Last week’s look at the problems of a strict utilitarian approach to protecting creation (seeing nature merely as a resource base for humans) prompted this insightful response from my friend, Pastor Pete Santucci, which clarifies and furthers what I wrote.
“I think it’s interesting that you can’t find the word “value” in the Bible. It’s a monetary term. Simply by using it, we end up talking dollars and cents…Having said that, I think that the Bible does in fact encourage humans to bend creation to our will. I know, I know. That’s what got us into this whole mess. But excluding the utilitarian from our relationship with creation isn’t realistic. What we need is for the utilitarian to jive with the theological and the aesthetic reasons to care for creation (including the human part of creation).
I think Gen. 2’s “there was not yet a man to till the earth” leads toward a sense that tilling the earth isn’t a value-neutral activity. It’s actually a positive activity. The fact that Eden was a garden points to the fact that it wasn’t wilderness. It was well-watered, meaning irrigated. All of its trees were fruit trees. It had a center with two uniquely highlighted trees. There is something good and admirable about this garden planted by God. And we as humans know who we are and what we’re to do by watching God as he works and copying him. Since God plants gardens, we plant gardens. And as Gen. 3 suggests, thorns and weeds in the garden are bad.”
Pete’s right, of course. We are to cultivate, or garden if you like, just as we are to protect. Godly stewardship includes cultivation. Our interaction with creation is another of God’s both/and’s. The problems come when we skew too heavily to the either/or—which we tend to do all too frequently and happily.
In the “both/and” vein and since spring is around the corner (at least in some parts), it’s a good time to think about gardening—for ourselves and for our fellow non-human creatures. Helpful resources are available here, with more to come soon—including turning your backyard into wildlife habitat. Stay tuned!
And for some fine writing by Pete, see his blog.