What does the Bible say about ecology, or how we should relate to nature?
In advance: Neiter the Old nor the New Testament contains consistent statement regarding ecology.
Nevertheless, three interesting passages:*
The dominium terrae in Gen 1:28
The passage in it's context (Gen 1:26-1:28):
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. 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. 28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.29And 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. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so. 31 And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
The ideal world in the first chapter can be called a "Utopie of Nonviolence"1 The seeds, fruits and green plants are sufficient as a food base and neither a human nor an animal has to kill another creature for food procurement (cf. Gen 1:29). A harmony between human, animal and plant world is possible.
Only in the eary modern period (Francis Bacon, Rene Descartes), the "subdue it" (Vers 28) was interpreted as exploitation of the nature. Note that today's interpretations don't think of it as an invation for violent trampling but rather as a passage, that highlights the aspect of colonization and livestock2: The humans shall make the earth habitable by their work and tame the forces of nature.
The confrontation with the reality in Gen 9:1-7
And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth. 2 And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered. 3 Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. 4 But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat. 5 And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man' brother will I require the life of man. 6 Whoso sheddeth man' blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man. 7 And you, be ye fruitful, and multiply; bring forth abundantly in the earth, and multiply therein.
God's blessing is still given. But here breaks through: The actual human experience of imperfection and the possibility of human error – the paradisical state of nonviolence is reduced.
Erich Zenger calls the force by which the man is equipped necessary to keep things in order. In order to prevent that the living space becomes a place of death, the man got the capability to protect threatened lives.3
In conclusion we can say …
… that the humans, as the preservers of life, received the order to deal with that in a responsibile way.
The sufferings of this present world (Rom 8:18-23)
For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. 19 For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. 20 For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, 21 Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. 23 And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
In these passage a new eschatological dimension is added.
The eary Christian community was familiar with the thought of the World's imperfection. Paulus names that the suffering which is by the people and in the creation. By the fall of men every human-being and the whole creation is subjected to futility. But by Jesus Christ the humans and the world around is enlightend.
Ofcourse eschatology isn't interesting for ecology at all. But nevertheless this passage is to be noted from an ecological view of point because it states the close relatedness between humans and the creation.
*: Simone Birkle, Zukunft wagen, Ökologisch handeln (2002)
1: Erich Zenger, Du liebst alles was ist (1989), 142
2: Norbert Lohfink, Macht die Erde euch untertan (1974), 138
3: Erich Zenger, Gottes Bogen in den Wolken, 118
When this subject is raised, I always think of three passages. First is mankind being given dominion over the Earth and everything that's in it, as cited by Karl von Moor already. And the others are the Parable of the Pounds (Luke 19: 12-26), and the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25: 14-30).
These parables have slightly different setups and several details are different between the two, but in both, Jesus explains that we will be held responsible for what we do with what God gives us to take care of. Remember that the Earth is not ours, it is His; we were given temporary stewardship over it just as the servants in the parables were given stewardship over their Master's money, and expected to take good care of it, and when the Judgment comes around, an accounting of our stewardship will be required at our hands.
In regards to conservation, I believe there is a good warning in Revelation 11:18.
18 The nations were angry,
and your wrath has come.
The time has come for judging the dead,
and for rewarding your servants the prophets
and your people who revere your name, both great and small—
and for destroying those who destroy the earth.”
(emphasis added by me)
Please see Job 38-41. http://bible.oremus.org/?passage=Job+38-41