“Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” – Genesis 2:15
There is a fundamental misunderstanding about Adam’s role in the Garden of Eden, which is, for us, the earth. The Garden, our ecosystem, provides for all of our physical needs. In fact, it provides abundantly…except where sin has so corrupted the human heart that the abundance is not shared but hoarded or spent on self-indulgent or self-aggrandizing opulence. But I digress.
The misunderstanding comes from not paying careful attention when we read the Bible, which is another essay unto itself still waiting to be written. We may not have heard many sermons on the theology of work or stewardship based on Genesis 2:15 but I have yet to hear one (insofar as I can recall) that got it quite right. Since this is a field very connected to my focus on the integration of Judeo-Christian faith and economics, I spend a fair amount of time reading or listening to what others have to say about this pivotal verse in the Garden narrative of Genesis 1–2.
To date, every reading or teaching I have come across will say something about God commanding Adam to work and till the Garden. That’s the problem: that command never happened, at least it is not explicitly recorded in the text. The text simply says that God put the man in the Garden to fulfill two roles: to work and to tend. He did not tell Adam to work and to tend. All that is to say that working and tending were not so much choices that Adam made . . . as much as they were designed into what he was, his function and purpose amidst creation and vitally central to his humanity.
What this boils down to is significant. To be human means that work and environmentalism (creation care) are critical components of being true to what we are. We cannot be fully human without acknowledging and fulfilling these aspects of our created status. How then should that affect our views of consumption, waste, and conservatism?