In about two weeks our first born is due. This fills me with a nervous excitement that I have also felt before rugby matches or when I’m about to explore a new trail on my bike (not to trivialise parenthood of course). However, it has also got me thinking about my beliefs and the beliefs that my wife and I want to model as parents.
Part of the reason I got involved in the conservation sector was because of an ideal – I believed and still believe that God created the universe, said that it was good, and placed humans in it to look after it. Adams first job, after all, was to tend the garden. While there will always be the need to use parts of creation to sustain human life, there will never be justification for the reckless destruction of the things that God has made, which are also a glimpse of his glory.
In the past, for whatever reason, I seemed to skip the section of Christianity that demanded DOMINION over creation. Instead, I chose not to believe that the earth was going to hell in a handcart and that there was nothing we could do about it. It would, of course, be easy to believe the opposite of that statement given the current state of affairs. Humanity missed the global UN target to stem the decline of biodiversity loss by 2010. In the UK recent report published by a coalition of Environmental NGOs, and launched by Sir Dave (Sir David Attenborough to everyone else), found that 60% of all UK species and habitats are in decline.
‘So what does this all have to do with becoming a father?’ I hear you say. Well, one of the lines that is continually used by the environmental sector is that of “handing the earth over to the next generation in a better condition than we got it”,and to be honest, I have felt a little down trodden about that goal of late. I don’t feel like I am handing it over in a better state than when I found it. But in spite of all that I do have hope…
In 1967 Lynn White, Jr, wrote an influential paper entitled ‘The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis’ which argued that the “Judeo-Christian tradition” was the cause of “our ecological crisis”. It has been claimed that White’s paper, which has been reprinted in numerous textbooks and other anthologies, is the main reason many college students in America learn that Christians are to blame for the environmental problems the world now faces. “God planned all of this explicitly for man’s benefit and rule: no item in the physical creation had any purpose save to serve man’s purposes”, was White’s assessment of the Christian attitude toward God’s creation. Sadly, I think that this is too often a fair enough assessment…but that is not where hope lies and it does not fit with my understanding of the gospels.
What I am hoping in is being able to model to the next generation what I believe to be the true biblical meaning of dominion. Francis Schaeffer put it like this: “The Christian is called upon to exhibit this dominion, but exhibit it rightly; treating the thing as having value in itself, exercising dominion without being destructive.”
But before Schaeffer’s time, in fact over 500 years before him, John Calvin in 1554 said of dominion to mean a “responsible care and keeping that does not neglect, injure, abuse, degrade, dissipate, corrupt, mar, or ruin the earth”.
As I approach fatherhood and begin the next generation of my own, I am going to hope in that because as Jim Wallis says “hope is believing in spite of the evidence and watching the evidence change”.