The Green Room ~ All good gifts around us...


By the Revd Dr John Harrison

Looking out across Tynedale I have watched the last of this year’s harvests being gathered and the ground is already being prepared for next year’s crop.

Having been raised in the countryside, the beginning of October has always seemed to me like the earth’s new year. While we celebrate this in our harvest festivals, we also take the opportunity to ask whether we have been good stewards of God’s creation, and I am mindful of a Sunday school story which has stayed with me since the 1950s.

Twin brothers Billy and Dave were celebrating their birthday and as always they both received similar presents. Billy, always the impatient one, tears into the wrapping to get to his present. Inside there is a card which says “Please accept this present with my love – please turn over for instructions on how to care for it” Billy is so excited that he grabs the present and starts using it straight away – he didn’t look at the instructions on the back of the card.

Eventually the gift, like all gifts, began to look very bashed and worn – it became dirty, some parts became unusable, and bits of it just simply disappeared. In desperation he finds the gift card and turns it over to read the instructions “In order to ensure that this present continues to work you must take care of it.”

Dave opened his present more deliberately and found the card saying exactly the same. Unlike Billy, Dave turned the card over and read the instructions…

And he did indeed look after his present and, as promised, it continued to work well. Dave went on to lead a comfortable life and gradually became quite wealthy, and he began to ignore the instruction to care for his gift. He took it for granted that it would always be there. Like Billy, Dave’s gift also began to look the worse for wear, but while Billy wore his gift out through ignorance, Dave’s gift wore out because he chose not to care for it.

The story has wide applications in our Christian faith and, if I recall correctly, related to the gift of Jesus the Son – do we choose to be ignorant of what it means to receive the gift or do we simply choose to turn away?

On the day of our birth, when we enter into life on this earth, we all receive the same precious gift from God – the earth on which we live. Archbishop Rowan Williams referred to God’s Creation as “God’s precious gift placed into our care” God’s promise is that this earth will provide what we require. “Do not set your minds on what you are to eat or drink …your Father knows that you need them” (Luke 12: 29).

Have we cared for God’s gift to us, or have we, like many earthly presents, worn it out through lack of care – used it without thought for the consequences? Have we been like Billy? Have we accepted the gift without reading the instructions – do we prefer the path of ignorance? Or are we like Dave? Have we chosen to ignore God’s instructions? Have we chosen the path of self-interest?

I am mindful of what is written in the Letter of James (4:17) Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.”

Are the problems of this planet due not to ignorance but to a deliberate failure to care? Our planet has not been cared for because we have been preoccupied with our own priorities – it has been polluted, worn out, and bits of it have been lost. God wants us to stop simply using the gift of creation and to start doing what he asks us to do – to care for it.


  • Dr John Harrison FRMetS is the Bishop of Newcastle’s Environmental Adviser, and a former Vice-Dean of Natural Sciences and Senior Lecturer, Climate Laboratory, in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Stirling University.

  • Go to Environment pages


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