Laoshou Mountain in Yunnan Province, China, had become an environmental problem as a result of quarrying, so the local government decided to take action. Rather than plant more trees or try to reseed the deforested mountain, they instead hired workers to spray paint the entire mountainside green! The workers told nearby villagers it was to improve the view from a new government building. One villager noted, “We thought the workers were here to spray pesticides before planting saplings. But it turned out to be green paint.”
Obviously, this is a negative example of human stewardship of the created world! Our reading today covers the sixth day of creation, as well as the “creation mandate” or “creation blessing,” which despite the Fall was never revoked. When God created human beings, He decreed that we are to “rule over” the animal kingdom (v. 26). This is just what it sounds like—men and women as kings and queens in the natural realm. But our “rulership” is contingent, not absolute, meaning that we kings and queens are held accountable by the High King of all. We rule as stewards, not tyrants. We can’t forget that it was God who put the “crown” on our heads: “You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands” (Ps. 8:5–6).
The “creation mandate” describes the stewardship that we are responsible to carry out. Nature provides our food, as an explicit gift from God (vv. 29–30). To “subdue” and “rule over” (v. 28) doesn’t mean that we have the right to exploit nature for our own selfish gain. In Near Eastern cultures, kingship implied something like a caretaking or shepherding relationship—a relationship of authority, to be sure, but a close and mutually beneficial relationship. People have been given the charge to govern for the benefit of the entire created world.