the birds and the lilies

Almost two years ago, the land here was given to some folks from a nearby Mennonite church to start an educational farm, Hungry World Farm. The main idea was to help people understand where food comes from, and promote appreciation and respect for the earth. I can certainly see the value of that goal. It's obvious now that human beings have misused our natural resources and need to learn respect for our environment and ways to live more sustainably.

Environmental causes have also gained theological support more recently among Christians. I remember interest in "creation theology" when I was in seminary. But these ideas haven't resonated with me much. I can see that they were partly a response to previous Christian theology that had been misleading and was often used to justify selfish and destructive practices. God's words in Genesis had been interpreted to mean our role was to dominate the natural world:

Then 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 birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth."

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." (Gen 1.26-28)
These words had used to often to justify a "conquer and pillage" approach, which contributed to the loss of resources and worrying climate effects we are now seeing. The more environmentally-friendly theological response was to interpret these words of God as a command, not to conquer the earth, but to care for it like a shepherd. Which does seem like a step in the right direction.

But, while I recognize the value of this shift in theology, the focus on our relationship to the earth still seems to me to be missing what's most important. Those words in Genesis must be read in the context of the whole story of creation (and the fall). The story is not about our relationship with our environment. It's the story of our relationship with God. The garden is the expression of God's love and care for us, and the story of life in the garden shows how life can be when God's gift is respected—or misused. The natural world is clearly a gift of God. Not something to be conquered by us, but also not our job or responsibility. It is God's gift of love to us. It is a way to experience and act out our relationship with our loving Creator.

As I look at it this way, I've been realizing that this is another aspect of our call to dependence on God, which is faith. We are not the conquerors of the earth, but we're also not the managers of it. The earth is not dependent on us. We are the dependent ones, looking for God to provide through the earth he created for us. This understanding of our dependence on God in nature, and the earth as God's gift, seems to me to be very helpful as we respond to God through the natural world. The way we live in the natural world is our response to what God has offered us in love. How will we receive this great gift?

And I'm reminded of Jesus' words, "Consider the birds... Consider the lilies..."