Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Keeping the garden

I've been thinking a lot this spring and summer, being back among fields and farmers, about the story of the Garden of Eden in Genesis 1-2. There are some important words there about what God wants his people to do and to be in this world.

In the first section of the creation story, God creates human beings and says to them that they are to "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 heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth." Then he goes on and says that he has given seed-bearing plants for food, not just to people but to the rest of the animals as well.

A bit later in the second part of the story, God creates the man and places him (and later, with him, the woman) in a garden "to work it and keep it." This business of being stewards of the earth, of managing its yield, is right at the core of our calling as human beings.

So it's been amazing these past few months to be a part of delivering seed, hauling fertilizer, replenishing sprayers that are working against the "thorns and thistles" that enter the story a little later as a result of sin. In a year like this, when there is abundant rain and warm weather, the hills and prairies where I've been working do look a little like a Garden of Eden. Crops and pastures are green and full.

Still, there are many questions of stewardship. Most of the crops I see growing around me, most of the seeds I delivered early in the spring, are GMO -- genetically modified organisms. I know there are serious questions about stewardship in the face of this technology, both questions about the propriety of GMO technology and also questions about how, without some of these technological advances, we'd be able to feed the world's burgeoning population. I don't have the answers, but I've pondered the questions at some length this summer.

I have written here about my brother and sister-in-law and their cattle and the way they care so well for their herd. I'm continually impressed by the careful, labor-intensive way they provide for these animals, and the way the animals respond. Then I drive around the county and see neglected feedlots, calves kept in little isolation chambers as they're raised, turkey barns or hog barns clogged beyond breathing with too many animals, and I wonder about stewardship.

Some of the same ethical questions follow me in these reflections. How would we feed our population if the herds were spread out like my brother's animals? How could we meet demand if our land was so gently used? Important questions that don't lend themselves to easy answers.

I think part of what the story of the Garden of Eden does is it pushes us back not just on our vocational calling -- our calling to be stewards of this beautiful earth -- but also it pushes us back on our identity. We are not our own, we belong to God. It is in him that we live and move and have our being. In our work, in our stewardship, we are driven back to him because we don't have all the answers. We don't quite know how best to meet every challenge.

Whether you're a farmer or a physicist or a phy-ed teacher, your work will sooner or later drive you up against questions you can't answer. It's part of the plague of human life. I believe those unanswerable questions are designed by God to drive us back to him, back into his care and protection, to find our identity -- and eventually, to find some kind of partial answers that allow us to move forward -- in him. At the end of his life, one of the wisest people ever to live, Moses, said these words: "The hidden things belong to the Lord our God; but the things that are revealed belong to us and our children forever." When you are up against hidden things, questions that defy answers, let them drive you back to God. Seek to know him, not just to know the answers to your difficult questions.

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