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Bible Dictionaries

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary


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By God’s appointment, human beings are the earthly rulers of the created world. From the beginning God’s intention was that as they brought the physical world under their control, nature would enter into fuller glory and people would enter into greater blessing (Genesis 1:28). Nature’s destiny was tied up with that of the human race. Therefore, when Adam and Eve sinned and brought suffering upon themselves, nature also suffered (Genesis 3:17-18; Romans 8:20; Romans 8:22). Only when a redeemed humanity enters its full glory will nature enter its full glory (Romans 8:19-23).

Different attitudes to nature

People who do not believe in God may not agree with the Christian that the human race has authority over nature. They may consider that men and women have no more rights than animals, plants, or even lifeless things such as minerals. As a result they may worship rocks or trees, and sometimes may treat animals better than they treat people. The outcome of their belief is not that they raise nature to the level of humans, but that they lower humans to the level of the animals (Romans 1:20-25).

God’s people, while not giving animals, plants and minerals a higher place than God intended for them, should nevertheless realize that these things have a place and purpose in God’s order. This was demonstrated in the law God gave to ancient Israel. He allowed his people to plant trees for fruit or to clear forests to establish settlements (Leviticus 19:23-25; Joshua 17:18), but he did not allow them to chop down trees unnecessarily. People could not destroy forests and orchards simply to use the trees for building siegeworks. They were to use only those trees that were not useful for anything else (Deuteronomy 20:19-20).

Likewise God taught his people to be kind to animals. They were to give proper food and rest to the animals that worked for them, and were not to use their animals in any way that could be considered cruel (Deuteronomy 5:14; Deuteronomy 22:10; Deuteronomy 25:4). In killing animals they were not to be heartless or thoughtless. They had to consider the animal’s instincts and feelings, and remember the need to maintain the balance of nature (Exodus 23:19 b; Leviticus 22:28; Deuteronomy 22:6-7). In particular they had to acknowledge that God was the owner of all life, and that they could take the life of an animal only by his permission (Leviticus 17:13-14; Deuteronomy 12:15-16; Deuteronomy 12:23-24; Psalms 50:10-11; see BLOOD).

Responsibility to God

Although given authority over nature, people are not to treat nature according to their own selfish desires. They do not have unlimited right over nature, for they are merely the representative of God in administering what God has entrusted to them. God is the owner of nature (Psalms 24:1-2; see CREATION), and people are answerable to God for the way they treat it (Genesis 2:15; Psalms 8:6-8).

According to the gracious permission given them by God, people may use nature for their own benefit. God allows them to take minerals from the earth, to enjoy the fruits of plant life, to cut down trees to build houses, to eat the meat of animals, and to kill insects and animals that threaten their lives (Deuteronomy 8:7-10; Deuteronomy 12:15; Joshua 6:21). But God does not give them the right to desolate the land solely for monetary gain, or destroy life solely for personal pleasure. Their attitude to nature should be a reflection of the care over nature that the Creator himself exercises (Psalms 104:10-30; Matthew 6:25-30; Matthew 10:29).

God gave specific laws to the people of Israel concerning their attitude to nature in the matter of farming. He told them to rest their land one year in seven. If they failed to, he would force them to rest it by driving them from it (Leviticus 25:3-7; Leviticus 26:34-35; Leviticus 26:43; see SABBATICAL YEAR). God assured the Israelites that he would use nature as a means of blessing them when they obeyed him, but of punishing them when they disobeyed him (Deuteronomy 11:13-17; Deuteronomy 28:1-24; 2 Chronicles 7:14).

It seems that God so created the natural world that, when people act towards it without restraint, they help bring ruin to it and to themselves (Isaiah 24:5-6). Christians know that human sin affected nature from the time of the rebellion in Eden (Genesis 3:17-19), but they know also that when they are finally delivered from the effects of sin, nature also will be delivered (Romans 8:19-23).

In their personal lives Christians work towards the goal of their deliverance from the consequences of sin. They should work towards similar deliverance in all things affected by sin. Not only should they purify themselves because of the likeness they will one day bear to Christ, but they should also help towards the healing of nature in view of the full glory God has planned for it (Philippians 3:20-21; Titus 2:11-14; 1 John 3:2-3).

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Nature'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. 2004.

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