What does it mean to be God’s steward?

posted in: Bible, Stewardship, Theology | 4
By Steve Kindle

 

For every wild animal of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know all the birds of the air, and all that moves in the field is mine.
If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and all that is in it is mine.
~Psalm 50
The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.
~Psalm 24

We begin with Psalm 50. The psalmist creates a scene where God calls the worshipers to reflect on who God is (the summoner of all the earth) and who Israel is (a people of the covenant). God’s people are called to judgment; they have violated their covenant. So far are they from honoring God, God will not honor their rituals of worship. Their sacrifices and rituals are rejected until they are accompanied by right actions and a spirit of thankfulness for what God provides.

Righteous Jews understood this well and incorporated it into their daily blessing of food. These words were very likely said by Jesus as he “gave thanks” on the night he was betrayed. “Blessed are You, Holy One our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.”[1] In this prayer is the twofold recognition that God is the owner of everything and the provider for everyone.

Why has God the right to demand this recognition? Because God, by virtue of being creator of the world, owns everything in it. No bull or goat or anything that might be sacrificed to God was not already God’s. God cannot be given anything that comes from the earth; it is already God’s. The only thing that remains beyond the grasp of God is Israel’s thankfulness as expressed in keeping the covenant. It is only in honoring God’s covenant—through thankful obedience—that true worship is offered. This is no less true for those who would worship God today. What God receives from creation through this thankful obedience is stewardship of the Earth.

Where do such audacious claims come from? How could this psalmist so easily put these words into the very mouth of God? Because the author of Psalm 50 is steeped in Israel’s traditions of creation. The psalmist is reflecting on Genesis 1:1, In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth. God is the owner by virtue of being the creator. Humans have failed God because they forgot this (you who forgot God), and their relationship to God as owner and they as stewards.

How does Genesis depict the relationship of God to humanity and humanity to God? First of all, by distinguishing between the nature of Adam (humanity) and creatures. Adam is created in the image of God. Given the many options for how to understand what this means, Gerhard von Rad sums up its practical import.

“…one will admit that the text speaks less of the nature of God’s image than of its purpose. There is less said about the gift itself than about the task….Just as powerful earthly kings, to indicate their claim to dominion, erect an image of themselves in the provinces of their empire where they do not personally appear, so man is placed upon earth in God’s image as God’s sovereign emblem. He is really only God’s representative, summoned to maintain and enforce God’s claim to dominion over the earth.”[2]

Here, then, is what our appointment as stewards means: to treat creation as God would have it. Why humans are elected to this position may be impossible to say. What is possible to say is that we are not given carte blanche to treat the creation as if we were the creator and its purpose is to serve our ends. Quite to the contrary. We are the managers of God’s estate and are required to fulfill our mission as God would have it done through appropriate tilling and keeping.

David Cotter expresses this point well. “To be in God’s image means to be blessed with the responsibility of ruling the world in such a way that it is the ordered, good, life-giving place that God intends it to be. As God is to the universe—so humanity is to the world.”[3] This is what it means to be God’s stewards.


[1] Rabbi David Zaslow, Jesus: First Century Rabbi (Brewster, Massachusetts: Paraclete Press, 2014), p.xiv.

[2] Gerhard von Rad, Genesis: A commentary (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press,1972), pp. 59-60.

[3] David W. Cotter, Genesis (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 2003) p.18.

Here’s a link to a comprehensive book review by  Bob Cornwall: http://www.bobcornwall.com/search?q=Stewardship

Stewardship: God Way of Recreating the World can be ordered from Energion Publications at http://direct.energion.co/authors/authors-d-k/steve-kindle