Creation Care - Genesis 2:4b-23

Jewish understandings of Genesis chapter two have long focused on God's ideal design for the world. The contrasts between Genesis two and three focus on how the reality of life on earth is different from the way God created the world to be. Sin intervened and life no longer flows according to God's original purposes. When Jesus spoke of Genesis chapter two, he called attention to the ideals of God in establishing the world, even as humanity has departed from those same purposes.
First of all, we find in this text that the world order was established with the purpose of sustaining human life in all its fullness. The order of creation here is different from that in the first chapter. The narrative is so told in order to highlight God's design for creation. That is the point behind addressing the creation of humanity first, then turning around and completing the creation of humanity at the narrative's end. For the first narrative, humanity was God's crowning achievement. For the second, it was the reason God created in the first place.
There was yet no plant on the earth. There were yet no animals or birds or rain. God fashioned humanity out of the dust of the earth, breathed into our nostrils the breath of all things living, and humanity came to life. Then God went about the task of preparing everything necessary to sustain and enrich human life on earth.
It is an odd order. It is not set down for us to take literally, as a scientific account of how God went about creation. As far as order is concerned, it is in some ways the reverse of the preceding chapter, where humanity is the crowning point of creation, not its beginning. The beginning points for each account begin in different places. More than that, however, they begin with different purposes. Chapter one begins with chaos to demonstrate that Yahweh is the bringer of order and purpose. Chapter two begins with the barren dry ground, into which Yahweh breathed life. It details the primacy of creation, making humanity Yahweh's central purpose, all else being created to provide for the needs of humanity.
Then again, however, there is another element of purpose set forth at the very beginning of this second narrative of creation. The narrative tells us Yahweh had not yet planted the paradise garden because there was as yet no human being to care for it. The narrative goes on to tell us that Yahweh placed humanity in the garden in order to care for it.
The meaning of tilling and keeping the garden, as the text puts it, is that humanity was placed in the position of steward, or caretaker for the garden. It was created to provide for our needs, but with that provision comes responsibility. There is work involved in caring for this garden of God's creation. There is responsibility in being stewards of God's provision for our needs. It is to this task we have been assigned.
When the text speaks of the garden here, we are not speaking of my Grandaddy's garden. After his retirement, he planted four rows of tomatoes, four rows each of field peas, pole beans, butter beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, okra, peanuts, greens, onions, watermelon. Each row was about 75 yards long. He claimed it was just for the family, but it grew enough produce for an army. This garden, however, was much more than my grandfather's past time. Four rivers flowed through this garden, four rivers which essentially describe the entire Fertile Crescent, the known world to the Biblical writers.
My Grandaddy planted produce to meet the needs of family. He also shared with neighbors and the larger community. He sold enough to pay for his fertilizer and seed. He worked the ground day in and day out, keeping busy, but also making sure that all those around him had what they needed to survive. This was the work of a steward. He was the groundskeeper according to the purposes of God for humanity living in the garden of God's creation.
There were some other issues in which he failed to measure up to God's purposes, however. He never understood that hawks were part of God's creation to be respected and cared for. He grew up with the understanding that hawks interfered with the growth and multiplication of the quail we hunted during hunting season. He did not teach me to honor their role in maintaining a healthy environmental balance by keeping down rodent populations and culling the weakest quail in their coveys. He failed in this regard, for he knew no better. It was the way of my larger family in Mississippi to hunt, fish, and garden with little understanding of the importance of caring for God's creation.
We did not understand how all of God's creation worked together. We did not understand that overfishing, hunting outside the proper season, and hunting indiscriminately are counterproductive to a land that would provide an abundance of game and healthy biodiversity. We did not consider the harmful effects of burning trash or the consequences of disabling a catalytic converter. We did not think about pollution controls, recycling, or cutting down on consumption. We especially did not link any of this to spirituality and what the Bible says in regard to our responsibilities toward the world in which we live.
Throughout the course of our religious heritage, caring for the world in which we live has been counterproductive to so much of our power structures and economic concerns. The East India Company was backed by the British Crown to exploit resources and peoples across the globe for economic benefit. Forests were tumbled in the New World to be burned for potash as fertilizer for European gardens and fields. The greater force behind the exploration of the New World was economic exploitation, not simply settlement. In the process, there was an unwritten understanding that the environment around us was to be used for immediate gratification and a political incentive to dig no further into how we used and abused the world before us in the process.
Europe's forests had been devastated, the land used up in terms of agricultural production, and governments were concerned to find new areas from which to reap profits. After all, it is much more work to care for the land than it is to exploit it. On the other hand, the longer we exploit the land, the harder it becomes to recover from its misuse.
We relegated concerns for the environment to the purview of tree-huggers and Mother Earth worshippers. In reality, though, Genesis lays out the foundational principles regarding our responsibility for the land in which we live. God prepared it in all its abundance to care for our needs and desires. With that provision, however, God laid upon us the responsibility to both till and care for the environment in which we have been placed.

We are, after all, stewards of what God has created. It is not our land to abuse and exploit at will with no consequences. At best, we are renters of God's provision. As such we are called to live as both tenants and caretakers. We were created out of the very land in which we live. When we take care of it, we care for ourselves and the generations yet to come. It is not really too hard a concept to grasp. Our actions in regard to the land affect our health and longevity. When we do not care for creation, we are the losers. In our greed, we all too readily cut ourselves off from God's greatest blessings. What is the point in that? If we would honestly reap the greatest benefit from the world of God's provision, we would care for it rather than exploit. It is only then we reap the richest rewards of God's blessings.
©Copyright 2017, Christopher B. Harbin  http://www.sermonsearch.com/contributors/104427/ 

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