The first part in our series on biblical eco-warriors of the faith looks at Adam.
I was a precocious child. When I was about ten, I wrote in to an agricultural magazine I subscribed to at the time about a glaring error in one of their articles. On a tour of the Netherlands one of their contributors – a poultry expert – had misidentified a breed of cattle he had encountered on his travels. It was not, I informed him in my letter, a belted galloway, as he had assumed. Rather, it was, in fact, a lakenvelder, or Dutch belted.
I didn’t realise it at the time but what I was doing was exactly what our forefather Adam did in the very beginning: observing God’s creation and applying that knowledge. I was also doing two other things just like Adam. I was reflecting the heart of the good, good Father, a wild God who knows and delights in His ‘wildly wonderful world’ (Psalm 104:24, The Message). What’s more, I was taking my place as part of the community of creation, an interconnected part of the Creator’s universe like any other, albeit with a special divine hallmark. These three aspects of Adam’s life tell us much about living well today on planet earth.
First, there’s Adam the observer. In Genesis 2:20 God gave Adam the task of naming the animals. Undoubtedly he observed them and their unique features and behaviours, and then used that knowledge to name them. Millennia later, many of our favourites species are still named according to their peculiarities. The scientific name for giraffe, for instance, is Giraffa camelopardalis because some genius long ago reckoned it looked like a cross between a camel and a leopard!
We all continue, in various shapes or forms, to do today what Adam did back then. We all have some area of life were we pride ourselves on knowing, in some detail, the intricacies and nuances of a specialist field. It could be brands of shoe, makes of car, football players, or genres of literature or music. I could personally wax lyrical at great length about breeds of domestic livestock, as well as the 37-odd species, and even more sub-species, of the Felidae, or cat, family. Whatever it is, we’re observing the world around us and applying that knowledge. Adam would be proud.
Second, there’s Adam the reflection. He and Eve were the final parts of God’s magnificent creation. And when the Creator spoke it all into being, He was simply manifesting what was stored up in His heart: Jesus says in Luke 6:45 that ‘from the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.’ So even before the beginning, Adam was on God’s heart. I was on God’s heart. You were there too. But so were giraffes and belted galloways and star dust and oak trees and snow-clad mountains. All of this – and then some more – reflected the heart of the Father.
When we interact with the rest of creation, this hallmark of His heart should be on ours too and therefore inform how we think, speak and act towards it. For loving nature doesn’t preclude loving God or others. On the contrary, they go together. The poet Lord Byron famously put it like this: ‘I love not man the less but nature more’. Therefore, just as Adam as a person reflected God’s innermost thoughts, let’s choose to reflect the character of God’s heart in all our interactions with the world around us: His love and joy, peace and patience, kindness and generosity, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.
Third, there’s Adam the created. Adam was made from the very dust of the ground – Adama in Hebrew. When his physical self had been formed in the Garden of Eden, God breathed into it life, including His very own imprint. In a sense that make us all part god as well as part garden, part creator as well as part created. But this enormous privilege comes with enormous responsibility, something that also needs tempered with an enormous dose of humility.
Because here’s the bottom line: as created beings, we’re not the centre of the universe; God is. We’re not on the throne of the universe either; God is. In fact, we find our greatest fulfilment in life when we cast all our crowns of talent and achievement at the foot of this throne. When we allow this marvellous truth to penetrate deep into our souls, as I’m sure Adam did, at least initially, it changes things. It shatters the myth of Christian anthropocentrism, or human-centredness, that has crept into parts of the Church. It brings a profound sense of purpose and value to all creation, irrespective of its value to people: to the most far-flung corners of space, where no human will ever see; to the deepest parts of the ocean’s 338 million cubic miles, where no human will ever be; and to the countless species that have existed on this planet which no human has ever known. But God has seen. God has been. And God has known. Therefore it matters. All of it. Immensely.
In some ways, I’ve come a long way from writing letters about belted galloways and lakenvelders. Yet here I am doing a PhD on snow leopards and livestock farming. In that sense, I’m still exactly the same. I was made to love leopards and livestock. They’re part of the lifesong that God has created me to sing, just as Adam was made to father our race, name the animals and tend the Garden. So whatever passions God has placed in your heart, whether at work or at play, may you joyfully observe them, may you lovingly reflect the Father’s heart as you pursue them, and may you revel in knowing the Creator and the created throughout this wildly wonderful world.
Gloria in excelsis Deo.