In our Bible class, we were studying stewardship. I know, not the most exciting of topics, but this one was really interesting, beginning with the Creation and making the point that God is the true owner of all things, which, He, however, gives to us to manage. We looked at Genesis 2:9 and were asked what were the two purposes that God had for the trees in Eden:
And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. (Genesis 2:9)
“Good for food” I knew. But I had never noticed the other quality: The trees were to be “pleasant to the sight.” That is to say, God made the trees to be beautiful. Thus beauty and aesthetic considerations are part of God’s design in His creation.
Yes, there is a sense in which the natural order is made for human beings. The trees were “good for food,” and later other plants and animals are given for human beings to eat. By extension, we can see that the natural order in general is given, at least in part, for our use.
But we tend to skim over this other purpose: God made His created order to be beautiful. That too, in part, is for man, since we were created with the faculties to appreciate that beauty. But those faculties are probably traces of the far greater aesthetic dimension of God Himself, the primal artist, whose glory is reflected in the glory of what He has made.
It’s surely significant that the aesthetic, as well as the functional, qualities of trees are mentioned here in this foundational section of Genesis.
I also think these two purposes of nature–the functional and the aesthetic–can guide us through some of today’s controversies.
It might not always be a good exercise of our dominion to “pave paradise and put up a parking lot.” Tolkien showed nature carefully tended and put to use in the gardens and fields of Hobbiton. But he also showed nature violated in the genetic engineering of the Orcs of Saruman, who cut down the Ent forests, leaving only slag heaps and blights of lifelessness and scorched ground.
Today’s environmentalists tend to dismiss the right of human beings to use nature for their well-being, to the point, for some, of seeing humanity as a cancer that needs to go extinct so that nature can thrive again.
But today’s utilitarians tend to dismiss nature’s own claims, thinking it legitimate to destroy or pervert the natural order for their own purposes. This is also wrong.
We also have those who claim to be environmentalists who want to preserve nature who also buy into the utilitarian assumptions when it comes to sex and gender issues!
The Christian worldview, as always, is bigger than the partial factions. It will value trees both for food and for beauty, and so will seek to preserve God’s creation, while being grateful for the way He blesses us through it.
[For the Bible study on stewardship, go here. I believe it is by the estimable Rev. Randy Asburry.]