Partnership with Nature According to the Scriptures: Beyond the Theology of Stewardship


[1] No one can legitimately fault the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, the Advertising Council, and the Environmental Defense Fund for working together to encourage religious communities and their members to respect the earth, to "reduce, reuse, recycle" and to use energy efficiently, all for the sake of environmental justice.  The rationale for this campaign seems to be fundamentally sound, too, biblically and theologically:  "The earth is the Lord's.  We are its stewards."

[2] "Stewardship," has been promoted by our churches more than any other theological theme, in response to the global environmental crisis.  Although the idea of stewardship itself has been expressed in a wide variety of ways, what might be called its received generic meaning can be simply expressed:   wise management of the earth's resources for the sake of human betterment.

[3] In support of that commitment, in the past few decades, an enormous amount of biblical and theological work has been invested in defining and defending the theology of stewardship, some of it very sophisticated.1   Of particular importance is the prophetic emphasis on "ecojustice" espoused by some of the most outspoken advocates of the stewardship theme.2   Along with these kinds of theological and ethical commitments, ecumenical and denominational agencies and local congregations have also joined with various public interest groups in order to influence the policies of timber companies, agricultural conglomerates, and other corporate interests, sometimes with tangible, positive results.  Call all this the first wave of theological responses to the global environmental crisis.
[4] Such individual and socio-political commitments to stewardship have surely been valuable, not only in themselves, but perhaps all the more so in light of the circumstances with which we would have been contending apart from those commitments.  Compare them, for example, with attitudes and policies that would have allowed or even championed a complete laissez faire approach to nature.  Until very recently, as a matter of fact, Christians in the modern West generally have shown little sustained interest in the theology of nature and in related environmental concerns.3   Given the fact, then, that churches around the world are today being mobilized by the imperatives of the stewardship of nature, it would seem imprudent, to say the least, to do anything to block or even to divert this theological trend.  

[5] On the other hand, stewardship has had its theological critics--some of the time, for good reason.  The core images that shape the construct typically have had to do with the management and indeed the mastery of nature.  Given the fact that the dominant culture in the modern West has been shaped by a vision of human progress, and with that vision the drive to master, even dominate nature technologically, often for the sake of the rich and the powerful, the idea of stewardship has tended to be publicly shaped by the motif of human power over nature.  This has brought the idea of stewardship into what has typically been a close relationship with the willingness, even the passion, to exploit nature for the sake of dominant nations and classes, sometimes at any cost.  The idea of stewardship, in this respect, has by default served to support environmental degradation and social injustice.  For all its positive characteristics, stewardship is thus a highly volatile theological construct.4  

[6] This is why we will as a matter of course want to welcome the discovery that the Scriptures in fact teach us something much richer and far more complex than the theology of stewardship, even in its most positive expressions.  In the last two decades, there has been a revolution in scholarly studies of the biblical theology of nature.5   These exegetical developments now make possible a fresh approach to identifying the theological underpinnings of the biblical themes which have to this point been built upon in order to delineate the idea of stewardship.  This means that the time is at hand for a second wave of responses, on the part of the church's teachers and preachers, to the global environmental crisis.

[7] Hence this essay.  I will not use the term stewardship in the discussion that follows, because of what in my judgment is its problematic character; and I will defer further discussion of the theological construct itself for some other setting.  Here it is a question of first things first.  Of primary importance at this point in the church's life is this challenge:  in light of recent scholarly research, to set forth as concisely and as accessibly as possible, for the sake of further discussion by the churches' teachers and preachers, the fullness of the biblical witness or, at least, a more complete statement of the biblical theology of nature, as it depicts the Divine and human relationships with nature.
[8] This is my contention: in order to reflect the complexities and the richness of the biblical witness in this respect, it is best for us to develop a theology of partnership with nature, which will hopefully begin to take the place of what appears to be the more limited theology of stewardship of nature that now is being widely preached and taught.6 

[9] This biblical theology of partnership with nature is by no means a one-dimensional construct.  We will encounter its complexity and richness in three fundamental emphases, which come to expression dramatically, although by no means exclusively, in Genesis 1, Genesis 2-3, and Job 38-41.  I propose to discuss these texts under the following rubrics:  creative intervention in nature, sensitive care for nature, and awestruck contemplation of nature. 

[10] The first of these themes - creative intervention in nature - will implicitly validate yet in some fundamental ways refashion standard theological expositions of the stewardship doctrine.  Overall, therefore, the theological-exegetical result of the explorations that follow will hopefully be something more, rather than something less or something totally different from what has been bequeathed to us by the church's first wave of reflection about responding to the global environmental crisis. 

I. Genesis 1: Creative Intervention in Nature

[11] The whole biblical story commences with an account of the beginning of all created things and, implicitly, the continuation and the fulfillment of all things.  We have this micro-narrative in Genesis 1:1-2:3(4a) from the hands of tradents who are usually called the priestly writers.  My intent here is not to offer anything resembling a complete exegesis of the Genesis 1 creation narrative,  nor to deal directly with critically important doctrinal issues, such as creatio ex nihilo, but to highlight some of the major themes that appear in this tightly packed and carefully composed chapter, as they help us to catch sight of the biblical theology of nature in all its rich diversity.  This text is an introduction to the witness of the whole Bible, and, as part of that introduction, a witness to the rich cosmic concerns of the whole Bible, from the very beginning.7 
[12] The very first verse of this micro-narrative speaks the most important word - God.  However the first verse of Genesis 1 is translated - and this is much discussed - whether it be the version preferred by the NRSV, "In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth..." or, as in the NRSV notes, "when God began to create..." or "In the beginning God created...," the whole point of this crucial text is the God who creates.  More particularly, in view of the immediate story that is to follow in Genesis 1 and later testimonies in the priestly narrative, such as the covenant of promise that God makes with all creatures in the Noah story, this text concerns the God who creates in order to give of himself so that a whole range of creatures might have being and life, and have it abundantly, in a history with God, who will be faithful to his promises.  Genesis 1:1 begins a story, which, however circuitous it may be at times, however interrupted it may be on occasion, is a story of a God "whose giving knows no ending" (Robert L. Edwards).8 

[13] And this self-giving of God, according to the priestly tradents, is always understood not as some impersonal force, but as an amazing and mysterious personal giving, a personal sharing, a partnering in that sense, as is indicated in Genesis 1 by the repeated witness to God speaking.  A "force" does not speak.  We will encounter this motif more than once, when we review the witness of the Yahwist and of Job, as well. 
[14] The Divine speaking, as Martin Buber showed in various ways, always signifies the Divine commitment to personal sharing, to be an I who is akin to the I of an I-Thou relationship with another and to give of oneself to the other.  That kind of relationship will differ, to be sure, with different kinds of creatures, as Buber already recognized as he pondered what an I-Thou relationship with a tree might mean.9   The interpretive challenge here is to differentiate between two closely related kinds of intimate personal relationships, God related generally to a variety of creatures (otherkind) and God related particularly to the human creature.  Perhaps the best way to express this subtle distinction between the two overall kinds of personal relationships is to see all God's ad extra relationships as gracious communication of self to others and the particular relationship of God with human creatures as gracious communication to others in the form of communion.  In conversation with Buber, I have elsewhere suggested that the first kind of personal ad extra relationship can be called an "I-Ens" relation (not an "I-It" relation), whereas the second can be referred to in the more familiar language of Buber as an "I-Thou" relationship.10   Which is to suggest that God's personal communication with the human creature is more internal than external, more intangible than tangible, known more by insight than by sight.11   At the same time, that general kind of communication also presupposes a kind of partnering with all creatures on God's part, entailing God's working with the other creatures and even, on occasion, depending on them to respond by their own canons of creaturely spontaneity and praise (coram Deo, no creature is an "It," a mere object).12 

[15] If the whole point of the story in Genesis 1 focuses on God, it then is dramatically apparent right from the start that this is a God who indeed wants to have a history with a world of many creatures.  So Genesis 1 does not begin as a dogmatic treatise might, with a locus de Deo, but immediately shows us God bringing that history into being and becoming, and partnering with the many creatures who are thus called into existence.

[16] Why all these creatures?  Bertrand Russell once asked that very question:  if the Bible is right, if humans are at the center of things, what are we to make of all the ichthyosauruses and the dinosaurs?  Why did the Lord take such a long time to get to the main point of the project?  It appears that Russell never really understood the priestly witness.  The Lord does indeed take a long time, as it were, to arrive at the human creation, but for a reason.  The Lord, according to the biblical witness, is launching a history with the whole world, with many creatures, not just the human creature.  This is why we hear the ritualistic repetition of the phrase: "and God saw that it was good."  Each stage, each day, of God's creative activity has its own integrity and its own meaning in the greater scheme of things.13   God chooses to engage and to share life with all these creaturely domains, in their own right.  Yes, humans are created to "rule" over the earth (Gen. 1:28) -  more on this presently -  but, likewise, in the same language, the sun and the moon are made to "rule" over the day and the night (Gen. 1:16-18).  We see here a vision of a beautiful, interrelated whole of many different creatures, all of which are created by God to have a history with him:  which is, in so many words, the whole point of the whole project.  When, to instance Bertrand Russell's kind of thinking again, God finally "gets around" to creating the human creature, be it noted that God does not rejoice over just the emergence of the human creature, as if that were the whole point of creativity (as some later Christian interpreters, like Ambrose, imagined):  God saw "everything that he had made, and indeed it was very good" (Gen. 1:31). The whole point of God's creativity is the prospering - and, again, implicitly, the fulfillment - of the whole in all its diversity.

[17] Likewise, in keeping with the motif of the goodness of every creature, God does not rush on through, as it were, the first five days.  God does not instrumentalize or "thingify" what some might think of as the "lesser creatures," in order to enter into personal communion with the human creature, although that special kind of relationship between God and the human creature is taken for granted by the priestly writers.  On the contrary, God respects other creatures, works with them, takes time with them, befitting their own created potential, in order to enhance and realize the integrity of the whole.  God blesses the fish and the birds and calls them to participate in his creative project: to multiply and fill the earth(Gen. 1:20-22). The waters, even more dramatically, in view of the connotations of chaos they had in cultures of the time, collaborate with the Creator, by Divine invitation:  "Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures...."(Gen. 1:20).  In a like manner, God calls upon the earth to "bring forth living creatures of every kind" (Gen. 1:24). Humans are mandated by God, in the same way, to be participants in the Divine creativity by being fruitful and multiplying - and also, again, as we shall see, by ruling and subduing the earth (Gen. 1:28).  All creatures are, some explicitly, others by implication, partners with God's creativity, not mere objects of creative will posited for the sake of God's relationship with humans. 

