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Jul 18, 2015 16 Min Read

A Biblical Call for Environmental Care

The opening chapters of Genesis give a window into man’s dependence on the natural world around him. The Bible says “the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life…” (Genesis 2: 1). A few verses later, we read “out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree” (Genesis 2: 9). This shows us that both the first man Adam (representing mankind) and the trees (representing our natural environment), were formed out of “the ground”, or out of “the dust of the Earth”. In a scientific sense, the Earth is a source of life for nature through nutrient provision, yet the Bible uses the same allegory to describe the origins of man. In fact, the name “Adam” comes from the Hebrew word “adamah”, which means “soil” or “arable earth”. Just like a tree, mankind is dependent on the soil (or on the Earth) for our sustenance, life and support.

The same chapter of the Bible also gives us insight into the role of mankind as stewards of God’s creation. In Genesis 2: 5 we learn that God created Adam with the intention to work the ground. He would “join forces” with the water that the Lord would cause to “rain on the land” in order to cause the “plants of the field” to “spring up”. This was quite a responsibility. We also notice the intentionality of the placement of Adam when he was created by God. The Word says, “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, and there he put the man whom he had formed” (Genesis 2: 8). This location speaks to God’s purpose for the life of Adam. The Lord put Adam in the garden after he had created it so that Adam would act as a keeper and tender of the Garden. Verse 15 tells us that the Lord put the man, Adam, in the Garden of Eden “to work it and keep it”. In verse 18, we see that God created Eve, as a “helper” for Adam. The arrival of Eve as a helper signified a joint hand in the work that the Lord had given unto man.

The two lessons that we can learn from this passage are that: mankind is both dependent on and a steward of the Earth in which he has been placed. Just like a tree is rooted in the ground, we are rooted in the soil for our sustenance. From it we grow the food which we eat for our nourishment. From the trees of the ground, we are provided the waters that sustain us through rivers and the rain. And, the same ground on which we are dependent upon for our physical welfare and survival, we have been created to care for. We have a role to play as humans to “work and keep” our natural environment, just as Adam was given the role of tending to the Garden. These verses in Genesis therefore give us a picture of God’s divine model for sustaining balance between mankind and the Earth in which he inhabits. And although it is easy to think that Adam was created simply so that he could enjoy himself in the bounties of the Garden, these verses show us that within the enjoyment of the Garden, Adam was given work to do and responsibility by God. This responsibility related directly to caring for the creation. We as descendants of Adam, also have a role to play as caretakers of the natural environment.

The Thompsons Falls are a symbol of the natural heritage of Kenya
The Thompsons Falls are a symbol of the natural heritage of Kenya

So what happens when you take the Earth, on which you are dependent, and of which you have been called to be a steward, and spoil, abuse, and manipulate it for personal ends? To ask it a different way, what if Adam perceived the Garden in which he was placed as a resource from which to “take from” only, without “giving back” unto it? It goes without saying that this would yield harmful consequences for the creation, because of the absence of its care-taker, and also (importantly) for Adam himself, because he would be neglecting the thing on which he is dependent. In a nutshell, the Garden would be out of balance, and the creation would suffer.

Since the creation of the East Africa Protectorate in 1895 by the British, a number of ecological disasters have afflicted the land of Kenya as a result of poor stewardship. Under the colonial rule of the British, large parts of valuable land were cleared in the pursuit of planting tea or ranching cattle. In part this meant that vast tracks of prime forest were cut down to make room for the new settlers and their economic pursuits. The steward neglected his role as caretaker, and did not regenerate the trees that were lost. The original people of the land were uprooted and sent to distant regions, or forced to subscribe to a new economic system that was “out of touch” with the rhythms of the grassland and the highland people. The vastest lake in the region, Lake Victoria, was purged of its indigenous fish population through the introduction of the Nile Perch for commercial fishing. These harmful trends only continued into independence in 1963, as the need for personal gain and enrichment trumped the need to adequately care for the environment as responsible stewards.

Trees continued to be felled in an onslaught of senseless destruction. Kenya, in fact, loses 50 square kilometers of forest every year, and we diminished our forests to less than 2% of land cover at one point. The loss of these forests has contributed to soil erosion, flooding, and the loss of our rich and indigenous biodiversity, such as native trees and rare birds. And, instead of protecting our beautiful wildlife, we have killed them for their fur and ivory. Between 1973 and 1989, the population of elephants declined from 160,000 to 16,000 (a loss of 90%). The majestic lion, the graceful gazelle, and the rhino are reducing in their number as they lose more and more of their habitat to humankind. The peak of Mount Kenya, the hallmark of the nation’s geographic magnificence, is losing its glacier cap at a phenomenal rate as a result of the influx of harmful gases that we have pumped into our atmosphere. Other natural ecosystems, such as mangrove swamps and wetlands, are also under threat from the man that was created to care for them. Through the example of scripture, we learn that these actions are akin to cutting ourselves off from the oxygen and life support on which we survive. If our roots are in the Earth, then we are ridding ourselves of the sustenance that is intended to keep us alive.

