[Author’s Note: I typically don’t post a lot of religious stuff on Upland Equations. However, as a sportsman, a conservationist, and a Christian, I felt this post was appropriate and important to share on the blog. The purpose of this article is not to push my religious views on anyone, but to show that, whether you take the Bible to be the word of God or not, conservation makes sense and it’s the right thing to do].
I learned something in church the other day that I never knew before. As part of the Law of Moses, the Israelites were commanded to leave unharvested the corners of their fields: “And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not make clean riddance of the corners of thy field when thou reapest, neither shalt thou gather any gleaning of thy harvest: thou shalt leave them unto the poor, and to the stranger: I am the Lord your God.” (Lev. 23:22). In this passage, the expressed purpose of leaving the corners was to feed the poor among them.
As I read this, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was another purpose for this commandment. Having been to Kansas at the end of January in 2011 to hunt bobwhites, I experienced firsthand just how effective leaving the corners unharvested is for wildlife. The numerous bobwhite coveys we found thrive in the corners untouched by the irrigation pivots and the plow. Doubtless, such practices were beneficial to wildlife in biblical times also.
As I researched this issue further, my suspicions were confirmed as I also learned that the Law of Moses also required the Israelites to let their farm land lie fallow every seventh year: “But the seventh year thou shalt let [the land] rest and lie still; that the poor of thy people may eat: and what they leave the beasts of the field shall eat . . . .” (Ex. 23: 11). In this passage, leaving some food (and cover) for the beasts of the field (which could be interpreted as including wildlife) was an express purpose for the necessity of allowing the land to rest for a sabbatical year. As sportsmen have learned over the last century, programs like the Soil Bank and the Conservation Reserve Program have been a boon to the recovery of America’s wildlife populations. However, the ideas underlying these programs are anything but original. As shown by these passages, they stem from the Bible.
This begs the question: Do our modern ideas about land conservation and stewardship have biblical origins also? From my research, I believe so.
First, if conservation is in fact biblical, then one would assume that God cares for all of His creations and wants to conserve them. There are scriptural passages that suggest this. For example, after each of the successive days of creation, the Bible says that: “God saw that it [his creation] was good.” (Gen. 1:10, 12, 18, 21, and 25). At the end of creation, including Man, Genesis states: “And God saw every thing he had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Gen. 1:31). The fact that God expressly stated that He considered his creations as “very good” suggests that He wanted them preserved.
The nature of God in this regard and his relationship to His creations is evident in numerous passages of scripture. For example, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught his disciples: “Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?” (Matt. 6: 26). Of the tiny sparrows, Jesus stated that one of them could not fall to the ground without God’s notice. (See Matt 10:29 and Luke 12: 6). Thus, the Bible clearly speaks of an omniscient God who is totally cognizant of all of his creations and who beneficently provides for them.
So then what of Man and his biblical role in conservation? One cannot start to understand Man’s place in conservation without first looking at the statements made by God at the time of creation: “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” (Gen. 1: 26). This may be one of the most misunderstood scriptures of all time. The use of the term “dominion” makes it sound like Man has unfettered control over the earth and all of its creations.
However, other scriptural references bring this interpretation into serious question. In the 2nd Chapter of Genesis, it states that “the Lord God took man, and put him into the Garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.” (Gen. 2:15) (emphasis added). The use of the word “keep” might mean that Man is to maintain the Garden in the same good condition, or unspoiled. Along the same lines, a “keeper” is someone who keeps, manages, or guards on behalf of another. If that is the case, then Man is more in the nature of a steward than an outright owner of the Earth and its creatures. Jesus taught numerous parables involving stewards who will have to give an accounting to the true owner of the property (See e.g. Luke 12:42 and Luke 16). If these parables are related to Man, they suggest that Man is currently only a steward over the earth and will ultimately have to answer for how he treated the earth and its creatures.
In my book, Heaven on Earth: Stories of Fly Fishing, Fun & Faith, which will be published shortly, I wrote; “When the Lord gave man dominion over the whole earth, he did not intend for man to act as a selfish, short-sighted tyrant but as a righteous steward who wisely uses the land and its natural resources for his own benefit, but also conserves, protects and preserves them to pass on to future generations.”
Other numerous passages of scripture bolster this interpretation. For example, in Proverbs 12:10, we read: “A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.” This scripture suggests that the righteous in all times have respected the life of animals. Likewise, if we consider the miracle of the quail in the Old Testament, we see a harsh punishment to the Israelites when they took more quail than they needed to sustain their lives (Numbers 11: 31-35). The offenders ended up in the Graves of Lust, which is a lesson and warning to all that we should only take from Nature what we need to survive.
While God expressly gave Man stewardship over the Earth and the animals thereof, the writer of Ecclesiastes wrote something very intriguing:
I said in mine heart concerning the estate of the sons of men, that God might manifest them, and that they might see that they themselves are beasts.
For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.
This scripture specifically states that death generally falls on both man and beast and man has no preeminence that way. However, it could also be read to imply that there is a symbiotic relationship between man and the beasts of the earth. If man unwisely degrades the Earth and destroys its creatures, this obviously impacts Man: “As the one dieth, so dieth the other” as we all―man and animal―have to share the Earth and we all have one breath. Simply put, if Man destroys and pollutes the Earth, he is not only impacting wildlife, but also Man. Along with the principle of good land stewardship mentioned above, these ideas are significant to conservation and are found in the Bible.
We often honor men like Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, and Aldo Leopold for their contributions to conservation and for good reason. No doubt, these men, their ideas, and their actions have helped to conserve our precious natural resources for future generations. However, I think it is important to also understand that conservation has much deeper roots. If you take the Bible as the word of God (which I admittedly and unabashedly do), then conservation and being a good steward of the land first comes from Him.