[18] Further, God is depicted as creating both humans and the animals, the wild and the domesticated, on the same day (Gen. 1:24ff.), thus suggesting a certain kind of ontic solidarity between the two kinds of creatures.  This suggestion is underlined by the strong implication of the solidarity of non-violence:  humans and animals are created to be at peace with each other, and not to prey on each other or on one another (Gen. 1:29-30). This is also a critical ingredient of the goodness of God's creative project that the priestly writers envisioned at this point in their narrative (later, in the aftermath of the Noah narrative, a different, qualified answer is given).  In that sense, God depends on the humans and the animals, right from the start, to establish creative purposes by eschewing violence.

[19] On the other hand, humans alone are created according to the image of God, in the view of the priestly writers; the animals are not created according to that image(Gen. 1:27).  This surely suggests a special relationship between God and humans, of a kind which does not exist between God and the other animals.  This is already signaled by the fact, noted by William Brown, that the creation of the humans is introduced as a unique product of Divine intervention:  whereas the land-based creatures are products of the land (Gen. 1:24), human beings are not.  "The opening command," Brown observes, "is 'Let us make human beings in our image,' not 'Let the earth bring forth human beings.'  Unlike the Yahwist's anthropogeny, the priestly writer makes clear that the land is not the source of human identity but only humankind's natural habitat."14   This relationship is also understood to be reciprocally personal:  here for the first time in the story of God's creative acts, God speaks in the first person(Gen. 1:26).  Here the Divine "I" calls the human thou not just into being and becoming in partnership with him, but into communion, into the intimacy of personal communication. 
[20] In this respect, the priestly writers - especially these tradents, given their cultic interests -  must surely have presupposed that the Divine-human relationship is one of self-conscious praise, on the part of humans.  The thought of the coming Sabbath on the seventh day, as the appointed setting for the humans to glorify the Creator for all good works, was undoubtedly not far from the priestly writers' minds as they shaped the construct of humans created according to the image of God.  From this priestly perspective, in other words, the relationship between God and the human creatures is teleological, in a way that God's relationship with the other animals is not: the Creator brings the human beings into existence, so that they may in some sense "image forth" God's purposes on the earth both by working to establish human community - by "making history," as Juergen Moltmann likes to say - and by self-consciously worshiping the Creator.

[21] For sure, the priestly tradents take it for granted that God alone is the Creator - as indicated by the oft-observed fact that the word for creating (bara) is used only for the creative activity of God, here in Genesis 1 and throughout the Old Testament.  Clearly this project of cosmic creation is intended to be viewed as beginning and ending, and as sustained, by the creative power and wisdom and self-giving of the God of glory.  It is radically theocentric in that sense.  The Creator is the Creator, and the creation is the creation.   For this reason, the Creator is to be glorified, as the Psalmists often say, and as the priestly writers surely believed, not the creation or any other supra-human powers that might be thought to contend with God.15   This is one of the reasons why, later in the Old Testament story, worship of images is prohibited.  In no sense is the creation itself Divine.  On the other hand, by God's gracious engagement with, respect for, and, in the human instance, communion with, his variegated creatures, they surely are intended to be viewed as having their own integrity and, in various ways, their own spontaneity and so their own goodness in God's eyes - and hence have their being and becoming as God's partners, each creature in its own way.16   
[22] So this radically theocentric project envisioned by the priestly writers is also, in that sense, thoroughly cosmocentric and thoroughly anthropocentric.  More precisely, it is profoundly relational - even ecological, to borrow a term from a different world of discourse - rather than exhibiting a kind of hierarchical, regal-command character.  For the priestly tradents, in this sense, God is profoundly with all creatures, related to them and interacting with them as they respond to creative initiatives.  Terence Fretheim's summary of the Old Testament's view of God's creative presence with his creation surely reflects, overall if not in every nuance, the witness of the priestly writers in Genesis 1, in particular: "God is graciously present, in, with, and under all the particulars of his creation, with which God is in a relationship of reciprocity.  The immanent and transcendent God of Israel is immersed in the space and time of this world; this God is available to all, is effective along with them at every occasion, and moves with them into an uncertain future.  Such a perspective reveals a divine vulnerability, as God takes on all the risks that authentic relatedness entails."17 

[23] In this sense, the theology of the priestly writers in Genesis 1 is subversive:  it stands opposed, implicitly if not explicitly, to some of the most fundamental cultural imagery of the writers' own socio-political milieu.  It has often been observed that the Priestly accounts of the creation were given their literary shape - although they contain materials from much earlier times and may have received their final editing much later - in the setting of the Exile, that is, in the context of Babylonian rule.  And that society was a hierarchical, command society, without a doubt.  For the Babylonians, the word of the monarch was law, absolutely, and that word dominated both people and nature at will, as it was implemented by the monarch's subordinates, who could readily be executed if they did otherwise.18   Soberingly, historic Israel from the era of David and Solomon at least into the Exile, often took that kind of command royal ideology for granted and, with it, images of God as the chief monarch of the cosmos.19   While the priestly writers readily claim the vision of God speaking with power, an image akin to the speech of historical monarchs, their relational, ecological assumptions contradict the ideology of kingship.20   
[24] Walter Brueggemann has suggested instructively that this is due to an inner-theological dynamic.  The vision of God presupposed by the priestly writers is very much like the vision of God presupposed by the prophet Ezekiel (chapter 34), who wrote in the same kind of socio-political context:  for Ezekiel, God is the "shepherd King" who himself cares for his flock.21  God is not the absolute monarch, whose word dominates the whole realm.  Further, an anti-monarchical polemic seems to emerge here in this priestly setting, almost in so many words, and is taken for granted by the priestly writers, in any case:   insofar as humans, in particular, are said to be created according to the "image of God."(Gen. 1:27) In the ancient Near-East, typically, only kings were thought of as bearing the image of a god or gods.22   Thus the monarchical imagery in Genesis 1 is evident, even essential, for the priestly tradents in light of their faith in the power of the God of wisdom and mercy who creates by speaking.  At the same time, that imagery is thoroughly qualified by other theological assumptions, which keep this text well within the overall Old Testament and, indeed, the general canonical view of God as the God of self-giving love, a faith rooted in experience of the earliest of Israelite communities.23 

[25] It is in this exegetical context that the much-discussed theme of human dominion over the earth, announced by the priestly writers in Genesis 1:28, should be heard.  The words themselves seem to tell a harsh story, as has often been noted.  Dominion or "rule" (rada) generally means "exercise authority over" and "subdue" (kabash) literally means "tread upon."  At the level of word study alone that would seem to imply - taken together with the idea that the human creature is to image-forth what could be thought of as the supposed absoluteness of a Divine monarchial rule - that God creates the human creature to dominate, even exploit the earth, as monarchs in the ancient Near East routinely did.  But that kind of interpretation of Gen. 1:28 while sounding plausible, in fact appears to be more a matter of eisegesis than exegesis, once it is compared to much more plausible readings.

[26] To begin with, the socio-political setting of the priestly writers in Babylon merits some attention.   This was no simple agrarian society.  An urban society for the most part, it was both hierarchical and highly organized.  This kind of society presupposed massive human interventions in the earth, above all through irrigation projects, in order to sustain its economy.  One would expect economic realities such as those to be reflected in biblical texts that were shaped in such a socio-political world.24   And indeed they are - and even, in one sense, are celebrated - in contrast to the simple, agrarian assumptions of the Yahwist in Genesis 2:  "Admittedly, the Priestly account acknowledges that human life in the land cannot exist in effortless harmony with creation; it can flourish only by establishing some measure of control over the earth.  The Yahwist's notion of forcefully and painfully working the soil as a consequence of the curse is regarded by the priestly narrator as a noble exercise."25   Such human intervention in the earth is for the priestly writer theologically noble, since it represents carrying out the particular partnership with God that is part of God's creative purposes:  it makes the land "fillable" with human life, as Brown suggests.  Anyone who has ever had any hands-on experience with the establishment of human community in some "untouched" natural setting will surely not find this point difficult to comprehend, for example, laying foundations or drilling for water or clearing fields. 
[27] "Nevertheless," Brown observes pointedly, "such a commission does not require exploiting the earth's resources, as the specific language of subduing might suggest.  The priestly author gives clear contextual clues that clarify and qualify this dominion over the earth."26   Brown suggests, for example, that the hoarding of resources by humans is implicitly forbidden, since the vegetation given by God for food is also given to the animals.  More substantively, Brown explains: "As God is no divine warrior who slays the forces of chaos to construct a viable domain for life, so human beings are not ruthless tyrants, wreaking violence upon the land that is their home.  By dint of command rather than brute force, the elements of creation are enlisted to fulfill the Deity's creative purposes."27  

[28] In order to underline this point, Brown also instructively points to a later figure in the unfolding priestly narrative, beyond Genesis 1 - Noah.  Brown observes that Noah "models primordial stewardship" - I would prefer to speak here in terms of "partnership" - by sustaining 

all of life in its representative forms.  His "subduing" of the earth entails bringing together the animals of the earth into his zoological reserve, a floating speck of land, as it were.  By fulfilling humankind's role as royal steward over creation (1:28), Noah is a beacon of righteousness in an ocean of anarchy.  Noah exercises human dominion over creation by preserving the integrity and diversity of life.28 

Strikingly, a point not noted by Brown but very much in support of his claims here, Noah takes both the clean and the unclean animals with him on to the ark!  Had his assignment been to "make this a better world," he surely might have seized upon this opportunity to leave the unclean behind - or the mosquitoes, for that matter.  But, on the contrary, Noah's vocation is to serve as a partner with God in behalf of the world that God created, with all its diversity, not first and foremost to improve the lot of humans on this earth.  Human intervention in nature is thus envisioned by the priestly writers as within limits, both theocentric and cosmocentric.  It could be called - a limited partnership.  One could say, in this sense, that God expects humans, yes, to establish their own unique communities, yet not with wanton destruction, but always in cooperation with and respect for all the other Divinely mandated domains of creation, each of which has its own intrinsic value, since it is valued itself by God:  each creaturely domain is created with its own goodness, in the eyes of God.
[29] This is the consummately beautiful mosaic of God's creativity at the very beginning of all things, according to the priestly writers.29   This is why, all things, taken as a beautiful whole, each creature or creaturely domain with its own purpose in the greater scheme of things, all working together in majestic harmony, are seen by God, in the priestly vision, as "very good"(Gen. :31).30 

[30] That ordered, cosmic goodness is celebrated in many ways throughout the Bible, especially in the prayer book of ancient Israel, the Psalms.  One Psalm, 104, is particularly worth recalling here.  On the one hand, it appears to have had an evidentially close relationship to Genesis 1 and, on the other hand, it sets forth the vision of God's beautifully diverse creation with lavish abandon, in contrast to the measured cadence of Genesis 1.  Hence with this Psalm in view, our understanding of Genesis 1 will be both clarified and deepened according to the traditional hermeneutical principle that "Scripture interprets Scripture." 

