Commentary: What the Bible really says about the Earth

The following commentary was submitted to the newspaper for the Opinion page. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the Echo Press.

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By Rev. John Riggle, retired, Alexandria, MN

The Bible tells us in Genesis 1:28 to subdue the Earth and have dominion over it. This means we can do anything we want to the planet, right? Take that, Mother Nature! But that is not what the Bible really says.

In Genesis 2, when God blessed us humans created in God’s own image, it reads [Gen. 2:15 NRSVUE] – “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” The Hebrew word for “till” is עָבַד abad*, which means “to serve, to work on behalf of.” While the Hebrew word for “keep” is שָׁמַר shamar*, which means “to keep watch over and preserve”. To serve and preserve God’s good creation … this is God’s original commandment to us!

So, our “dominion” in the Bible is one of royal service to God’s creation – not brutal subjugation. God commands us to watch over creation, to actively work on its behalf, to preserve the natural world for untold future generations. We may NOT do anything we darn well please to the Earth and take from it all that we want at any time, despite our ability to do so.

In Genesis 11:1-9, the Tower of Babel story, we focus, understandably, on the mixing-up of human speech, the complexity and multiplicity of our languages. Yet the main point of this story is: We human creatures have scary-big powers and technical abilities, but we have terrible boundaries! We don’t know our own strength. Think of the recent train derailment and toxic spill in Ohio. In this Bible story God laments giving us such awesome power. The Babel story is about how destructive we humans seem destined to become on Earth, unless we listen to God, humble our hearts, and change our ways.


Earth Day is April 22nd. In God’s heart every day is Earth Day. God calls us to work for the good of creation and to humbly recognize our own destructive pride. We need divine help to curb our out-of-control appetites, so we can live responsibly and sustainably within the natural order God has made.

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