It often takes a long time — thousands of years, basically — but eventually Wall Street wisdom tends to catch up to biblical wisdom. Case in point: ESG and sustainability — probably the two concepts most in vogue in asset management circles over the last few years. But the idea of sustainability is hardly new. Along with the E for the Environment part of ESG, both are deeply embedded in Scripture. Despite that, some Christian investors and advisors may need a refresher regarding the importance of this particular aspect of biblical wisdom.
This three-part series intends, therefore, to do two things. First, it takes a look at what Scripture teaches regarding sustainability. A big part of that is how God means us to deal with the natural world, of course. But we will see that there is more. And, second, it will remind us of just how important sustainability and care for creation is to faithful — and wise — investing.
Our guide for the biblical-wisdom part of the series will be a father and son team of theologian scholars, Douglas and Jonathan Moo, via their excellent book, Creation Care: A Biblical Theology of the Natural World. Douglas Moo is a highly regarded biblical scholar, especially because of his authoritative commentary on the book of Romans. He is professor of New Testament at Wheaton College Graduate School. His son, Jonathan, is associate professor of New Testament and environmental studies at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington.
In Part 1 of this series, we learn that care for creation is God’s original, and still one of his most important, assignments for humankind. In particular, the Moos help us begin to see creation as God sees it, rather than viewing it from a narrow instrumentalist (‘what’s in it for me?’) perspective. Part II, also from the Moos’ book, addresses the key ‘counter-argument’ from Scripture. The Moos do a good job of clarifying this issue — one that, sadly, has led some Christians away from environmental care and protection.
And then Part III makes the case for the important intersection between sustainability/creation care and investing. No less a figure than Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset management firm, will help us understand this essential connection — and the accelerating investment risks from failing to do so.
Both words in the Creation Care title of the Moos’ book are decidedly intentional. The authors could have referred to the ‘natural world,’ or to the ‘environment,’ but purposefully chose ‘creation’ to make clear that all of what we encounter in the natural world is here by design. It was created by a good God who, in turn, pronounced his creation good as well (including in the several stages that preceded the arrival of humans). Our world is not here by accident or happenstance. It was carefully, thoughtfully shaped by a Creator — and one who focused indivisibly on both functionality and beauty.
In fact, across much of the Old Testament, but also, importantly, in the New Testament as well, we see rich evidence of God’s care and concern for his creation. In Psalm 104, for example, the Moos draw our attention to the breadth of God’s delight in creation, and note that it extends well beyond the neat boundaries of settled human life and civilization.
We see much the same thing in God’s rebuke of Job as he points out how much more there is to creation than humans understand, or that serves human purposes. Similarly, when Jesus directs his disciples to consider that the Father’s care doesn’t permit even a lowly sparrow to fall unbidden, and to notice God’s sublime artistry in clothing the wild flowers, we again see God’s love and joy in the entirety of his creation.
All of which explains why the word ‘care’ in the title was equally intentional. It pointedly evokes the substance and spirit of how God intends humans to relate to the rest of his creation, much of which goes back to God’s original assignment(s) to humankind in the Garden. In Genesis 1:26-28, God says,
“Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground . . . Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground (emphasis added).”
Rulership is, therefore, an essential aspect of how God intends humans to relate to creation. But that begs a question — what sort of rulership does God have in mind? And here the Moos bring real clarity. They remind us that God never turns over to humans ownership of the earth (creation):
- “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains. The world, and those who dwell in it,” Psalm 24:1.
- “For every beast of the forest is Mine, The cattle on a thousand hills,” Psalm 50:10.
- “The land, moreover, shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are but aliens and sojourners with Me,” Leviticus 25:23.
- “Who has given to Me that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is Mine,” Job 41:11. And a great many more similar passages.
The Moos make clear, therefore, that the rulership God intends can best be thought of as that of a vice-regent, or a household steward. Meaning God expects us to exercise rulership in his stead, i.e., just as he would if he were directly present. Think Aslan in Narnia — a dominion that is entirely on behalf of, and for the benefit of, all the other creatures.
Then in Genesis 2:15 we get another aspect of the work God assigned to humans: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” We are meant, therefore, to further develop the potentialities of God’s creation — but only in ways that recognize and respect its goodness.
Creation Care is Neighbor Care
There is still more to the Moos’ theology for the natural world, humans included. They explain that creation care and neighbor care are inseparable, i.e., we cannot love our neighbor unless we love the creation that provides them (or fails to provide them) a rich, supportive, nourishing natural environment. Toward that end, they include a lengthy quote from Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize:
We tend to put the environment last because we think the first thing we have to do is eliminate poverty and send children to school and provide health. But how are you going to do that? In Kenya, one of our biggest exports is coffee. Where do you grow coffee? You grow coffee in the land. To be able to grow coffee you need rain, you need special kinds of soils that are found on hillsides, and that means you have to protect that land from soil erosion so you don’t lose the soil. You also want to make sure that when the rains come you’re going to be able to hold that water and have it go into the ground so that the streams and the rivers keep flowing and the ground is relatively humid for these plants. For the rains and the rivers you need forests and you need to make sure these your forests are all protected, that there is no logging, that there is no charcoal burning and all the activities that destroy the forest. All this really needs to be done so that you can be able to grow good coffee, so that you can have an income, so that you can send your children to school, so that you can buy medicine, so that you can take them to hospitals, so that you can care for the women, especially mothers. We see that the environment is something to exploit, because we see the environment in terms of minerals for example, or forests, or even raw materials that we produce on our land, or even land itself. We see it in terms of what we can exploit rather than the medium in which all of these activities have to take place. But you can’t reduce poverty in a vacuum. You are doing it in an environment [i.e., in creation].
Let’s close Part I with one more key idea from the book. Jesus taught that with his (initial) coming to earth, the kingdom of God had decisively broken into this world. But it did so as an incursion — a final, triumphant victory would be consummated only upon his return.
In between, he means his followers to bear witness to the fact of his kingship and the character of his kingdom. That means our lives must display a restored relationship with God, with our fellow humans — and with God’s natural world. In other words, as part of bearing witness to God’s kingdom, our relationship with his natural creation must turn from thoughtless exploitation toward thoughtful restoration. Nothing less bears faithful witness.
This communication is provided for informational purposes only and was made possible with the financial support of Eventide Asset Management, LLC (“Eventide”), a Registered Investment Adviser. Eventide Center for Faith and Investing is an educational initiative of Eventide. Information contained herein has been obtained from third-party sources believed to be reliable.