Revised July 2010
There are two problems in our relationship with the earth that I am addressing in this essay.
First, we are polluting the earth. We are polluting the ground. We are polluting the atmosphere. We are polluting the rivers, lakes, and oceans. Our pollution is not only affecting life on this planet now, but it will affect animal and plant life for generations to come. If not controlled, this pollution may reach the point where human life on this planet is not possible.
Second, there is a movement among some environmentalists and politicians to consider the earth as supreme and humans as just one type of animals that inhabit the earth. I’ve heard reports of school teachers teaching their students that the earth is supreme by having their students hug trees as shows of affection to “mother earth” (I am not implying that all persons who hug trees do so to show that we are subordinate to the earth).
As a religious person, I use the scriptures as the basis for forming my views about things. In this essay, I give my opinion about our relationships with the earth. I hope the understanding we gain from the scriptures will help us evaluate the positions of those who believe the earth is supreme and we are subordinate to the earth.
Why God Creates Worlds
Moses saw in vision the earth and all of its inhabitants. He then asked God, “Tell me, I pray thee, why these things are so, and by what thou madest them?” The Lord answered and explained that He created them through his Only Begotten Son and that He had created “worlds without number”. The Lord explained further that the worlds were created for “mine own purpose”. The Lord then said “there are many worlds that have passed away by the word of my power. And there are many that now stand”. (Moses 1:30-35)
Moses then asked the Lord to “tell me concerning this earth, and the inhabitants thereof, and also the heavens”. The Lord responded by saying there are many heavens or worlds, and He gave the following significant statement that defines his purpose as God and thus his purpose in creating this earth.
And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof even so shall another come; and there is no end to my works, neither to my words. For behold, this is my work and my glory–to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man. (Moses 1:38-39)
That is, God creates worlds as homes for His mortal children, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of those children!
We Have Dominion
After creating the earth and populating it with plants and animals, the Lord said it was time to populate it with people.
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. (Genesis 1:26)
The earth is subordinate to people, and we are to have dominion over the earth. The word dominion, as used in that verse, comes from the Hebrew word râdâh that means to subjugate, to reign or to rule over. We thus understand that another relationship between man and the earth is that we are to reign over the earth.
Earth to Provide For Our Needs
After stating that we are to have dominion over the earth, the Lord said the earth was to provide our food.
And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. (Genesis 1:29)
The Hebrew word that was translated meat is oklâh and means food. That verse said the plants of the earth are to be food for man. Through revelation to his prophet, Joseph Smith, the Lord revealed that the flesh of animals and fowl are also to be used as food but are to be used sparingly, primarily during winter and during famine. (D&C 89:12-13).
Not only is the earth to provide our food, it is to provide other things that we need, such as energy from oil, sunlight, wind, and ocean waves, and beauty from flowers, trees, mountains, and clouds.
Yea, all things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart; (D&C 59:18
From these verses we learn that a third relationship between us and the earth is that plants and animals are to be our food.
We Are To Take Care of the Earth
We have seen that we are to manage or rule over the earth. Does this give us the right to abuse the earth? The Lord answered this question when He “took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it”. (Genesis 2:15) The Hebrew word that was translated dress is âbad, and it means to work with, to serve, to till. The Hebrew word for keep is shâmar, and it means to guard it, to protect it, preserve it. When understood in the context of the Hebrew language, this verse gives another relationship between us and the earth: we are to till, protect, and preserve the earth.
Earth Portrayed as a Living Being
To emphasize the importance of our keeping the earth clean, we have the following verses from scripture.
And it came to pass that Enoch looked upon the earth; and he heard a voice from the bowels thereof, saying: Wo, wo is me, the mother of men; I am pained, I am weary, because of the wickedness of my children. When shall I rest, and be cleansed from the filthiness which is gone forth out of me? When will my Creator sanctify me, that I may rest, and righteousness for a season abide upon my face? (Moses 7:48)
It is an imperative duty that we owe to God, to angels, with whom we shall be brought to stand, and also to ourselves, to our wives and children, who have been made to bow down with grief, sorrow, and care, under the most damning hand of murder, tyranny, and oppression, supported and urged on and upheld by the influence of that spirit which hath so strongly riveted the creeds of the fathers, who have inherited lies, upon the hearts of the children, and filled the world with confusion, and has been growing stronger and stronger, and is now the very mainspring of all corruption, and the whole earth groans under the weight of its iniquity. (D&C 123:7)
Those verses refer to filthiness due to sin, but I think the principle involved also applies to pollution. The earth groans from the our sins and from being polluted.
Man and the Earth in the 21st Century
What does all of this mean to us? How can this help us understand the rhetoric of some environmentalists and politicians? Let’s summarize our relationship with the earth as taught in the Biblical and Latter-day scriptures.
- The earth was created to assist us in our progression toward Eternal Life.
- The earth provides plants and animals for our food.
- The earth provides for our needs, such as energy and beauty.
- We are to manage the earth by tilling, protecting, and preserving it.
In other words, the earth belongs to God and is therefore sacred. We are to learn to take care of the earth and to be stewards over it. I believe (and this is just my personal opinion) that we will return the earth to the Lord at the final judgment and will be accountable for the things we have done to the earth.
As we hear discussions about our relationships with the earth, we need to see if the comments fit within the relationships defined by the scriptures. Environmentalists make a good point when they say we are abusing the earth, but I think they are wrong if they say we are just a type of animal living on the earth and that we are subordinate to the earth.
The earth is a creation of God and is not supreme. God is supreme, and, as the Apostle Paul said, we are the offspring of God (Acts 17:28). The earth was given to us to be our mortal home now and our celestial home at a future time. The earth is to be a benefit to us, and we are charged by God to use the earth wisely and to protect and preserve it. Yes, people have abused the earth through pollution, and I hope that we will reduce our pollution of the earth. In addition, I hope we will reduce pollution without going to extreme measures as some environmentalists would have us do.
|Dominion||A Concise Dictionary of the Words in The Hebrew Bible with their Renderings in the Authorized English Version, James Strong, S.T.D., LL.D., word #7287, p. 107.|
|Meat||Strong, op. cit., word # 402, p. 12|
|Dress||Strong, op. cit., word #5647, p.84|
|Keep||Strong, op. cit., word #8104, p. 118|