All Creatures Great and Small, the Lord God Made Them All

Well now, here we are—I’m traveling, and I’m so darned busy this week! And in keeping with my new policy of posting an occasional guest blog, I thought I’d share a post I particularly enjoyed.

Russell E. Saltzman, “Thursday columnist” over at First Things, has a splendid column up this week about the wildlife in his own yard—particularly the nest of mourning doves which have taken up residence on his patio.

I love the birds and chipmunks and squirrels that make our yard their home (or, more accurately, that share the land with us and with our house, which is bulky and impractical compared to their simple nests and holes and tunnels). It’s clear that Russ, too, is a pushover for his feathery neighbors. I especially like his discussion of Christian anthropocentrism, and the shade of difference between “dominion” and “stewardship”:

It is a fashion these days to regard animals as downsized versions of ourselves, complete with rich emotional lives, feelings, volition, and individuality. We anthropomorphize “our” animals to tame what is wild and to an extent therefore feared, a reversion to the days when shamans painted animals on the cave wall, calling wild prey to human submission.

But as I understand the Christian view, creation is anthropocentric: The wild, with everything else, was created for Man. But for what? Being God’s creation, the wild is not ours to exploit beyond excess, but neither is it to be worshiped. We are, I would suggest, meant to observe, enjoy, describe and, likely, give an account of what we’ve done with it.

We, says Genesis 1, are to “have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth,” but I’ve always thought the more affecting Biblical scene exploring the relationship between God, Man, and creation is the “second” creation story in Genesis. It has very little to do with dominion understood as domination. God brings the animals, domestic and wild, to the Man to see what he would name them. The story suggests God had no ready names. God entrusts the Man with co-creativity to discern the elements of creation and describe them.

In my sometimes whimsical take on Scripture, I can see Adam slowly, ever deliberately mulling over first this name or maybe that name and perhaps even another name, while God impatiently taps his foot with growing annoyance.

“Would you get on with it? It can’t be that hard.”

“Alright, hold your horses . . . say, how’s that name for something later?”

“Just tell me what this is.”

“Okay, okay. This is a Madagascar ring-tailed lemur.”

“Good enough,” says God. “Next.”

Point is, I guess, Genesis may have said “dominion,” but it works out more like “stewardship.” As we name creation so we equally bear the responsibility of being creation’s voice. Just as we are the only creatures on this planet with knowledge of God, so we also are the only ones who can describe the pain creation endures, the small and countless lives that live with no awareness of death but suffer it nonetheless, groaning—St. Paul’s word—in longing for redemption. As we engage creation, while yet a part of it, we may hope to portray the characteristics of that promised release from pointless entropy.

This is just so rich! You can read the full article over at First Things.

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