[31] The text of Genesis 1 and Psalm 104 may well have served originally as librettos for a festival in the Jerusalem Temple.31   The Psalm may be read as a kind of poetic commentary on the traditions that have been gathered in Genesis 1.32   Here we encounter the grand vision of God's intimate involvement, partnering, with all creatures and his presence to each, according to its kind.  We see God wrapping himself in light, as with a garment (v. 2), riding on the wings of the wind (v. 3), establishing the earth on its foundations (v. 5), speaking powerfully to rebuke his thunder (v. 7), and making springs gush forth in the valleys (v. 10).  We see the human community established by God in the midst of all this natural splendor and riches and beauty, blessed with a life of joy, with plenteous food and "wine to gladden the human heart"(v. 14).  But that is not yet the end of the story, according to this poetic vision of God's creative activity. 

[32] Here emerges explicitly a theme that is mostly implicit in Genesis 1- which we will meet again, dramatically, in the poetry of the book of Job.  The Psalmist takes it for granted that, given the magnificence and mystery of God's universal history with all creatures, there are times when humans' active engagement with nature will rightly cease and will rightly become one of awestruck contemplation.  This is the picture we see emerging here.  God has purposes with all creatures that are often wondrous to behold in themselves, perhaps on occasion even repulsive to humans, not just purposes that pertain to the human creature.  God makes the high mountains for the wild goats (v. 18) and God makes the night, when humans have withdrawn, so that a whole variety of animals can come creeping out, when the young lions, in particular, "roar for their prey, seeking their food from God" (vv. 20-21).  The note of violence here - lions seeking their prey - represents a view of primordial goodness that differs, in this respect, from the non-violent vision of the priestly tradents in Genesis 1.  We will meet this theme of nature red in tooth and claw in an even more vivid form in the narratives of Job.  But it is important to note the contrast, already at this point, in two texts that otherwise have so much in common.  The witness of the Psalmist and the priestly writers stand in tension with each other at this point, in a way that may not even be complementary.33  

[33] Even more removed from the human world, and more wondrous and fearful to behold, according to the Psalmist, is the sea beyond, "great and wide," with "creeping things innumerable" (v. 25).  Strikingly, God has mysterious purposes with what for the Psalmist was the greatest and most awesome of creatures of the deep, the Leviathan or sea monster.  God rejoices in this creature, or plays with it (both translations are possible)(v. 26).  It is as if a poet in our time were to say that God rejoices in the billions of galaxies in our universe, indeed that God plays with them! 

[34] The Psalm then begins to conclude by celebrating, yet again, the immediacy of God's interaction with all creatures, possibly with an allusion to Genesis 1:1, where we see the "Spirit of God"(a possible translation, as well as "wind"34 ), hovering creatively over the primeval waters:  "When you send forth your Spirit they are created; and you renew the face of the ground"(v. 30).

[35] After the Psalmist rejoices, one last time, in all this created glory and calls upon God himself to rejoice in all his works (v.31), an ominous note is introduced at the very end, alluding to events in human history, the rampant human sinfulness that preceded God's decision to destroy his own handiwork with the flood, described after Genesis 1 by the Priestly writer:  "Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more" (v. 35).

[36] This is as far as the Psalmist takes us in his poetic commentary on the themes we know from Genesis 1.  We are left with the vision of the great and wonderful and, in many ways, self-moving world of God's creation, in which God is immediately engaged, the whole of which is indeed very good, lavishly good in the Psalmist's view, yet not without its own kind of violence.  In addition, a sobering hint of human malfeasance is introduced at the very end. 
[37] Genesis 1 itself goes further at this point:   to a seventh day for God's creative project, a day which, although it stands in continuity with the others, is also quite different - the Sabbath.  This is the day when God rested from all creative activity (Gen. 2:2). Here the accent shifts from goodness to holiness.  "As all creation is directed toward completion," Brown explains, "completion sets the stage for consecration.  Goodness and holiness, bounded and separate as they are, are also bound up in teleological correspondence, an integrity of temporal coherence.  The primordial week, in turns out, is also a holy week."35  

[38] The meaning of the Sabbath, for the priestly writers, is profound and complex, much too profound and complex for us to explore in brief compass here.  The theme of fulfillment is suggested, however, and that at least bears mention.  While the whole creation in the first six days is very good, with the dawning of the Sabbath and the mystery of the Divine Rest itself drawing the whole creation to it, all things are in some sense to be sanctified or perfected.  That seems to be the priestly vision.  Interpretive thoughts such as these led Gerhard von Rad, in his Genesis commentary, to suggest that, whatever else the Sabbath might mean for the priestly writers, there is a sense here that the Sabbath as the eternal day of Divine Rest, and the perfection of all things in holiness, is a Day yet to dawn fully in this world.   Hence the Sabbath can be interpreted as an eschatological Day.36   Note that, in contrast to the other six days of creation, the Sabbath is never said to end.   We do not read: "And there was evening and there was morning, the seventh day."  In this sense, the Sabbath is ongoing.  Even to eternity, to the last days?  It would seem so.37 

[39] So it is possible to hear this text about primordial beginnings suggesting also the promise of ultimate endings, pointing toward the time when perfect peace, shalom, will finally be established once and for all, when the universal history of God will one day be consummated, fully sanctified, beyond the sinfulness and the finitude of this world of human and cosmic history.  In view of what we know is to come in the canonical narrative of God's universal history with the creation, as well as with respect to what we can hear from this Sabbath text itself, that kind of eschatological horizon can appropriately be called to mind here, if not read directly from the text itself.38   Later, in the visions of Isaianic prophecy, the explicit eschatological confession emerges:  in the day of the promised "new heavens and the new earth," all flesh will come to worship before the Lord, "from sabbath to sabbath" (Is. 66:22f.).
[40] Whether or not we understand the Sabbath in the of Genesis 1, the second creation story that begins in Genesis 2, may be read as transpiring on the sixth day, as a fleshing out of the human story, in particular, in the midst of God's creation history narrated in Genesis 1.  This thought, that Adam and Eve in the Garden and beyond, as the primordial characters in the human drama, lived on the sixth day and that indeed the subsequent unfolding of human history has occurred on the sixth day, was taken for granted by many early Christian interpreters of Genesis and assumed particular importance, later, in St. Augustine's theology of history.39   In any case, in reading the book of Genesis, we immediately come upon a second creation story in Genesis 2, which from the perspective of the final editors of Genesis could only have unfolded on the sixth day.  This is the Yahwistic story of Eden and its aftermath.

II.  Genesis 2-3: Sensitive Care for the Earth

[41] This story complements the narrative of Genesis 1 in many ways, in some measure because the setting here is small-scale agrarian, rather than urban and institutional.40   This is not to suggest that social settings necessarily determine theological meanings.  It is rather to underline a commonplace of historical theology:  that some theological affirmations sometimes emerge with much greater fluidity in some historical settings than in others.  Such is the case here, with the evident agrarian setting of the story that begins in Genesis 2.

[42] To highlight the complementarity of Genesis 2 with Genesis 1, it seems advisable to step back from the Book of Genesis itself for a moment and to underline the terminology identified above, which is not given in Genesis, but whose meanings leap out from these texts.  Here we can begin explicitly to differentiate the first two dimensions of the Scriptural witness to God's intentions for humans' relationships with nature: partnership with God and nature as creative intervention in the earth and partnership with God and nature as sensitive care for the earth. 
[43] Genesis 1, we can say, projects a normative vision of the human relationship with nature in terms of intervention for the sake of building human community:  to fill the earth, in this sense, with justice and peace, as the human family expands to all lands.  Given the fact that the priestly writers understood humans to be partners with God in carrying out God's purposes in this respect, we can adopt the terminology of the ecologist Rene Dubos when he describes what he calls "the Benedictine" approach to nature: creative intervention in nature.41   To this Dubos contrasts what he thinks of as "the Franciscan" approach to nature, which in Dubos' view is more attentive to the needs of the creatures of nature themselves, predicated on respect and filial love.  While it would be anachronistic to project the image of St. Francis back into the Old Testament, it is possible to formulate a construct that reflects Dubos' distinction at this point and that is still general enough to be useful in the interpretation of biblical texts:  sensitive care for nature.  The first construct refers to using nature appropriately, in partnership with God, for the sake of building human community all over the earth, while the second refers to respecting and responding to nature, again in partnership with God, more in terms of nature's own needs.  The two constructs are admittedly close in meaning,42  yet they are also sufficiently different to be useful for biblical interpretation.

