By Rev. Sam Gutierrez
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Genesis 2:15
When I was in 7th grade, I heard something strange outside my bedroom window. After listening for a moment, I recognized the faint sound of a distressed “chirp.” I quickly left my room, went outside and found a baby humming bird in the grass. I looked up and saw a nest high in the tree. I was hesitant to touch the bird, but decided to pick it up and bring it inside the house rather than let it fall prey to the dangers of night. For the next 2 months, I fed it and gave it a birdhouse to live in. Eventually, when the hummingbird was strong enough, I took it outside and it flew away.
Some people blame Christians for the current ecological crisis. They point to passages in the Bible (Genesis 1:28) that seem to give permission for the misuse and exploitation of creation.
However, if we take a broader view and listen to what the Bible is saying about the complex relationship between God, humans and creation, we would learn that the earth and that baby bird have some surprising similarities.
First, both the hummingbird and the earth need protection because they are vulnerable.
Sometimes our discipleship can become spiritualized and squeezed into a narrow definition of personal devotions, serving, and evangelizing on street corners. But Ellen Davis, in her book Getting Involved with God reminds us that we must not spiritualize our discipleship and remember that worship of God and care for the earth are intimately tied. She says, “For this generation, the call of discipleship may well be a call to remember our kinship with the fertile earth.”
Davis reminds us that the call to follow Jesus has many dimensions – one of them being care for the environment. We learn in Genesis that reverence for God and care for the earth cannot be separated. To worship God is to care for the earth. An important word we find in Genesis 2:15 is “shamar.” Translated accurately, the word means to “watch,” or to keep the earth from violation and harm. Part of the commission God gives humanity is to protect what is vulnerable. Both baby hummingbirds and the earth are unable to defend themselves, and therefore need watchful protection.
Second, both need careful nurture if they are to survive and flourish.
A second important word in Genesis 2:15 is “avad” which means to work, but also to work for someone. Ellen Davis says, “There are divinely established rules and constraints attached to our use of the soil, and it has always been so. ‘Observe it’ -- learn from it.”
One of the things I had to learn about the hummingbird was what to feed it. I had to learn the “constraints” of that particular species. After a quick search, I discovered that hummingbirds drink nectar (sugar water). Both the earth and hummingbirds need to be nurtured and cared for. To nurture the earth, work it, and watch over it with loving protection and sensitive nurture is a command given by God to all humanity.
The current ecological crisis has much to do with the early descriptive passages of Genesis, and the discipleship and worship of Christian believers. The Bible is very explicit and careful to remind us that social and ecological issues are not outside the reach of God’s good and saving work. The good news of God’s plan for renewal reaches far into the issues of care for the earth and issues of sustainable practices.