
This was no accident. The first angel of Revelation 14 is calling the inhabitants of Earth back to the worship of the the Creator God. How do people worship the creator God? We find the answer just a few verses later in Revelation 14:12 “…here are they that keep the commandments of God…” In the last days the angel is calling us back to worship God by keeping his Ten Commandments. The central one is the Sabbath which identifies God as Creator. This is also significant because the Sabbath was set up as a memorial of creation in Genesis.
“The Sabbath calls our thoughts to nature, and brings us into communion with the Creator. In the song of the bird, the sighing of the trees, and the music of the sea, we still may hear His voice who talked with Adam in Eden in the cool of the day. And as we behold His power in nature we find comfort, for the word that created all things is that which speaks life to the soul. He ‘who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.’ 2 Corinthians 4:6.”3
Is it enough to go to church on the seventh day? No! Let us go back to the Fourth Commandment. To keep the Command, we must abstain from work on the Sabbath ourselves and we must let those under our charge rest, including “thy cattle,” Exodus 20:10. The Commandment logically extended to all the beasts under a person’s care.
In the Sabbath command we see a deeper meaning beyond the letter of the law. We see here the role of humans as stewards. It is part of our worship to care for God’s creation on the Sabbath. We must keep the spirit of the law and not simply the letter. If a person let their animals off work on Sabbath but works them twice as hard other days to make up for lost time, they would technically be keeping the letter of the Sabbath law. But they would be missing one of the bigger principles behind the law. That is to treat the animals with kindness and forbearance.
It is not just the animals we are to regard kindly, we are to worship “him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters” Revelation 14:7. This encompasses the entire earth. The first angel is calling us to worship God by caring for all the earth where it is in our ability or “within thy gate.”
The most fundamental principle of the Decalogue is that God is creator and owner of everything. The concept of stewardship undergirds all ten of the Commandments. There is a blessing in this worldview. We are called to treat everyone and everything with respect, even our very own possessions. They are not ours to do with as we please despite what modern ownership philosophy says. Indeed, they are on loan to us by the True Owner. By respecting His ownership, He has promised to bless us with far more than we could ever imagine (Malachi 3:10-11; Deuteronomy 28:1-2).
This brings us to another intriguing question. Are humans the only ones that have rights before God? The rights of humans are well established in Scripture. These rights are well known in modern society thanks to the work of many Christians over centuries. Are we the only living things with rights? What does the Bible teach about fundamental rights for nonhumans? Do other creatures or even the land have rights?
The Bible indeed promotes the rights of all living things in creation. Humans are presented as having the highest order of rights as image-bearers of God. The rest of creation is also protected by natural God-given rights. Creation was not made solely for our own use and pleasure. Creation is not all about us. It also exists for the glory of God (Psalm 66:4). The basic rights of nature will be explored in part two.
Notes and References:
1. Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis, Translated by George V. Schick (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing, 1958): 103.
2. Mark A. Lamport editor, Encyclopedia of Martin Luther and the Reformation Vol. 2, (Lanham: Rowman and Litchfield, 2017): 549-551.
3. Ellen G. White, Desire of Ages, (Mountain View: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1898): 281.
David F. Garner is from Tennessee and has been a writer and youth ministry worker for over ten years. You can find youth ministry resources at his blog Outdoorlessons.org.
Photo by Pieter van Noorden on Unsplash
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