[44] The Yahwistic creation story in Genesis 2, shaped by agrarian sensibilities, definitely exemplifies what sensitive care for the earth can mean.  As Theodore Hiebert has emphasized, for the Yahwist "arable land is the primary datum in his theology of divine blessing and curse."  In response to human sinfulness, the Divine curse diminishes the land's productivity, until the curse is lifted.  God's blessing of Abraham is chiefly the gift of arable land.  Also for the Yahwist, the three great harvest festivals of Israel shape the cultic calendar, and the primary cultic activity of these festivals is the presentation to God of the first fruits of the land and the flock.43   So it comes as no surprise then to hear in the Yahwist's creation story that Adam is made from the earth - adamah.  This is an observation that is frequently made, but Hiebert instructively wants to underline the concrete meaning of that Hebrew word.  Adam, it turns out, is not just created from the earth; he is created from the "arable soil."  Such is the first human's agrarian identity, according to the Yahwist.  "It is the claim that humanity's archetypal agricultural vocation is implanted within humans by the very stuff out of which they are made, the arable soil itself," Hiebert observes.  "Humans, made from farmland, are destined to farm it in life and to return to it in death (Gen 3:19, 23)."44

[45] For the Yahwist, it is almost as if God himself were the premier gardener!  After forming the human creature from the arable soil, Yahweh "planted a garden in Eden," and placed the human creature there.  Then "out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food" (Gen. 2:7-9).  Yahweh also, in due course, brings forth animals to be part of this landscape(Gen. 2:19). The strong implication seems to be that Yahweh himself is involved in the care and the protection of this garden, setting the stage for the human creature to do likewise, as we shall see.45 
[46] Further, for the Yahwist the land is a character in its own right in this theological drama.  The land has its own integrity, in this sense, its own essential place in the greater scheme of things.  It is not just a platform to support human life.  The reason why the human is created, to begin with, is that there was no one to serve the land(Gen. 2:5).  So we see Yahweh forming the human from the arable soil - a theme that is missing from the priestly account, as we saw, where the humans are created, as it were, directly - and then taking the human and placing him in the Garden of Eden in order to serve (abad) the land and protect (samar) it.  The most familiar English translations of these words - "to till and to keep" - are profoundly misleading.  The Hebrew tells a much different story. The first term has the same Hebrew root as the word used by Isaiah to refer to "the servant of the Lord."  The second term has the same Hebrew root as the word used in the Aaronic blessing: "May the Lord bless you and keep you."  With only the received translation before them, general readers of this text might well understand it as a kind of agribusiness manifesto:  to develop the productivity of the land and keep the profits.  They would have no reason to think that the words refer in fact to identifying and responding to needs of the land itself and protecting the land from abuse or destruction. 

[47] The image we have here is something like this:  the experienced family farmer communing with the land - not too strong an expositional phrase in this context - down on his or her knees, gently transplanting a seedling, carefully finding a source of water for the plant, and then assessing ways to protect the plant from predators.  Or we see the same farmer, thoughtfully and contemplatively pruning a fruit tree, so that it can blossom to its fullest, and then fertilizing it with carefully gathered manure.   Yet again, to cite a non-agricultural example, we can well imagine suburbanites living in the northeastern United States, replacing their omnipresent lawns with meadow grasses and their Norway maples with less invasive species for the sake of enhancing the biodiversity of the entire northeastern forest system.46   Here we can see coming into view the sensitive care of nature that theYahwist champions, which both complements and stands in contrast with the Priestly writer's vision of creative intervention in nature.
[48] The Yahwist depicts the human's relationship to the animals in much the same manner, in terms of tangible solidarity rather than intervention, certainly not any kind of domination.  To begin with, both the human and the animals are made from the same arable soil (Gen. 2:7, 19), a motif, as we have already seen, that is missing from the priestly narrative.  Further, there is no apparent theological reason, as there was for the priestly writers, sharply to define the differentiation between the two families of creatures, no "image of God" construct for the human in the Yahwist's view.  Instead, the Yahwist is apparently quite comfortable with the thought that God makes both the human and the animal a "living soul" (nephesh hayya) (Gen. 1:7, 19).  One can recall here that in traditional agricultural societies humans and domesticated animals lived in very close proximity indeed, often occupying the same quarters.  That kind of familial closeness is taken for granted by the Yahwist, as it also was, to some degree, by the priestly writers, who envisioned the animals and the humans being created on the same day and who understood the humans to have been created as vegetarians.

[49] The account of Adam naming the animals reflects the same Yahwistic assumptions, although the text has often been interpreted otherwise.47    Many commentaries in the last century routinely voiced the judgment, often drawing on examples from the history of religions, that naming is an act of power and that therefore Adam's naming of the animals was to be interpreted in terms of dominance.48   The text, however, seen in its biblical context, actually tells a radically different story.  In a certain sense, the Creator is depicted as withdrawing from the scene for the moment in bringing the animals to Adam to see what the human might name them (Gen. 2:19).  But this can be read as a thoughtful withdrawal to encourage creaturely bonding, rather than as some disinterested deistic withdrawal whose purpose would be to hand over power to the human.  The naming itself, moreover, can be understood as an act of affection on the part of the human, akin to the notion that Yahweh gives Israel, the beloved, a name (e.g. Is. 56:5) or when Adam, rejoicing, gives the woman who is to be his strong, personal partner, a name (Gen. 1:23).  Comradeship on the part of Adam with the animals seems to be implied here in this naming scene, perhaps even with nuances of friendship and self-giving.49

[50] All this - the human, formed from the arable soil, serving and protecting that soil and its lavish fecundities - illustrates why it is instructive to think of the Yahwist's vision of the Divinely given human relationship with nature as sensitive care for nature.  There is even an implicit priestly motif here, imaging God, an imitatio Dei - did the priestly tradents find this motif hidden here, when they edited the Yahwistic narratives, and then give it their own explicit articulation for their own reasons?  Did they perchance mean to suggest this thought:  we garden, because he first gardened for us?  So, in cultivating the earth, we imitate God?  The Yahwist God plants the garden and then places the humans in it, as a blessing for the humans and as a calling, to serve and to protect the most fundamental stuff of the garden, the arable soil.  To be faithful to that calling, humans will partner with God in serving and protecting the fruits of creativity.
[51] The Yahwist leaves us in little doubt, however, that the human is distinct from the animals, and destined for personal fellowship with God and other humans, in a way that animals are not.  Adam finds no one with whom to commune among the animals.  Adam only finds such a partner in the woman - exuberantly finds a partner in the woman - who is fashioned by Yahweh not from the arable land directly, as Adam and the animals were, but from Adam's own flesh.  The idea of intense personal intimacy that is here suggested is sealed by the notion that the two are to be "one flesh" (Gen. 2:24).  The idea of the humans' intimacy with Yahweh is sealed, in a like manner, by the story of Yahweh conversing with them (e.g. Gen. 2:16), as he does not do with the animals.

[52] All this transpires in a setting of extraordinary natural fecundity, indeed in a garden of "delights," which is what "Eden" means.  While Adam and then Eve are placed in that Garden to serve it and to protect it, there is no sense that that kind of daily work was in any sense to be burdensome for them - that kind of experience awaited them "after the fall."  The Garden was a place of delights where they communed intimately with their Creator, who, we are told, walked with them, where they found bountiful and beautiful blessings in the creatures all around them, and where they lived at peace, in a certain kind of fellowship with all the animals.  Although the Yahwist did not use these exact words to describe this primal scene, he very well could have depicted God at this point in his story, as the priestly writer did in his own terms, seeing that all things were "very good."

[53] Things did not turn out very well, however.  What was intended by God, according to the Yahwist, went awry in the human domain.  This, of course, is the story of what has traditionally been called "the fall," recorded in Genesis 3.50   This story is, as a matter of course, of critical importance for our explorations, first, because it is a grievous, but unavoidable chapter in the whole canonical narrative, and second, more particularly, because it portrays destructive ramifications, as we will presently see, for the humans' relationships with nature.

[54] Analysis of this textus classicus could take volumes, and, historically, has.  We will have to limit our discussion to exploring the meaning of the Divine curse on nature.  Specifically, what does it mean that, as they are excluded from the Garden by God because of their disobedience, the woman's pain in child-bearing is increased, as she also falls into a relationship of subservience to the man (Gen. 3:16), and the "the ground is cursed" because of the man, and he is consigned to a life of painful toil (Gen. 3:17-19)?  The woman's pain means at least this much: the pattern of domination of one person by another has emerged.51   Likewise, the arable soil, once the congenial source of his life, now becomes a task-master for the man, a crushing burden.  This is Brown's instructive summary of the meaning of the Divine curse for the Yahwist:
[55] The couple's disobedience has introduced not just the element of alienation, but also an ontology of bondage.  Relationships between human beings and their environment are now based on power and control, as a matter of survival.  As the man has been thrust into the harsh environment of the highlands of Canaan to eke out his existence, the woman is transported into the painful world of familial hierarchy and childbearing.52

[56] The Divine curse is further intensified, according to the Yahwist, in the life of Cain, who killed his brother, Abel.  Now the "arable soil" itself takes on the role of juridical witness, according to the story, as it swallows up Abel's blood, and then demands redress. In response, God drives Cain from the "arable soil," the soil of his sustenance, into the vast domains of "the earth."53   This is his destiny, as Brown describes it: "Cain's exile is not from the human community per se.  Driven from the ground, Cain is exiled to a social domain devoid of refuge and rife with violence, a realm of a social anarchy infinitely remote from the harmonious order of the garden."54

[57] It is important to note here that there is no doctrine at this point, or elsewhere in the Bible, of any kind of "cosmic fall."55   Sin comes into this primeval world by Adam's and Eve's "grab for wisdom," which was "an outright betrayal of trust" in God.56   Sin results in God's expulsion of the couple from their intended home of blessing, to a world of alienation from God and from each other and from the land, exemplified all the more dramatically by Cain's further expulsion into a world not just of alienation but of violence and chaos.  The soil, in contrast, remains innocent, according to the imagination of the Yahwist.  It protests against the violence of Cain.  The soil remains the soil, outside the Garden.  It does not change.  The Divine curse rests on it, because of the disobedience of humans and because of the fruits of violence that grow from that disobedience.57   The priestly writers take much the same approach to cosmic goodness and order: sin, for them, is clearly a social, not a cosmic reality.58

[58] Which allows us to say, metaphorically, as we survey planet earth today with the eyes of astronauts above, contemplating this beautiful, fragile blue and green island of life in the midst of the darkness of "outer space":  we humans are living in Eden, yet behaving as if we were living outside of Eden.  That the sinful violence of our lives, individually and collectively, sometimes pounds the earth and then rebounds back upon us with even greater destructive power - as in the case of global warming, for example, driven as it mainly is by consumer greed - is no fault of the earth.59   The fault is all ours.  And the rebound effect is a veritable Divine curse upon our sin. 
[59] Sadly, in our time, and perhaps it has always been so, that rebounding curse typically affects some more than others, above all the poor.  Thus the impoverished masses of Bangladesh will in all likelihood be among the first to experience the mass devastations of global warming.  That is why both the priestly and the Yahwistic micro-narratives must be heard, especially by the prosperous, in conjunction with the strong voices of the prophets.  In this way the priestly vision of a world full of justice and peace and the Yahwistic vision of a world where humans serve and protect nature will all the more powerfully claim our own world of poverty and violence and looming ecological chaos.

