Ecofaith reflection Feb 14th (Valentines). Don't Till and Keep God's Garden. Don't even serve and protect it. Love it, because you're part of it.
Every time I reflect on Genesis 2 it changes before my eyes. Here's this week's thoughts.
Genesis 2 is a much more ancient story, and reads more like many of the Aboriginal dreaming stories which we have in Australia.
Why is the world like this? God is intimately involved in the world as a character, much like the spirits in the Dreaming stories. There are the geographical places like songlines. And animals apart from humans have lead roles.
God wanders around in the garden in the cool of the evening, makes a clay person and breathes into it to bring it to life, and wonders where Adam and Eve are after the talking serpent leads them astray.
Last week I claimed that Ge 1 has been read, in modern times, upside down. The story of radical human equality has been used by very rich humans to justify their dominion over the earth and other humans.
Genesis 2 hasn’t fared much better.
It might be that because Genesis 1is misread, Genesis 2 tends to be misread as well. Ge 1 shapes our preconceptions even though Ge 2 is the older story.
It starts well though.
Humans and earth are connected. Adam is a play on the Hebrew for earth (adamah). So ‘The Adam’ is an earth creature. From the earth God creates an earthling. From the humus God draws forth a human. The word play emphasises our connection to the earth.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
This earthling is then given the task of tilling and keeping the land. At least that’s the way us agricultural, property obsessed types like to translate it, especially after reading in Ge 1 that we have dominion of all the animals. God gives us the garden to farm it and keep it.
I’m willing to bet that every garden variety Western Christian who reads about keeping the land reads it in terms of private property, at least subconsciously. We certainly act as if we do. We can imagine that this was a very useful text for those wanting to dispossess indigenous peoples in newly invaded countries, who weren’t tilling, or farming, their land. They weren’t fencing, or keeping it. And therefore they were not doing what God wanted with it.
In the rest of the scriptures, however, ‘till’ is overwhelmingly translated as ‘serve.’ And ‘keep’ most often has the meaning of ‘keep safe,’ or protect.
God put the earth creature in the garden of Eden to serve and protect it.
God then sets limits on human ambitions: we can eat anything we like, but not the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Imagine if that was our starting point as humans. We are here to serve and protect life on earth, enjoying its goodness, enjoying companionship with each other, and accepting our limitations. Not a bad story.
Genesis 1 is a great subversive story of human equality, but it rides roughshod over the rest of creation.
Genesis 2, properly read, embraces ecological concerns too.
Now that we have, or some of us have, enacted the dominion story only too well, it’s time to embrace the serve and protect story. But why worry about these stories at all anyway?
Basically, because in the west, if any myths have power, its these ones.
Despite a revival of interest in Aboriginal creation stories around the world, none of them will ever be adopted in the West, deliberately or even subconsciously, to the extent that Genesis 1 and 2 have been.
150 years after the Origin of Species, we have barely begun to explore evolutionary based creation stories.
So for now we have these two before us, and they are being acted out all around us. Not as God ordained decrees (because they contradict each other somewhat), but as approaches to the rest of life on Earth.
Some continue to imprison and seek dominion over creation, leading to fear and dread. Others want to serve and protect. How do we encourage the latter?
Two thoughts: First, Jesus made it clear that his disciples at least, were to reject the power mongering of those around them, and be servants instead of dominators.
You know that the rulers of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and their great ones wield power over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (see Matthew 20:25, parallel in Mark 10:43.).
Jesus continues, ‘[t]he greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted’.(Matthew 23:11)
Eve and Adam exalted themselves, with the fruit of knowledge, and were duly humbled. Human history is a long legacy of civilisations expanding as fast as possible, exceeding their limits, and being humbled. Their empty ruins lie under the sands of the world.
Second: Love. Friendship. Being called to serve and protect someone out of duty is one thing, and may compel action to a point. Think of a medieval servant with their lord or lady. Think of us and God.
But the desire to serve and protect someone because we love them endures longer and risks more. Think a parent and their child or lover. Or again, of us and God.
Do these words of Jesus, again about humans, ring true when we think of Genesis 2?
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.
Could it be that we are no longer servants, but friends not only of Jesus and God, but of God’s creation, and moreso as we learn about ecology, and what our master is doing?
Can we go even further, and return to the start of the story: and see ourselves not as servants, nor even Friends of the Earth, but part of the earth. Adam from the Adamah.
So many people have left the church, or at least gatherings of the church, because the passion for justice which the church gave them, when they expanded it to include all of life, was not supported. It was even suspected and warned against. Be careful not to worship the creation instead of the creator was a common catchcry. Was as much energy put into warning those who ignored creation not to worship money or growth?
Some may never come back. Others might be here in this group, on the fringe. Hopefully somehow they will hear that their path, even if barely acknowledged, stretches back to the most ancient of biblical stories.
That to walk the path of serving and protecting life on Earth is a fully biblical, fully Christian path. Indeed, of the two creation stories, its the Christian path.
Imagine a world in which humans grounded their story in the mythology of Genesis 2. A place where earth-lings asked first how they could best serve and protect the garden in which they lived, and from which they had been drawn forth. Where they created laws to help them do that, given that it was too late to turn back time and spit out the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil.
Must we only ever imagine it?
Or will the pessimistic prophecy of Isaiah, which came true in his day (and in so many other eras), also come true in ours:
"Go and say to this people: 'Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand... Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate (Isaiah 6:9)
Is there hope?
Well, I see it all around me, in the greening of American evangelicals, in the transition town movement, landcare, ozgreen, and thousands of other human endeavours. Dare I say we see it here.
Isaiah’s vision starts when he is struck by the glory of God in all the Earth. His instant reaction is to feel guilty and inadequate. Perhaps when we look at our clothes and cupboards and cars we feel the same.
Yet still, when God called out for someone to warn the people, saying “whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” he still managed to say, “Here I am God, send me.”
May we, backsliding hypocrites though we may be, be inspired by this wonderful world and all its creatures to say the same.
May we reject dominion over earth, and seek not just to serve the earth, or even to be friends of the earth, but to love the earth, because its part of us.
Ashes to Ashes, dust to dust.
Love God, love self, love neighbour.
Let’s wander for 10 minutes through this beautiful part of Earth, amongst all our plant and animal neighbours, and open ourselves to falling in love with that which we are called to protect, because we’re part of it.