You’ll have to think back for this. Get ready to go old school.
Think back before any conversation about lead in Flint, Michigan. Think before fluorocarbons, before anybody had even heard the words “global warming,” before there was a half-life of plastic. This is way before plastics. Think before smog, smokestacks, chemical plants, and paper mills. Can you do it? Before smog? In your mind’s eye, see whole cities, skies, and skylines wiped clean. L.A. and Houston, Mexico City and Beijing. Keep going farther back, before Industrialization. Hose down London. Keep rewinding your imagination and replenish ice caps. Watch the Ganges turn crystal green. You’ll need to think back generations and generations, maybe even all the way to the start. Amazonian tree frogs get happier the farther back you go. Keep watching and you might be reintroduced to greater short-tails bats, herds of black rhino, Tasmanian tigers, dodos, and carrier pigeons. Take your time with this. You might enjoy it.
What would you want to see, if you could scroll back, if you could actually go, even in your imagination? The Grand Canyon as the first person ever to see it? Perfect powder on snow-capped Alps? A day lazing around Lake Tanganyika? What if all creation were raw and wild, beautiful, and waiting to be enjoyed? With limitless resource and unbounded creativity, what would you want to do and see?
Beauty and freedom can be hard to imagine, immersed as we are in debris and decay. So a story might help. It’s an old one. It might even be familiar. But it may yet hold a surprise or two. It goes a little something like this:
“In the beginning, God created. Light and waters and stars and birds and plants and animals. He made mountains and rivers, Hawaiian beaches, and Australian coral reefs swarming with fish. He made the Galapagos, Cape Horn, and Iceland, before they had names. He made cicadas, lightning bugs, beetles. Orangutans and kangaroo leapt into flesh as he spoke the word. He saw what he had made and declared it good. He made humanity. People with bodies, hands, eyes, taste buds, ligaments, souls. Emotions, affections, questions. He made them like him – in his image. And then he blessed them. Everything he had made, he entrusted to his image-bearers, with a few basic instructions: Rule and bless. Develop and bless. Enjoy and bless. Be a blessing: in your work, your imagination, your energy, and your enjoyment, cultivate, develop, order, and flourish. Do this to recreate and perpetuate my blessing. Do it to represent me. Multiply yourselves. Beget more little blessings who will grow into bigger blessings to make more blessing and extend my blessing into every corner of creation, life, and enterprise. In all this, you and I, and all of creation along with us, will rejoice. All of these things he declared very good.”
What if this were true? What if God created everything, making it beautiful, in order for us to enjoy and cultivate? What if people’s purpose (yours, mine, Adam’s and Eve’s) is to bless, rule, and enjoy all that he made? It sounds simple, doesn’t it, almost too good to be true? You know this is the original grounding for “work,” right? Purposeful enjoyment, awed stewardship, volitional blessing, all reflecting God. Something is built into our bones, like a tuning fork, that resonates in frequency with our specifically-designated purpose. We’re built for immersive, imaginative labor, spending ourselves and our joy in service of creation, graciously extending God’s dominion into every corner of everything. There’s no limit to the possibilities: study, teaching, learning, organizing, engineering, art, architecture, agriculture, physics – all of it can be service, stewardship, rule and blessing.
This might sound far-fetched. Ideals often do. They tend to press right down on the aching disparity between hopes and our present experience. But for just a minute, let’s take a breath. Let’s imagine into an old, old story. Let’s notice what surfaces in us, see where the eyes of the heart (eyes of faith?) might point us.
So let me ask you again, Adam. Eve. Picture yourself free, deposited smack in the middle of new creation, and all very good. What is it you want to do today?
Dave Saville is an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America. He writes out of Tampa, FL.