III. Job 38-41: Awestruck Contemplation of Nature

[60] The book of Job also gives us glimpses of human life in the very good world of God's creation.  Yet with this micro-narrative, we encounter an almost entirely different way of seeing things.  Call this a world at the edges of Eden.  This is the lesser known side of the Job narrative.  Best known is Job's own personal story of suffering and loss, a life of forced labor and no hope of liberation: "When I lie down I say, 'When shall I rise?'  But the night is long, and I am full of tossing until dawn.  My flesh is clothed with worms and dirt; my skin hardens, then breaks out again.  My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle, and come to their end without hope"(7:4-6). Thus stricken by outrageous fortune, Job angrily takes his case to God, and is berated by sages for doing so.  But all this, anguished as it is, is but prelude for the place to which the Jobean poet wishes to take us.

[61] The narrator leads us into an experience barely hinted at by the priestly writers, the world of wildness -- wildness near at hand and wildness far beyond any human ken.  This theme appears to be outside the imaginative purview not only of the priestly writers, but of the Yahwist, as well.   It is explicit in the creation theology of Psalm 104, that great poetic commentary on the vision of Genesis 1, when the poet talks about the lions roaring for their prey at night.  This is the world of nature beyond the creative intervention and the sensitive caring of human engagement and also, for that very reason, a world untouched by the Divine curse.  This is the world of nature as God sees it and partners with it in his own ways, apart from relationships with humans and their lives in nature.  
[62] This is also a world where nature remains innocent, as it is for both the priestly writers and the Yahwist.  But this is an innocence that astounds, that overwhelms, and that even, at times, repels - especially when, seeing with the eyes of Job, we contemplate the pervasiveness of death in nature.60    Here the themes of creative intervention in nature and sensitive care for nature of the priestly writers and the Yahwist give way to the theme of awestruck contemplation of nature.   Partnership with God in the midst of nature and partnership with nature now mean stepping back from nature, letting nature be and seeing it for what it is for God and in itself, apart from the interventions and the caring of humans.  This kind of partnership is, mutatis mutandis, akin to the partnership of a loving parent with an adult child, when the parent "lets go":  when the parent steps back from the life of his or her adult child in times of challenge or trial, when the parent disengages, perhaps fearfully, but always with rapt attention.

[63] The Book of Job, of course, is enormously complex and has profoundly puzzled many interpreters.  Thankfully, a number of scholars have, in recent years, opened up the book in fresh ways, sometimes with compelling clarity.   The fresh perspective is this:  it is probably best to read Job rhetorically, as the book presents itself, as a book "at odds with itself," as Carol A. Newsome has argued:

Far from being an embarrassment, recognition that the book is at odds with itself is a key to its meaning and purpose.  Dialogue is at the heart of the Book of Job.  The clash of divergent perspectives is represented in the three cycles of disputation between Job and his friends (chaps. 3-27).  Job's final speech of self-justification (chaps. 29-31) stands over against God's answer from the whirlwind (chaps. 38-41) in a dialogical relationship.  By means of the cleverness of an editor or author, the book as a whole is also structured as a dialogue of two very different ways of telling the same story that cannot be harmonized into a single perspective.61

[64] Presupposing this kind of rhetorical reading of Job, the reflections that follow draw on only one of the several voices we can hear in the entire book, chiefly on chapters 38-41, the theophanous speech from the whirlwind, following for the most part the insightful commentary of William Brown.  This will allow us to hear the distinctive and compelling Jobean testimony to the Creator-God's relationship with the whole astounding world of the creation that thrives beyond the human habitat.
[65] Although cosmology in the book of Job is all-encompassing, as Brown helps us to see, beginning as it does with the earth's foundation and the sea's fluidity, the voice that we hear speaking mainly addresses what might be called the alien goodness of wildness.  This is Brown's summary of that Jobean vision:

There, mostly wild animals, from lions to Leviathan, freely traverse the wasteland's expanse, sustained by Yahweh's gratuitous care and praise.  The wilderness is where the wild things are, playing and feasting, giving birth and roaming, liberated from civilization and ever defiant of culture, even in death.  Undomesticated and unbounded, these denizens of the margins revel in their heedless vitality and wanton abandonment, unashamed and unrepentant of their unbounded freedom, which rests on a providence of grace. 62

[66] Experiencing a whirlwind of torment of his own, instructed unhelpfully by the counsel of sages, Job is driven into that world of wildness, and there he discovers who God is and who he is.

[67] The alien goodness of nature is, above all, expressed by speech of God to Job, from the whirlwind.  This speech, as Brown shows, has a twofold pedagogical purpose, both to broaden Job's moral horizon and to demonstrate Job's own innocence before the sages, who are his detractors.  Although Brown does not use this language, it appears that there is something of Adam in Job,63  before the fall, given Job's announced innocence.  Thus God's speech itself never suggests any hint of punishment against Job.  Be that as it may, Job encounters a world of innocence in nature, wild as it is.

[68] In his speech, God shows the care and precision with which the earth is established (38:4-7).  "God is the architect and the earth is God's temple, not unlike the way in which the cosmos is patterned in Gen 1:2-2:3."64   While the earth is thus a safe place, the sea is something else, in keeping with dominant apperceptions of the ancient Near East.  The sea is depicted as flailing, like an angry infant, needing restraint.  God, however, is up to the task.  God fastens the doors to keep the sea from overwhelming the earth (38:10-11).  Indeed, in keeping with the image of infancy, God appears as a midwife and caretaker of the sea, not unlike the role God assumed in Job's own birth(10:18).  With the cosmos thus established, God leads Job into the wilderness.
[69] This is indeed a wild place.  In this Jobean discourse, we meet none of the images of cordial albeit fecund transformation of the wilderness that we do in prophets like II Isaiah,  leveling of mountains or raising up of the valleys(cf. Is. 40:4).  This is nature as it is in itself, apart from human culture, raw and bloody, yet teeming with life, populated with exotic creatures appropriate to their respective domains.  The animals appear two by two, lion and raven (38:39-41), mountain goat and deer (39:1-4), onager and auroch (39:5-12), ostrich and warhorse (39:13-25), and the hawk and vulture (39:26-30).  Historically speaking, in the culture of the time,  "the animals highlighted in Yahweh's answer to Job were by and large viewed as inimical forces to be eliminated or controlled, an expression of cultural hegemony over nature within the symbolic worldview of the ancient Orient."65   Kings, indeed, went forth to "conquer" such animals in ritualized royal hunts, in an effort to demonstrate by their triumph over these wild creatures their own ontic triumph over the forces of chaos, thereby establishing themselves, for all to see, as lords of both nature and culture, of the entire cosmos.

[70] Seen in this context, the Jobean discourse is radically counter-cultural.  The great beasts of the wild, in this discourse, are indeed great and glorious and noble:  images that are "flagrantly at odds with their stereotypical portrayals attested elsewhere in ancient Near Eastern tradition."66   The lion is one illustrative instance, the raven another.  They are beautiful creatures in their own right, whom God feeds: "Can you hunt the prey for the lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions, when they crouch in their dens or lie in wait in their covert?  Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God, and wander about for lack of food?" (38:39-41).  Objects of contempt in the established culture of the time, the lion and the raven, are here transformed to objects of Divine compassion.67

[71] The Jobean discourse goes still further in its celebration of the wild.  Not only do we see noble, wild creatures, nurtured by God.  We also see noble, wild beasts celebrated, precisely because they resist human domestication.  The wild ox, for example, was profoundly feared.  It used its horns for goring.  Job is taunted by God, with a view to the otherness, the noble alienness of the wild ox: "Can you tie it in the furrow with ropes, or will it harrow the valleys after you?"(39:10) The ostrich is likewise paraded before Job: "It deals cruelly with its young, as if they were not its own; though its labor should be in vain, yet it has no fear.... When it spreads its plumes aloft, it laughs at the horse and its rider." (39:16-18)  This creature "connotes joy unbounded; its wild flapping and penetrating laughter exhibit the throws of ecstasy, confounding Job's preconceived notions about the somber ostrich." 68

[72] In all this, it is significant that the animals are not brought to Job, as they were to Adam in the Yahwistic creation story, for their naming.  Rather, "he is catapulted into their domains.  Instead of being presented with a parade of exotic animals, Job has come to see what they see, to prancewith their hooves, to roam their expansive ranges, and the fly with the wings to scout out prey."69 
[73] Finally, the most alien creatures of all, the Behemoth and the Leviathan, emerge before Job, and are described in great and vivid detail.  These are God's creatures par excellence, profoundly dwarfing Job, untouchable by any human reckoning.  The Leviathan, in particular, is presented as king of kings, hugely proud and worthy of profound wonder and even fear.

