This is my Father’s world,
And to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings
The music of the spheres.
Henry David Thoreau took a boat trip with his brother John in 1839. Thoreau published A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers 10 years later in 1849. The title suggests a simple travel narrative, but the book’s contents are not nearly that straightforward. Throughout the book, Thoreau waxes philosophical, exploring diverse subjects including Scripture, poetry, history, and fishing. What stood out to me while reading this book were Thoreau’s observations regarding human stewardship and environmental impact.
Thoreau witnessed the effects of the Industrial Revolution firsthand while navigating New England’s rivers. He was particularly troubled when he discovered that various dams erected along the river had obstructed the migration of the American Shad, a fish that returns to freshwater to spawn after spending most of its life in the ocean. Thoreau lamented, “Poor shad! where is thy redress? When Nature gave thee instinct, gave she thee the heart to bear thy fate?” And, in one of the book’s most memorable lines, Thoreau declares, “[a]way with the superficial and selfish philanthropy of men…Who hears the fishes when they cry?”
How should Christians answer Thoreau’s question? Should proper Christian stewardship tune our ears to the fish’s cry? I say yes. As an avid fisherman, I’m interested in ethical and environmental questions concerning fishery management. But environmental stewardship is not only relevant for the sportsman. Hearing the fish’s cry, and caring for creation generally, are mandates firmly rooted in Scripture.
1. This is our Father’s world.
This is my Father’s world,
The birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white,
Declare their maker’s praise.
Rev. Babcock, a Presbyterian minister, penned the poem that would become This Is My Father’s World. When leaving to take walks near Niagara Falls, Rev. Babcock would tell his wife that he was “going out to see the Father’s world”. The lyrics of this hymn recall several passages of Scripture that articulate why Christians should be good stewards of creation.
The earth and everything on it belong to the Lord (Psalm 24:1). The flowers of the field, the singing birds, and the swimming fish all declare their maker’s praise (Psalm 19). Stewarding creation was man’s first responsibility (Genesis 1:28-30). God’s creation was good, and there was an expectation that man would do his part to preserve and maintain his environment. Somewhere along the road in evangelical Christianity, environmental stewardship became identified with progressive politics, and some Christians began to sneer at any talk of creation care. For the Christian who desires to express gratitude for the wonderful gift of creation, one way to show gratitude is good stewardship. Our stewardship is predicated on the truth that the world belongs to God and declares his glory.