This tree was a casualty of a forest fire intended to clear parts of the Marmanet forest
This tree was a casualty of a forest fire intended to clear parts of the Marmanet forest

The carrying capacity of Kenya, the amount of people that the land can support in a sustainable way, was already exceeded in 1982. The nation simply no longer has enough resources in its “Garden” to adequately provide for the needs of each and every individual. Water resources are under pressure from the loss of vital trees in water catchment areas and water quality in major lakes is insufficient. The fertility of the soil is depleting ever faster as a result of the use of harmful chemicals and the felling of trees that bind the soil and provide vital nutrients to enrich it. The increase in population has placed increasing pressure in both rural and urban areas. In the urban context, sprawling shanty towns have developed to accommodate the influx of people who can no longer meet their needs in their rural homelands. In Nairobi, over 20% of the population lives in the squalor of slum life, as it is next to impossible to build the necessary infrastructure to support the masses. In some rural areas, especially in the North, pressure on the land has led to conflict between pastoralist tribes, with a resulting increase in death and the influx of modern weapons. What is more, it is expected that by 2050, the nation will need to support almost 100 million people. It is clear that this is an enormous and difficult task. The nation’s lack of preparedness for this coming reality points clearly to the fact that things are out of balance.

We should not be surprised by this. If the root of man’s life is in the Earth, then the root of the destruction of the Earth is man, for just as the Earth was created to support man, so man, too, was created to support the Earth by “working it and keeping it”. The root of the environmental problems facing Kenya today (and also as a planet), rest solely and completely in the neglect of mankind.

But there is always hope.

Many have realized that the consequences of acquiescing to the status quo are potentially more harmful than rising up to take a stand, and to live out our Biblical role as stewards of the land. One of the most prominent of these people was the late Wangari Maathai. Although she won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her stance, this was one highlight in a life riddled by resistance and persecution from the government establishment. Through her hard work and persistence, she was able to appeal to the good senses of some of those in high places. Today, her legacy lives on through the formation of Acts of parliament, such as the Forest Act of 2005 to provide for the rehabilitation of our degraded forest resources. The Kenya Forest Service was created in 2007 to lead the charge, while the constitution of Kenya, signed in 2010, sets a clear goal to achieve 10% forest cover in Kenya. The “Vision 2030” also borrows from the inspiration of Maathai, and it includes several blueprints to set the country towards a path of sustainable development, with the rehabilitation of our degraded resources acting as a key focus.

The late Wanagri Maathai was an inspiration that environmental restoration can be acheived when ordinary people come together
The late Wanagri Maathai was an inspiration that environmental restoration can be acheived when ordinary people come together

In addition, a rising number of young people are coming together to inspire others to rediscover their God-given role as stewards. Kijani is one of these organizations. Kijani means “green” in Kiswahili, yet it is also remarkably similar to the words “Kijana” or “Vijana”, meaning young person or young people. From Kenya, Germany and the U.S. the members of the group are finding common solutions to the crisis of unsustainable development and the lack of environmental care seen in Kenya. Through a partnership with the Kenya Forest Service, Kijani aims to rehabilitate 100 hectares of indigenous highland forest in a model that empowers youth from the community to earn a sustainable living. Already, the local community is on board this initiative and their model has been awarded by MIT. And this is just the beginning; Kijani envisions a future where Kenya’s natural ecosystems are restored, from its indigenous highland forests, to its wetlands and mangrove swamps, and its young people empowered to live dignified, fulfilling and sustainable livelihoods. This example shows us that it is not and will never be too late to take up the Biblical call for stewardship. By caring for the environment and rediscovering our role as “keepers” of the land, we are caring for our communities and for the future generations that will grace the nation of Kenya.

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  1. So interesting article, with kijani/kijana relationship…all the best in sustaining our environment, lets go kijani.

    • Enock.E.Kawira
    • Jul 24, 2015
    • Reply
  2. Great article Daniel. I like your narration a lot, I guess you have your fathers gift for speaking :)

    Tobias Lohse
    • Tobias Lohse
    • Jul 20, 2015
    • Reply
  3. I hope we got the comment spam under controll now. Sorry for that.

    Tobias Lohse
    • Tobias Lohse
    • Jul 20, 2015
    • Reply