Care of creation is a co-creative process that is at the core of the human vocation. We are changed as we change the world.
The Latin root of the word culture translates as “tillage” and alludes to the associated growing of plants. Our culture survives by transforming the earth, and in so doing, transforming ourselves, the people who rely on it.
We cannot understand ourselves without deeply studying the way we relate to the world around us. By definition, culture cultivates—with grand consequence to both people and the planet. This is what it means to be human.
As is notable in the biblical Genesis story, to be human is to be of the earth, humus. But we are more than just dust returning to dust. In between “sperm to worm,” we homo sapiens are inseparable from the tools we use to mediate our connections to the planet and each other.
East of Eden, Adam and Eve are handed tools. Plow in hand, they are cultivated into farmers as they cultivate the land. Who is shaping whom? What is shaping what?
Technological developments are so tied to human existence that archaeologists use lost and broken tools to track the spread of human society from the Fertile Crescent. Have you noticed how the gadgets we use shape us?
A few years back I read that Canadians affiliate more closely with the brand of the phone they use than with their identified religion. As we leap towards becoming cyborgs, our tools define us now as much as they ever did. Who is shaping whom? What is shaping what?
What makes a tool a tool is that it allows a person to exert a force that shapes their world. In this way, the oldest tool in the biblical story is actually language.
Right in the garden, God commissions Adamah to shape creation with words, naming creatures as seems fit. These first words exert a force that influence creation and, in turn, humanity.
Theological education is a formative process of using word tools to both shape our world and to reflect back who we are. This is a serious and exhilarating endeavour that touches every aspect of our lives, whether we are aware of it or not.
As our technocratic culture develops ever more imposing tools, we receive ever stronger feedback from creation. I heard an interview with a leading thinker who bemoaned that we can sooner imagine the end of the planet than the end of capitalism.
Regardless of the economic system we use, our culture desperately needs to get beyond that and find powerful words that can help us imagine, test and reflect a human society that creates life rather than destroying it.
Fortunately, the biblical writers were not humanists. If they were, the best they could offer our age is a bit of cheerleading: “Try harder!” Wisely, these voices from another age proclaim that God is also in the mix of the co-creative relationships that make us who we are.
God’s tools are the Word made flesh, exerting a life force that springs with hope. Good theology will evoke in us humility (another humus word) and a desire to set all our tools in tune with God’s Word (“humm…”), that we might cultivate life for all.
This is our human task. This is care for creation.
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—Rev. Dr. Tim Wray