[74] In comparison with the culture of the time, Brown draws this insightful conclusion about the Jobean vision, in retrospect:  "No longer are conquering and controlling nature part of the equation for discerning human dignity."  Human dignity is precisely to be one of God's many creatures, never forsaken by God, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding.  Job is able, therefore, in the end, to claim new meaning for his life, coram Deo, as one among many creatures, all of whom are God's children, all of whom have been nurtured and set free by God.   So, taking to heart the images of God's empowering of those animals thought to be lowly and God's nurturing of those animals thought to be mighty, Job returns to his own, Divinely created domain, the human community, but with a new self-understanding and a new awareness of the needs of others, especially the needs of those whom his society typically scorned or rejected.  He begins his life afresh, as an alien in his own community.  This is Brown's elegant picture of that return:

While Job does not forsake the wilderness, neither does he take up permanent residence there....  Having become kin to these animals, Job retracts his patriarchy, both his honorable right to receive redress from the Lord of the whirlwind and his royal right to cultivate the nonarable landscape, and returns to his home and community, gratuitous of heart and humbled in spirit.  Although restored with a new family, Job is no longer willing to see the despised and the disparaged as objects of contempt.  Like the animals, they are his siblings in the wild; they have become partners in a kinship of altruism.70

Having once been a stereotypical patriarch, then a social pariah, Job has now become, in Brown's words, "a vulnerable partner."71   One can even think here of Job as a kind of "suffering servant" figure, paralleling or foreshadowing some of the proclamations of II Isaiah.72   This is the legacy of the Jobean vision of awestruck contemplation of nature.
[75] With reference to our own cosmic sensibilities, the Jobean vision can be read not only in terms of God's purposes with the wilderness areas of this planet - the fecund mountain ranges, the majestic oceans and their fragile coral reefs, the great whales and grand polar caps, the Siberian tigers, the wildebeests, humming birds, and snail darters.  It can also be read in terms of God's purposes with the "great things" of the whole cosmos, purposes that we can only barely begin to imagine - purposes with the billions and billions of galaxies, the supernovae, the black holes, and the nearly infinite reaches of dark matter.  Even more, drawing on the testimony of other biblical voices, such as those of Romans 8 and Revelation 21, Job's vision can be read in terms of the final fulfilment of all things.  Nature, too, as it groans in travail, has its divinely promised future, its final cosmic fullness and rest.  Nature, including all the wild things and indeed all the galaxies and their mysterious cosmic milieu, writhes in anguished vitality, awaiting the day when, with human redemption finally completed, it will be able to reciprocate without bounds in its partnership with God, in the day when all things will be made new, when God will be all in all, when even the Leviathans of the cosmos will find perfect peace(cf. Romans 8:19-22).

IV.  The Biblical Theology of Partnership In Retrospect

[76] We have before us glimpses of this complex and rich biblical theology of partnership, between God and humans, between God and all creatures, and between humans and every other creature.  That God has a partnership with us humans, and we with one another, is a thought that most students of the Bible in our time will take for granted.  That God has a partnership with nature, and humans with nature likewise, are thoughts that may well need to be introduced to our churches and to at least a few of our preachers and teachers.  These thoughts, as it were, do not come naturally.73   
[77] But this is what the Bible shows us.  God has a history with nature and values nature in itself, independent of his relationship with the human creature.  God creates a grand and beautiful world of nature for his own purposes, not just as a home and fecund source of blessings for the human creature.  God loves nature.  God wants all the creatures of nature to flourish, in their own domains.  God fashions nature as a harmonious and beautiful whole, of infinite diversity.  God rejoices in all the creatures of nature.  So the world of nature is beautiful and harmonious and awe-inspiring.  But at its edges, beyond our habitat, it is also mysterious, sometimes threatening, even horrifying to us.  But that is God's business and infinite joy (cf. Psalm 104:31), not ours.  God does fashion us and invite us, however, to be in partnership - a limited partnership - not only with God and with one another, but also with the beautiful and harmonious world of nature and to encounter its deep mysteries and its occasionally horrendous ambiguities.  More particularly, God calls us to be in partnership with nature in three major ways, suggested by the priestly writers, the Yahwist, and the narrator of Job:  creative intervention in nature, sensitive care for nature, and awestruck contemplation of nature.   The witness of the Scriptures is at least that rich and that complex.75

Copyright © 2003 by "Christian Scholar's Review"
Reprinted with permission


End Notes

1  From a poster made available to parishioners in a small town congregation in rural Maine.

2  Probably the single, most enlightening work of many good studies on stewardship is Douglas John Hall, Imagining God: Dominion as Stewardship (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986).

3  An impressive representative of this kind of accent on ecojustice is the document produced by the Presbyterian Church some years ago, Keeping and Healing the Creation (Committee on Social Witness Policy, Presbyterian Church [USA], 1989).

4  For an overview of historic Christian attitudes to nature, see my study The Travail of Nature: the Ambiguous Ecological Promise of Christian Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1985).

5  I have already indicated my reservations about the theology of stewardship, in passing, in my book Nature Reborn: The Ecological and Cosmic Promise of Christian Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), p. 120. Pending a careful study of the matter, my concerns are many, too many to address in this article. These are some of them.

The problem seems to be that the term stewardship itself has such a widely established usage in the general culture and, not unrelated to that wider usage, in the life of grass roots Christian congregations, especially in North America, that it resists normative theological definition. ExxonMobil, for example, to cite but one of many of such instances that could be noted, regularly uses the language of stewardship in its promotional materials, which seek to explain how that corporation is wisely using and protecting the planet's resources. This kind of public-relations material helps to define how the language of stewardship is heard in grass-roots Christian communities in North America and perhaps even in some scholarly circles. True, theologians and biblical scholars and preachers can - and do - point to texts like I Cor. 4:1, "stewards of the mysteries of God" and I Peter 4:10, "Like good stewards of the manifold gifts of Grace," with the intent to shape the usage of the construct by a theocentric theology of Grace, but sociological forces - like the ExxonMobil materials - keep dragging the stewardship theme back to anthropocentric and secular default meanings in general cultural usage.

The public discussion in church circles more often than not affirms such tendencies. It often comes down to this: whether church members should support "wise use" of the environment for the sake of sustaining the current economic system and perhaps improving its functioning (the preference of the theological right) or "wise use" of the environment for the sake of addressing the needs of the poor around the world (the preference of the theological left). In both cases, the assumptions are anthropocentric and managerial in character. The chief concern on both sides is how best to manipulate or exploit nature for the sake of human well-being. "Wise use," of course, is language that corporate interests love to employ. To be sure, no one can rightly contest the conceptuality of "wise use" in the abstract, but, from a theological perspective, it surely must be effectively shaped - and corrected where necessary - by the full range of biblical teachings about nature.

In this context, one might blame, as it were, the power of some of Jesus' parables (!), which, popularly interpreted, tend to be heard as advocating that predominantly managerial, exploitative approach to nature: above all the parable of the talents in Matthew 25 and the parable of the "unjust steward" in Luke 16. In the former, the man of means hands over the five, the two, and the one talents to his "slaves" - in the default, popular reading, these are the "stewards" - then goes away. This can readily be read and often is - notwithstanding emphatic instruction to the contrary by official interpreters - as pointing to an absent God who has given riches to his stewards to manage productively on their own, an absent God who has harsh expectations that they will do precisely that. The parable then narrates how the man of means comes back and rejects the one-talent steward who did not invest his money for the sake of growth: "you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what is my own with interest." (Mt. 25:27)

In the popular mind of the North American Church, this parable then resonates with the parable of the unjust steward in Luke 16. The rich man in this parable, suspecting financial mismanagement on the part of the steward to whom he had delegated the management of his estate, asks the steward "to turn in an account of your stewardship."(Lk. 16:22) The steward, according to the story, schemes with the tenants, "cooks the books," as we have learned to say, and then is praised by the owner for being so shrewd! (Lk. 16:8)

With those particular parables of Jesus read in such a fashion, this, then, is often the default meaning of stewardship in the popular mind of the Church, baptized, as it were, with the authority of Jesus: we are called do whatever it takes to manage the absent owner's resources as productively as we can. (Interestingly, while the RSV translators used the traditional term "steward" in the Lukan parable, the NSRV translators chose, instead, "manager.")

All this is not unrelated to the fact that in most North American congregations the time of the year when stewardship is most extensively discussed is when the budget is at issue. Granted, the messages presented by denominationally produced materials and by hard-pressed parish pastors are often shaped by a theocentric theology of Grace: that God gives us so much, above all in Jesus Christ, but also in the blessings of creation, that we cannot help but respond by giving of our entire lives to God in gratitude by being good stewards of the gifts we have been given. In recent years, such materials and related sermons have also been laced with observations about "the stewardship of creation" and even "ecojustice" themes. But, however nuanced the theological materials and presentations might be, the people in the pews get the message: stewardship chiefly has to do with fund-raising, that is, with the economy of money, good planning, wise management, productivity, and growth.

All this, in turn, is intricately and, in my view, inseparably related to that cultural phenomenon of the modern Western world that Max Weber called the "spirit of capitalism." Weber showed how some of the most fundamental theological assumptions of Calvinism - themes such as election and vocation - set the stage for the rise of capitalism. Simplified, this was Weber's thesis: that the elect of God consciously or unconsciously sought to demonstrate to themselves or to others that they were indeed among the elect by producing the fruits of righteousness, in particular the fruits of economic success, by being productive and amassing wealth, all in order to glorify God. The default meaning of stewardship in North America, it seems to me, is inextricably bound up with such cultural assumptions, above all, the drive to amass wealth, by being wise stewards of the bounties of God. (That a recent scholarly article on stewardship ends up by distinguishing between "hard," "soft," and "agricultural" stewardship shows how difficult it is make any clear and positive use of the construct. Cf. John L. Paterson, "Conceptualizing Stewardship in Agriculture within the Christian Tradition," Environmental Ethics 25:1 [Spring 2003], pp. 43-58.)

The default meaning of stewardship, ironically, has also tended to inhibit the ongoing work of biblical scholarship. A number of scholars who themselves have apparently wanted to move beyond such default meanings still have tended - in the absence of other nomenclature - to use the term stewardship, which has inhibited the effectiveness of their arguments. This, for example, as far as I can see, is the only major liability in William Brown's otherwise superb and illuminating study, The Ethos of the Cosmos. (See note 7.)

6  Scholarly study of the biblical theology of nature, especially the Old Testament, has developed dramatically over the last twenty years, both quantitatively and qualitatively. Some of these trends of research are reflected in this essay, as the notes will indicate. For a review of these developments, see Theodore Hiebert, "Re-Imaging Nature: Shifts in Biblical Interpretation," Interpretation 50:1 (January 1996), pp. 36-46; and Walter Brueggemann, "The Loss and Recovery of Creation in Old Testament Theology," Theology Today, 53:2 (July, 1996), pp. 177-190.

