Serve. Guard. Protect.
By Jessica Maudlin
The very first command addressed to humanity in the entire Bible is to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion” (Gen 1:28).
We see humankind displaying a type of dominion when it comes to pollution and extraction of the Earth’s most precious resources with no room for compassion, dignity, or respect. But was this control what God had in mind for us when this beautiful Creation came into being?
In Genesis 2:15, God gave humankind a command and said to tend or keep the garden. The Hebrew word for “tend” or some translations say “keep” is “shamar” and it means more than just keep it neat and tidy. The Hebrew word means “to guard” or “to watch and protect.” The word “work” or as some translations more accurately say “to cultivate” is from the Hebrew word “abad” meaning “to serve”.
Looking at it this way Genesis 2:15 would better be read as: “The Lord God took the human and put the human in the garden of Eden to serve it and to guard and protect it.”
Serve. Guard. Protect.
As I read this translation for the first time, I could not help but associate it with the work that I do as a Foster mom. In the last two years, I’ve had four newborns in my home. Those babies did not belong to me. But in those moments, for those days I was responsible. Who and what they may become would be shaped by the love (or lack) that they found in my hands, in my home, and in my actions. It is easy to see the parallels between my own call to protect and serve these babies and the shared call we have as Christians to protect and serve the earth.
In my work with the Presbyterian Hunger Program, I am honored to work with certified Earth Care Congregations that have made very intentional steps to honor God’s very good Creation. And even though they may not be able to change every environmental problem, by integrating environmental practices and thinking into all facets of their church life including the fields of worship, education, facilities, and outreach these churches show that they take seriously God’s charge to “till and keep” the garden.
It is not always easy, this sacred calling of serving and protecting. But as people of faith we do not take lightly this task of honoring the intrinsic worth of Creation as a way of living out the justice of the Gospel.
Jessica Maudlin is the Associate for Sustainability and Earth Care Concerns, Presbyterian Hunger Program, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)