See the source image
Image from the G20 summit, courtesy of KhanSirAcademy.

In Biblical terms, the word for “consume” means to waste or burn away (the Hebrew is “shmad”). To consume literally means to burn up.  It is an act of violence.  To lay waste to. To use up, expend, dissipate. I think of this more and more as we continue to have conversations of about our climate crisis and as the G20 summit ends.  Because our planet is … literally … burning up. It is wasting away before our eyes.  And while we are scurrying to figure out how to avoid this disaster, we are also calling ourselves “good consumers.”

 Especially here in the United States, we take pride in our savvy consumeristic habits: our ruggedly individualistic capitalistic society is built upon a consumeristic lifestyle, and we are the “best in the world” at being consumers.

Shame on us. 

We are taking pride in the way that we lay waste to our planet, the way we burn up our fossil fuels and ecological resources.  This is not God’s design for our world. (Sidebar: big shout out to all the countries that understand this already, who are doing it differently, and more responsibly. Show us the better way.)

God’s design for humanity as it is laid out in Genesis is for us to be stewards of creation.  Not consumers of it.  The word that often gets used is <a href=”http://'<i>Radah“radah”… which often gets translated by Christians as “having dominion over.”  But our Jewish friends translate radah differently: they translate it as “having responsibility to.”  Quite different.  The focus is on being in relationship with, in co-creating together, in caring for.  It focuses us on the making of the wine, not the crushing of the grapes.  In the baking of the bread, not in the kneading of the dough.  Radah is about imaging God to the world, for the world’s best sake, and not for our own benefit.

It is not oppressive, destructive, or exploitive. It is about tending the garden, not for what we can get for ourselves from the fruits, but it is tending the garden for the sake of the garden’s best good.  We are not supposed to be consumers of the garden, we are supposed to be co-creators with it, stewards of it, God-bearers for it.

So can we acknowledge that our consumeristic mindset is killing us? It is not only burning up the resources of our planet, it is also the root of exploitation of people the world over. 

We can do better. We can be better.  Not consumers, co-creators. 

If we need to go back and rewrite the Genesis story for people to understand, let’s do it.  Because the idea that we have unfettered dominion over creation, with no responsibility towards it, is decimating our world.

Stewardship, not consumerism.

The future of our planet depends on it. The futures of our children depend upon it.


Rev. Cathy M. Kolwey is a writer, artist, and pastor who has been working at the intersection of spirituality and the arts for over 20 years. She is currently the associate pastor of spiritual formation at Colonial Church of Edina in MN. She also blogs at


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