Perhaps the two most substantive works yet to appear in this field are Hiebert's own study, The Yahwist's Landscape: Nature and Religion in Early Israel (New York: Oxford, 1996) and William P. Brown's The Ethos of the Cosmos: The Genesis of Moral Imagination in the Bible (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999). Also important and trend-setting are several articles and books (some of them cited below) by Terence Fretheim, in particular his study The Suffering of God: An Old Testament Perspective (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1984), and Ronald A. Simkins' comprehensive study, Creator and Creation: Nature in the Worldview of Ancient Israel (Peabody, MA: Hendrikson Publishers, 1994). Rolf P. Knierim has contributed to these developments, too; see his essay, "Cosmos and History in Israel's Theology," in The Task of Old Testament Theology: Substance, Method, and Cases (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1995), pp. 171-224. All of these works are to some degree dependent on the pioneering research of scholars whose most relevant essays have been gathered by Bernard W. Anderson, ed. Creation in the Old Testament (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1988). Contributors to the still unfolding Earth Bible series, ed. Norman C. Habel (Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 2000 et seq.), have also advanced the discussion in recent years. Also of note, a collection with a number of instructive articles: William P. Brown and S. Dean McBride, Jr., eds., God Who Creates: Essays in Honor of W. Sibley Towner (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 2000).

On the other hand, scholarly investigation of the theology of nature in the New Testament has not advanced the way it has in Old Testament studies. For a variety of reasons that cannot concern us here, the most interesting research has generally been confined to relatively limited topics and has appeared mainly in professional journals. The scholarly work that has been done, however, is most promising, particularly studies of the eschatological cosmology of Romans, the cosmic Christology of Colossians and Ephesians, and the nature-affirming theology of the Book of Revelation. Worthy of special attention in this regard is the thorough, groundbreaking study by Edward Adams, Constructing the World: A Study in Paul's Cosmological Language (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2000). The time seems to be at hand for the appearances of more extensive New Testament studies of this kind. To this point, however, with the exception of Adam's book, the most comprehensive scholarly discussions of the topic have been produced mainly by theologians, like Juergen Moltmann, who have forged ahead, perhaps necessarily so, in the absence of such works by New Testament scholars themselves. See especially Moltmann's book The Way of Jesus Christ: Christology in Messianic Dimensions, tr. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991). See also the concluding chapter of my own study, The Travail of Nature, "A New Option in Biblical Interpretation," which looks back at the theology of the Bible from the perspective of a fresh reading of the classical Christian tradition, and makes several heuristic proposals for reading the New Testament theology of nature, in particular (see pp. 200-218).

7  In this sense, founders of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment (referred to above) were pointing the way, knowingly or not, to what I am identifying as a second wave of theological responses to the environmental crisis when they chose to think of themselves in terms of the language of partnership. But they were very much being carried along by the first wave of responses, too, insofar as they opted to explain their purposes in the language of stewardship.

The language of partnership has also been employed by Norman C. Habel, ed. in The Earth Bible series, as one of the "Six Ecojustice Principles" that shape the explorations of those who contribute to the series. This surely advances the discussion. The problem with this particular usage, however, is that the language of partnership is tied to the construct of "custodianship." However much the latter term might be redefined, in an attempt to transcend the older stewardship language (as Habel and his colleagues want to do), the idea of a custodian ends up sounding very much like the idea of a steward. Which means, in effect, that the new construct of partnership is still implicitly bound, in not altogether helpful ways, to the old construct of stewardship. Cf. Readings From the Perspective of Earth, ed. Norman C. Habel (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 2000); Earth Bible series, I, p. 24:5. The Principle of Mutual Custodianship: "Earth is a balanced and diverse domain where responsible custodians can function as partners, rather than rulers, to sustain a balanced and diverse Earth community." In this essay, I understand partnership to be the generic theological term, which shapes all others.

Of interest, too, in this connection are some of the works of Letty M. Russell, especially The Future of Partnership (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1979) and Growth in Partnership (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1981). But while she demonstrates that "partnership" is a bona fide theological construct, she shows little interest in the theology of nature in these studies and also, at various points, works within the framework of a theology of stewardship.

8  Cf. Brown, Ethos, p. 36: "...the Priestly account of creation in Gen 1:1-2:3(4a) commands an unassailably preeminent position. This cosmic overture to the entire canon is the literary and theological point of departure for all that follows, from creation to consummation. By virtue of its placement at the Bible's threshold, this quintessential creation story not only relativizes the other biblical cosmogonies interspersed throughout the Old Testament, but also imbues all other material, from historical narrative to law, with cosmic background."

9  Cf. further: S. Dean McBride Jr., "Divine Protocol: Genesis 1:1-2:3 as Prologue to the Pentateuch," in God Who Creates, chap. 1

10  For a development of this theme, predicated on Buber's thought, in terms of a non-yet-mutually personal, but not-objectifying relationship between an I and an Other, see my article "I-Thou, I-It, I-Ens," Journal of Religion 47:3 (July 1968), pp. 260-273.

11  Ibid.

12  I find the phenomenology of Teilhard de Chardin helpful at this point, illuminative of the biblical witness. Teilhard held that all creatures, even the most minuscule, have a "within," a certain kind of subjectivity (often it cannot be detected), as well as a "without," an empirically identifiable kind of structure. That subjectivity becomes more and more definitive of creatures' identities the more complex they become empirically, in Teilhard's view, in particular as they develop central nervous systems and are "cephalized." In the human creature alone, Teilhard held, the "within" comprehends the "without," the within is primary - or it can and should be. Accordingly, the Divine personal communication with the human creature is, in terms I am using here, a communion, a personal ad extra relationship of God with the creature whose subjectivity is the whole which is greater than the sum of its parts - with the creature who is created according to the image of the personal God. This Teilhardian phenomenology meshes well, in my view, with Martin Buber's phenomenology of I and Thou. For an interpretation of Teilhard and Buber in more detail, see my two books, respectively, Travail of Nature, chap. 8 and Nature Reborn, chap. 5.

13  For further discussion of the theme of creaturely spontaneity, see my book Brother Earth: Nature, God and Ecology in a Time of Crisis (New York: Thomas Nelson, 1970), pp. 133-139. On the elusive, but important (especially for the theology of nature) biblical theme of nature praising God, see the seminal essay by Terence Fretheim, "Nature's Praise of God in the Psalms," Ex Auditu 3(1987), pp. 16-30.

14  I first espoused the construct of "the integrity of nature" in my 1970 study, Brother Earth, chap. 7.

15  Brown, Ethos, pp. 43f.

16  Cf. Brown, Ethos, p. 42: "Given the rich ancient Near Eastern background behind the so-called Chaoskampf, the archetypal conflict between the Deity and chaos, the Priestly cosmologist boldly divests all intimations of conflict from divine creation."

17  Cf. the discussion of this point by Fretheim, Suffering of God, p. 73.

18  Fretheim, Suffering of God, p. 78.

19  Cf. Keith Whitelam, "Israelite Kingship: The Royal Ideology and Its Opponents," in The World of Ancient Israel, ed. Ronald Clements (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 121: "Royal ideology provided a justification for the control of power and strategic resources; it proclaimed that the king's right to rule was guaranteed by the deities of the state. A heavy emphasis was placed on the benefits of peace, security and wealth for the population of the state which flowed from the king's position in the cosmic scheme of things." (Quoted by Habel, The Land is Mine, p. 17.)

20  See Habel, The Land is Mine, chapter 2.

21  Cf. further: James Limburg, "The Responsibility of Royalty: Genesis 1-11 and the Care of the Earth," Word & World 11:2 (Spring 1991), pp. 124-130.

22  Brueggemann, Walter, Genesis: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982), p. 32.

23  So Brown, Ethos, p. 44. See also Mark G. Brett, "Earthing the Human in Genesis 1-3," in The Earth Story in Genesis, ed. Norman C. Habel and Shirley Wurst (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 2000), p. 77: "The characteristic association of the phrase 'image of God' with Mesopotamian kings and Egyptian pharaohs has been long observed, but the implications of this comparison have often been under-analyzed. If the health of the created order does not depend upon kings, then the democratizing tendency of Gen. 1:27-28 can be seen as anti-monarchic. Indeed, there is an anti-monarchic tone to Genesis, which begins in Genesis 1 but extends into the second creation story and beyond. The polemical intent is subtle, but the evidence for it accumulates as the narrative unfolds."

24  Cf. Fretheim, The Suffering of God, p. 128: "God is thus portrayed not as a king dealing with an issue at some distance, nor even as one who sends a subordinate to cope with the problem, nor as one who issues an edict designed to alleviate suffering. God sees the suffering from the inside; God does not look at it from the outside, as through a window. God is internally related to the suffering of the people. God enters fully into the hurtful situation and makes it his own. Yet, while God suffers with the people, God is not powerless to do anything about it; God moves in to deliver, working in and through leaders, even Pharaoh, and elements of the natural order."

25  Although, cf. the caveat of Theodore Hiebert, "Re-Imaging Nature," p. 42: "In the preindustrial age of biblical Israel, it is impossible that the Priestly writer had more in mind in these concepts of dominion and subjection than the human domestication and use of animals and plants and the human struggle to make the soil serve its farmers."

26  Brown, Ethos, p. 44.

27  Brown, Ethos, p. 45.

28  Brown, Ethos, p. 45. (Brown is using the word "command" here in a more positive sense than I have used it above, in my discussion of the authoritarian character of Babylonian rule.)

29  Brown, Ethos, p. 60.

30  Cf. Brueggemann, Genesis, p. 37, regarding creation as "good": "The 'good' used here does not prefer primarily to a moral quality, but to an aesthetic quality. It might better be translated 'lovely, pleasing, beautiful' (cf. Eccles. 3:11)."

31  Cf. Brown, Ethos, pp. 50f.: "A stable creative order prevails in this cosmos, accomplished not through conflict and combat but by coordination and enlistment. Each domain, along with its respective inhabitants, is the result of a productive collaboration between Creator and creation. The final product is a filled formfulness. Form is achieved through differentiation, the mark of goodness. While differentiating the various cosmic components, the process of separation, paradoxically, serves to hold the cosmic order together. Creations's 'filledness' is achieved by the production of life. From firmaments to land, boundaries maintain the integrity of each domain as well as provide the cement that finds the cosmos as a whole."

