That was the question one of our professors asked me after reading Paul Steven’s book Work Matters: lessons from scripture, Eerdmans 2012. “After teaching the Bible for all these years, how could I have missed the value God placed on work?”
I had to ask myself the same question this morning as I read my new via magazine from the AAA. It had a story called Rediscovering John Muir, His footprints lead to the West’s best places. Perhaps those of us who live in the west are more familiar than others with the fact that it was Muir who was instrumental in creating a national preserve around Yosemite, which the following year an act of Congress declared it one of our most magnificent National Parks.
He was also the founder of the Sierra Club whose mission, Muir said, was to “do something for wildness and make the mountains glad.” It almost sounds Biblical doesn’t it? “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it” Psalm 96:11 (NIV). Why then, in my growing up and most of my adult years, was the Sierra Club viewed as an enemy of the Christian faith? Or, if not the enemy, at least suspicious?
The article tells us, “The first time he (Muir) gazed across California’s San Joaquin Valley toward the Sierras, he wrote that the towering peaks, ‘seemed not clothed with light but wholly composed of it, like the wall of some celestial city.”
Here’s what’s sad.
Throughout his early boyhood in Dunbar, Scotland, where he was born in 1938, John Muir felt the influence of two opposing forces: his urge to explore the natural world, and the domineering father he faced at home. To spend his days scouring the fields for skylarks or splashing in the tide pools beside the North Sea was to risk paternal lashings in the evenings.
The article goes on,
In 1949 Muir’s father, Daniel, moved his family to Wisconsin in pursuit of a stricter form of Protestant faith. Like Daniel, young John was stubborn and rebellious, enduring the hardships of pioneer farming and his father’s intense work ethic. He resisted Daniel’s mandate that he read no books other than the Bible. Ultimately–and significantly—he rejected his father’s fire-and-brimstone outlook. In nature, Muir believed, lay the divine.
His father made him read “no books other than the Bible” and totally missed the creation mandate in the very first chapters. Genesis 2:15 says, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Not use it up, trample it, or abuse it, but “care for it.” Not worship it, but allow it to lead us to worship God who made it. Psalm 19:1 “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” Romans 1:20 adds “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:”
How could he have missed it? How could I have missed? How could we have missed it? Why wasn’t I taught to value and care for God’s creation? Why was it implied that those who did were somehow the enemy? Oh sure, for the most part they don’t acknowledge the Creator and sometimes worship the creation, but was withdrawing, criticizing and being suspicious toward them the answer? Or would valuing, engaging, appreciating and recognizing God as Creator have been more in line with being salt and light? We’ve allowed the naturalist to co-op the greatest testimony to the existence of God there is. We’ve at times laughed at and ridiculed the extreme position of the “tree hugger” while all the time exploiting instead of explaining this incredible creation given to us by God to “care for” and cause to flourish.
About Jim Hislop
Jim Hislop is the Director of Western Seminary's Center for Leadership Development.