Think of the typical picture of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve are lounging around somewhere, conveniently behind some foliage. They are enjoying the uncorrupted paradise of Eden watching the leaves and plants whirl in the wind. They do not seem to have a care in the world. They simply sit back, petting some of the plentiful animals around them in this wonderful wilderness.
Wilderness? Why is it portrayed as a wilderness? It was the Garden of Eden. “And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.” (Genesis 2:8 ESV) And why are they not working? After all the Bible says, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15 ESV) This manner of portraying paradise as a jungle and sinless Adam and Eve as leisurely consumers has much to say about the way our culture understands work.
Our culture has been influenced by a humanism that does not want to be constrained by the Law of God, and instead wants to be autonomous and unrestrained. In general it sees unkept nature as a paradise that has been uncorrupted by the law, order, and civilization of mankind. The innocent, the natural, and the wild are sought out as supposed remnants of our original harmony with the environment. As Ralph W. Emerson said, “Infancy is the perpetual Messiah, which comes into the arms of fallen men, and pleads with them to return to paradise.” In art we see a pattern of nakedness and naturalism starting with the Greeks and Romans, and being carried along and modified by the Renaissance, the Romantics and Transcendentalists of the 1800s, and the Hippies of the 1960s. These various philosophies have influenced our own culture where a kind of pantheistic environmentalism has found its way in.
This is contrary to a biblical understanding of work and dominion. When God created man, He created him to work and subdue the earth (Gen. 1:26-28). Man cannot escape his responsibility to exercise dominion over the earth. He will either use it in a wrong way, by abusing it or by ignoring it, or he will use it in a right and godly way. Because man is now corrupted and evil, his dominion is corrupted and evil as well. Thus we are to be cautions with the productions of men. This corruption of man is what makes the glorification of wilderness so appealing, as it does have a ring of truth. But becoming one with nature in noble barbarism is not the way to solve this problem. Nature has also been cursed and put into bondage to corruption. To exercise a right relation with our surroundings, we need a right relation with the Creator of those surroundings, and as redeemed Christians we are enabled to fulfill this dominion mandate by the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit. Our personal redemption and relationship with God flows out into the renewal of our relationships throughout life with both humans and the natural environment. While we should be humble, as we are still sinners and are dealing with God’s creation, we ought to work for ways to put creation into order and improved productivity.
A good picture of Eden would be where Adam and Eve work to learn about their surroundings, to order them, to make them produce, and to create a civilization. You would see crops planted, fruit trees being pruned, and boats being built for transportation. Perhaps they could be building beds and furniture. They would have time for rest as well, and the work would be more enjoyable than it is in our sin-corrupted world, but working would play an essential part in their life.
A lot more can be said on the subject of dominion and proper stewardship. But without going into the ditch of industrialism and materialism, we should not see primitivism and wildness as the perfect ideal. May we remember this when we are working in our own gardens, farms, or wherever we work. We are fulfilling part of our God given role when we work and take care of His world. The land will be blessed with good produce (and good food) when we work the right way to make it produce. May we remember to regard work as a blessing whereby we worship God and carefully keep His garden, making it even more productive and beautiful.
If you liked this post, you may be interested in the 3-part series reviewing Joel Salatin’s speech on Food and Christian Credibility.