32  Bernard W. Anderson, "Introduction: Mythopoeic and Theological Dimensions of Biblical Creation Faith," in Creation in the Old Testament, p. 11, following Paul Humbert.

33  Jon D. Levenson, Creation and the Persistence of Evil: The Jewish Drama of Divine Omnipotence (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988), p. 57, speaks of a "genetic connection between Genesis 1 and Psalm 104": "The correspondences are not total, of course, but they are impressive and cast heavy doubt upon the possibility of coincidence."

34  It could be that the Psalmist and Job in a sense collapse the two-stage thinking of the Priestly writers, regarding this matter, into one stage. That is to say, for the Priestly writers humans are vegetarians before the fall and only permitted to eat meat after the covenant with Noah; the Priestly writers, in that sense, allow that violence in nature is, in that latter sense, Divinely ordained - and, presumably, also assume that, after Noah, violence among the animals is the Divinely permitted rule. For the Psalmist and Job - and for the Yahwist, according to Hiebert - the food chain, with some animals killing others, is given, right from the start, with the goodness of the creation.

35  According to Levenson, Creation and the Persistence of Evil, p. 84, the translation "Spirit of God" is exegetically the most appropriate.

36  Brown, Ethos, p. 52.

37  Gerhard Von Rad, Genesis: A Commentary, tr. John H. Marks (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1961), pp. 60f.: "...that God has 'blessed,' 'sanctified'..., this rest, means that P does not consider it as something for God alone but as a concern of the world, almost as a third something that exists between God and the world. The way is being prepared, therefore, for an exalted, saving good.... for the world and man.... It is as tangibly 'existent' protologically as it is expected eschatologically in Hebrews (Heb., ch. 4)."

38  Jon Levenson, Creation and the Persistence of Evil, p. 123, argues for this interpretive point on the basis of his own analysis of these texts. He agrees with the witness of the Mishnah: " is no wonder that the Mishnah can call the eschatological future 'a day that is entirely Sabbath and rest for eternal life' and designate Psalm 92, the song 'for the Sabbath day,' as the special hymn for that aeon. The reality that the Sabbath represents-God's unchallenged and uncompromised mastery, blessing, and hallowing-is consistently and irreversibly available only in the world-to-come. Until then, it is known only in the tantalizing experience of the Sabbath."

39  Regarding the emergence of an eschatological consciousness in the history of ancient Israel, in its own cultural setting, cf. the words of H.H. Schmid, "Creation, Righteousness, and Salvation: 'Creation Theology' as the Broad Horizon of Biblical Theology," in Creation and the Old Testament, ed. Bernard W. Anderson, p. 110: "It has long been recognized that there is a close relation between views of creation and consummation [in the Old Testament]. The salvation (Heil) expected at the end of history corresponds to what the entire ancient Near East consider an orderly (heil) world, including the view of the pilgrimage to Zion to do homage to the God enthroned there as King.... This is the new dimension in the eschatological horizon: in the course of time there was an increasingly sharpened awareness of the difference between the world of creation and that which can be realized in history. Consequently the period of salvation was postponed into an ever-receding future and eventually was expected to be the in-breaking of a completely new eon."

40  Santmire, Travail of Nature, p. 58.

41  See especially: Hiebert, The Yahwist's Landscape.

42  Rene Dubos, Reason Awake: Science for Man (New York: Colombia University Pres, 1970), pp. 126f.

43  Cf. Brown's interpretation of what I am here calling "creative intervention" as it takes shape in the Priestly vision, Ethos, p. 126: "God creates not by brute force but with great care. The human task of subduing the earth does not pit humanity against nature, but reflects a working with nature through cultivation and occupation, through promoting and harnessing creation's integrity."

44  Hiebert, "Rethinking Traditional Approaches to Nature in the Bible," pp. 28f.

45  Hiebert, "Rethinking Traditional Approaches to Nature in the Bible," p. 28.

46  Cf. Brigitte Kahl, "Fratricide and Ecocide: Rereading Genesis 2-4," in Earth Habitat: Eco-Justice and the Church's Response, ed. Dieter Hessel and Larry Rasmussen (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001), p. 55: "We might expect God to lean back and watch his creature taking up the spade to start digging and planting.... But instead we see God taking the spade and planting the trees in the garden, definitely hard and dirty manual work.... ...Adam's task is simply to serve and preserve the garden. Wherever humans touch the soil, God's footmarks and fingerprints are already there."

47  See Leslie Sauer, "Bring Back the Forests: Making a Habit of Reforestation, Saving the Eastern Deciduous Forest," Wildflower (Summer 1992), pp. 27-34.

48  See George W. Ramsey, "Is Name-Giving an Act of Domination in Genesis 2:23 and Elsewhere?," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 50:1 (Jan. 1988), pp. 24-35.

49  Brown, Ethos, p. 141, seems to adhere to the older view, but this appears to be inconsistent with his overall approach to the theology of the Yahwist.

50  Note that Adam names only the living things, not all things. Cf. Class Westermann, Genesis 1-11: A Commentary, tr. John J. Scullion (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1984), p. 229: "Names are given first to living thing things, because they are closest to humans." Cf. also the remarks of Fretheim, The Suffering of God, p. 100, regarding the meaning of "naming" more generally in the Old Testament: "Giving the name opens up the possibility of, indeed admits a desire for, a certain intimacy in relationship. A relationship without a name inevitably means some distance. Naming the name is necessary for closeness."

51  For a nuanced exegetical interpretation of the meaning of "the fall" at this point, cf. Terence Fretheim, "Is Genesis 3 a Fall Story?," Word and World 14:2 (Spring 1994), pp. 144-153.

52  Brown, Ethos, p. 150: "In the world of curse, origin no longer indicates complementarity and mutual joy but domination and pain."

53  Brown, Ethos, p. 150.

54  Brown, Ethos, pp. 168f.

55  Brown, Ethos, p. 169.

56  Cf. the comments of Terence Fretheim, The Suffering of God, p. 39, citing the work of Rolf Knierim: "'History appears to have fallen out of the rhythm of cosmic order, whereas the cosmic order itself reflects the ongoing presence of creation. It remains loyal to its origin.... And it knows about it.' Pss. 19:1-6, 103:19-22, and 148:1-6 are cited as examples of how 'the cosmic space proclaims daily and without end the glory of God, and itself as his handiwork.'" See, further, my reflections, "Biblical Thinking and the Idea of a Fallen Cosmos" [appendix], in Brother Earth, pp. 192-200.

57  Brown, Ethos, p. 157.

58  This is akin to the witness of some of the prophets, e.g. Isaiah 1:2 and Jeremiah 8:7, where "we find animals conforming to the will of God for their existence in ways not true of human beings." (Fretheim, "Nature's Praise of God in the Psalms," p. 29)

59  Cf. Brown, Ethos, p. 129: "In the hands of the Priestly cosmologist, chaos is banished from the created order with the mere stroke of a stylus, put to rest, as it were. Rather than reifying, much less deifying, chaos as a necessary evil of cosmogony, Priestly tradition embeds chaos within the matrix of life itself, particularly human life, not as a necessity but as an ever present possibility. Chaos is violence run amok. It denotes the human violation of prescribed boundaries that foster the stability of community, a social contravention based on fear of and contempt for Yahweh's created order, in short, a desecration of creation and community."

60  Cf. the study by Terence E. Fretheim, "The Plagues as Ecological Signs of Historical Disaster," Journal of Biblical Literature 110:3 (1991), pp. 385-396, esp. p. 387: "...the plagues... function in a way not unlike certain ecological events in contemporary society, portents of unmitigated historical disaster."

61  I take it that death in the sense of mortality, along with its anguish and pain, belongs to nature as created good, as far as biblical thinking is concerned. Note that nature is created very good, but not perfect, according to Genesis 1. That perfection must await the coming new heavens and new earth, when death will be no more. On the other hand, in the wake of human sin, death does become "the enemy" par excellence, in human history. It would take us too far afield, however, to argue this point here. For that kind of an argument see my book Brother Earth, pp. 124ff. and Terence Fretheim, "Is Genesis 3 a Fall Story," p. 52. Also see Loren E. Wilkenson, A Christian Theology of Death: Biblical Imagery and 'The Ecologic Crisis,'" Christian Scholar's Review 5:4 (1976), pp. 319-339.

62  Carol A. Newsome, "The Book of Job: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflection," The New Interpreter's Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), vol. IV, p. 323.

63  Brown, Ethos, p.394.

64  Although J. Gerald Janzen does make this connection: "Creation and the Human Predicament in Job," Ex Auditu 3 (1987), p. 52.

65  Brown, Ethos, p. 341.

66  Brown, Ethos, p. 350.

67  Brown, Ethos, p. 360.

68  Brown, Ethos, p. 361.

69  Brown, Ethos, p. 364. Cf. Janzen, "Creation and the Human Predicament in Job," p. 51: "Over against... attempts to order and secure oneself and one's own in a dangerous world, the ostrich that lays its eggs on the unguarded ground constitutes Yahweh's description of birdly wisdom, a wisdom that appears as folly to the mentality of the Enuma Elish, the Baal myths, and indeed, aspects of the royal Jerusalem theology at least as popularly understood and acted on."

70  Brown, Ethos, p. 365.

71  Brown, Ethos, p. 395.

72  Brown, Ethos, p. 380.

73  So Janzen, "Creation and the Human Predicament in Job," p. 53: "The ancients were not wrong to conceive deity in royal terms. But they were wrong in supposing that royalty manifests itself in absolute invulnerability (or impassibility), and through overwhelming coercive power and aggressive control by means of a tight system, an airtight logic, of reward and punishment. The mystery of God's royalty is imaged in dust-and-ashes Job, suffering inexplicably, unshakably loyal to a God whom he does not as yet understand, and invited finally to share with God in the celebration and ordering of a world where the accepted risk of freedom is the creative ground of cosmic fellowship. It is not far from this to the astounding portrayal of Yahweh's 'arm' in Isaiah 53 - the servant whose spoils of victory are won, not at the expense of enemy peoples, but on their behalf through unmerited suffering."

74  There are historical reasons for this theological reluctance to focus on more than the Divine-human relationship. See my study, The Travail of Nature, especially chaps. 7 & 8.



© December 2003
Journal of Lutheran Ethics
Volume 3, Issue 12