Genesis, the Pope, and Stewardship of the Earth

By Mark D. Roberts

July 7, 2015

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth . . . And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.”

Genesis 1:1Genesis 2:25


For the past three months, I have been reflecting with you on the creation story in Genesis 1-2. During our slow walk through this passage, we have seen how Scripture speaks to many of our contemporary queries and concerns. One of these has recently made headlines with the publication of the latest papal encyclical, Laudato Sí, which focuses on our responsibility to care for the earth.

If you’ve followed the news about this encyclical, you know that Pope Francis has not shied away from controversy in many of his views. Secular media has focused especially on the Pope’s call for major financial and societal restructuring in order to fight global warming. But, for the most part, the mainstream media has ignored the theological heart of Laudato Sí, which is found in Chapter 2 of the document, “The Gospel of Creation.” Without a careful understanding of this chapter, one really doesn’t grasp the point of the encyclical. (You can find the whole encyclical here.)

I’m not going to address the hot issues in Laudato Sí in this devotional. But I do want to say a couple of things about its use of Genesis, which figures prominently in the document. Pope Francis rightly understands that the human relationship to and care for the earth must be grounded in the biblical understanding of creation as found in Genesis 1-2. Moreover, his comments on this key passage are both wise and articulate. For example, in Section 67 he writes:

Although it is true that we Christians have at times incorrectly interpreted the Scriptures, nowadays we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures. The biblical texts are to be read in their context, with an appropriate hermeneutic, recognizing that they tell us to “till and keep” the garden of the world (cf. Gen 2:15). “Tilling” refers to cultivating, ploughing or working, while “keeping” means caring, protecting, overseeing and preserving. This implies a relationship of mutual responsibility between human beings and nature. Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations. “The earth is the Lord’s” (Ps 24:1); to him belongs “the earth with all that is within it” (Dt 10:14).

Genesis also shows us that the earth is not merely to be preserved as is in some pristine state. God did not command human beings only to guard creation. Rather, he created us to till it, that is, to work in it and serve it in such a way that it becomes fruitful (2:15). Thus, we fulfill the divine directive to “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it” (1:28).

What all of this means in practice is something we Christians need to discover together as we learn from each other and from those who can help us gain the understanding we need, and as we seek God’s wisdom together. This search must be based on the truth of God’s Word, which will keep us anchored in God’s intentions both for us and for the world. God did indeed make the world to be very good and he cares deeply for it. He made us his stewards, with the authority and responsibility to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, subdue it, till it, serve it, keep it, and guard it. May God grant us the grace in this day to know how best to live out this sacred stewardship.


What truths in Genesis 1-2 will you take with you as we move on from these chapters? How has God spoken to you? Taught you? Challenged you? Encouraged you?

In what ways can you live out your stewardship of creation through your leadership?


The following prayer is the closing paragraph of Laudato Sí:

God of love, show us our place in this world
as channels of your love
for all the creatures of this earth,
for not one of them is forgotten in your sight.
Enlighten those who possess power and money
that they may avoid the sin of indifference,
that they may love the common good, advance the weak,
and care for this world in which we live.
The poor and the earth are crying out.
O Lord, seize us with your power and light,
help us to protect all life,
to prepare for a better future,
for the coming of your Kingdom
of justice, peace, love and beauty.
Praise be to you!

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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