“The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
So, God has made this final new creature—a man—much more intimately than all the rest. He has made him in His image in a way nothing else in all of creation was so designed (and though the woman was created differently and separately, she was equally made in His image). When you have created something so carefully as this, the first thing you do with it conveys an awful lot about what you made it for. That’s what we see here.
When God finishes creating the man, the first thing He does is to put Him in this incredible garden He has made. It’s a beautiful garden filled with every kind of tree that is beautiful and good for food. Now, this is a few thousand years ago and so it is entirely possible there were types of trees there we don’t have around today, but do a bit of holy imagining with me. There were apple trees and pear trees and kiwi trees. There were groves of oranges and grapefruits. There were bananas hanging around all over the place. Pecan trees and walnut trees and almond trees were everywhere you looked. Then there were the Oaks and Elms—large, stately beauties that were just for show. It was a place rich with life.
And why? Why did God place the man here? That’s important. Was it simply to enjoy it? Was it to sit back and live off the produce it naturally bore? Was it to just be another resident like all the other animals God had already placed there were? No, no, and no. It was to work and watch over it. It was to tend it and to protect it. In other words, our job from day one (the man now and later the woman to help him) was to be the stewards of the world God had made.
Taking care of the world was why God put us here. It was to take care of it, and, as the next verse indicates, to enjoy and be sustained by what it produces. It was and is ours to care for and to use.
This teaches us a couple of really important truths. First, we are over creation. It’s popular in today’s environmental movement to think that we are just another part of creation, that we are on the same level with the rest of the world. We’re different from it because we’re us and it’s it, but there’s no moral content to that difference. That’s not what we see here.
God created us to be over creation. We are higher in the order of creation than the rest of the created world is. It is there to serve our needs. People have higher value than animals. Human life should be made better by our work with it and that should be a greater concern than what some specific animal or plant species needs. When it comes to this world, under God, we are in charge.
There’s more. Relax. The second thing is this: We are responsible for creation. If it gets broke, it’s creator is going to be looking to hold us responsible. That means that short of endangering or impoverishing human life and flourishing, we should do everything within our power to keep it in the best shape we possibly can. That is, taking care of the environment should be a big concern for believers. In fact, we should be at the leading edge of every wise and appropriate movement to keep the world clean and beautiful.
There is a tension here, yes? We need to preserve it, but we are also free to use it. We are responsible for it, but it is subordinate to us. Falling to either side of this line is unacceptable for followers of Jesus. Using and abusing it is not okay. At the same time, placing human needs beneath the perceived needs of the world is not okay. We’ve got to manage this tension with wisdom and skill or we will have a mess on our hands. Let us be the stewards of this place that we were created to be. Nothing more, nothing less.