The Sacred Stewardship of the Soil

If we valued the earth’s resources according to their utility in sustaining and enriching our lives, then air and water would be joined in the same class by topsoil. If we honored men according to the value of their contribution to the well-being of society, the farmer would be among the upper classes. This alone shows how upside-down the values of the popular culture are.

We Americans who have been born since the Second World War have never known hunger, but that is no guarantee that we will not. If God is still the moral governor of the world, then it is all but certain that we shall experience hunger before long — in spite of our present domination of the world, and in spite of the apparent security which our wealth and influence provide. And it is likely that we will be ourselves the cause of it. For we are on a suicidal course of destroying the productive capacity of the earth.

G. T. Wrench, in his book, The Restoration of the Peasantry documents the history of Roman agriculture, and shows that mighty Rome could not sustain its agricultural output because the productive lands passed out of the hands of the farmers into the hands of urban moneylenders and thence to the effete aristocracy. Thus, the lands were only an additional source of income to the owners, and not their very lives. They were neglected or else exploited, and soon lost their fertility. Rome relied in the end on North Africa to feed its millions. This is not the only cause of the decline of Rome, but it is one that few are aware of today. We are on a similar course, with multinational corporations and bankers owning most of the productive soil in America, rather than freehold farmers.

Man was made from the ground, and his natural environment is the fertile land and the open air. Nothing can change this — it is how we are made. Moreover, the Creator gave mankind in the beginning a stewardship over the soil. Coordinate with dominion is responsibility — a steward is accountable for what he does with his Master’s resources. Modern man has failed miserably in this regard, and when he is called to account, he is likely to lose all that he has or ever hopes to have. For history shows nothing even approaching the rate of destruction of productive land that we achieved in the last century, and are continuing apace in this new millennium.

We have sown the land with death, rather than life. Millions of unexploded bombs and shells and land mines defile the land in the war zones of modernity. In southeast Asia, making prosthetics for people who have stepped on mines is a major industry. How shall we answer to God for this new abomination of desolation?

We are making progress in other areas, as well. The EPA notwithstanding, pollution continues but slightly abated. The Chesapeake Bay is cursed with a tiny but deadly creature called physteria, which attacks fish and man. The cause seems to be the runoff from chicken “factories”. The chickens live in a cruel captivity out of the fresh air, and their droppings are piled up to compost outside, and then be mixed with cattle feed for extra protein. (Remember that next time you want a hamburger.) The cattle eat it — they have no choice. But large quantities of the droppings wash into the water and nourish physteria, which are threatening the fishing industry around the bay.

Landfills that leak toxins, farming practices that deplete the soil and kill beneficial microbes, massive erosion, mega-mining, nuclear testing and accidents, indiscriminate paving, large-scale cutting of forests, oil spills — the list is endless! These things are often condemned, but they go on because of the money behind them. Some people don’t care if they kill us all, as long as they can have more — and ever more — to waste on their own useless selves.

It is chiefly with the soil that this essay is concerned. Rates of erosion were already high enough in the twenties that government took action and formed a bureaucracy to deal with it. Now it is much worse. Whence these unprecedented floods of the great rivers all over the world? It’s very simple. Precious soil eroded from the lands cleared but not protected by vegetation fills up the riverbeds, leaving little room for the water that fills them during the rainy seasons. These floods will continue to devastate the lives of millions of the world’s peasant farmers, and increase, for each flood carries more soil away — unless there is drought. Drought is equally destructive — the soil dries up and blows away.

What is it going to take for us to abandon this suicidal course? Judgments of God may depopulate the earth and end our capability to destroy. Or a true revival of biblical faith and subsequent reformation may come in the mercy of God, and change man into a preserver and life-giver instead of the most destructive beast on the planet. But something must end it. It is God’s earth, after all — and He will act — we can be sure of that. Are we going to be on His side then? Or will we be the ones opposing His purpose?

Howard Douglas King