I love fishing; it is hands down one of my favorite things to do. Even when I don’t catch many fish, I love the experience of being out on the water while watching the sun rise as the fish slap the top of the lake, bearing witness to the slow start to the day. For the longest time I was stuck with fishing off of the shoreline. However, my grandpa, who had an old, 14’ aluminum, John boat with faded brown paint and an old rust colored trailer from the 80’s, saw how much I loved fishing. He decided to free me from the confines of shore fishing. This boat he gave me to use was my ticket to fishing freedom and, short of selling it, I was free to do whatever I wanted with it. My dad and I bought a trolling motor and some new paint and spent a decent amount of time restoring the boat to look as good as it ever had.

Now this boat that I was given to use is practically my own, but essentially my Grandpa’s. This means that for all practical purposes the boat is under my responsibility and I can do with it what I want. However, at the end of the day my grandpa is the one the who owns the boat. I must treat the boat as I would if my grandpa were sitting right there with me the whole time, because, eventually, I have to give it back and he is going to see all that I have done to his boat while it was under my care. This is the basic idea of stewardship; I am the steward of my grandfather’s boat.

Our care of the environment is a lot like how I care for my grandpa’s boat, only on a much larger, more complex scale. We are not owners of the world, or anything in it for that matter, though we stand in as caretakers and stewards. The distinction between being owners and stewards is simple and often repeated, but its impact significant and far-reaching.

So what does it look like when we recognize that “the earth is the Lord’s and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it?”[1]

Conservation, on a very basic level, simply means that we don’t destroy something that isn’t ours to begin with. It seems to go without saying that I wouldn’t purposefully wreck my grandpa’s boat and scrap the metal, so it begs the question, why would we do that to something owned by God? The problem gets more complex here, because sometimes it is often unclear what the best course of action might be. However, this utilitarian framework misses the point. Rather than thinking in terms of gain and loss, we should think in terms of respect to the owner, who values His creation. The idea is simple, but the solutions are much more complex. Nevertheless, if we continue to place human happiness at the center of our focus instead of God’s glory, our care for the environment may easily fall by the wayside.

Improvement is the natural step after conservation. Stopping the problem is part of the solution, but like painting the boat, caring for something involves more than just, “not destroying it”. Caring for our environment can become a spiritual discipline, to clean where we can clean, recycle where we can, and do our part in restoring the land from the damage that has been done to it. There is plenty to do and every act of care for the environment demonstrates respect and love for its creator.

Finally, we can get informed and involved in solving the systemic problems. It is no surprise that 100 people recycling properly and using fewer resources won’t save the world. Even voting on fees for environmentally harmful practices won’t fix all of our problems. The point is to be involved in caring for God’s property so that, as a community, we represent a people who care for what God cares about, and God cares about His creation. Not all “environmentally friendly” agendas are the most effective solutions to the problems, so we need to be aware of the issues and be informed on what is necessary to sustain a healthy environment.

In the end, we will be giving back to God all that he has lent us, our bodies, money, houses, cars and the earth we inhabit. Let us do our best to remember who really owns the world and in doing so, show how much we care about our God by caring for the things He has given to us.

[1] Psalm 24:1 NASB