Our First Home was a Garden
Can old stories throw light on new stories? Science speaks now about Deep Time, how the earth evolved over billions of years. Plants, animals, human beings came into existence long ago. Besides things evolving, mass extinctions have also taken place through the ages. An exhibit at the Smithsonian in Washington called “Deep Time” explores the recent findings of science..
Our ancestors wondered about these things long ago. The Genesis story in the bible pictures the beginnings in poetic terms. But, can an old story throw light on the story science tells us now?
The most important light it offers is its claim to know the ultimate source of everything, a claim made in the opening sentence of our Christian creed: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.” God is the One who creates and cares for all things.
How does God Create?
The Genesis story describes in a poetic way God’s creation of the world. Beginning with chaos, God creates light, then separates the waters from the earth, brings forth the night and the day, the sun and moon. God then creates plants, trees of every kind on the earth, the living creatures of the sea, birds of the air and animals of the land.
Then, “God said: Let us make human beings in our image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the tame animals, all the wild animals, and all the creatures that crawl on the earth. God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them, male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1, 28)
And “God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good.” (Genesis 1,31)
An Interdependent World
Everything’s connected in the ancient creation story. Though human beings stand out in the story, we’re still connected to and dependent on the rest of creation. We come from the dust of the earth and depend on its life-giving waters; we need its soil, its plants and animals for our support.
In the creation narrative everything is connected. One thing prepares for and supports another.
That’s something we human beings must remember today.
Everything’s important in the early creation story. Though human beings have dominion over all, it’s a God-given dominion to see things as God does. God sees everything as good and with a right to be. Made in God’s image, our task on earth is to care for creation as God does. We’re caretakers of God’s world.
Something else to remember.
In chapter 2 of the Genesis account, God creates a garden, where nothing grew before and where no rain fell. There God places man. The garden is our first home.
The garden is a marvelous symbol of the interconnectedness of creation. We’re placed in a garden, which we share in common with trees and plants, with the birds of the sky and the animals of the fields. Together, we’re sustained by water from the earth and air from the heavens. Even clothing, setting us apart, is done away with there. We’re human, from the earth. We cannot exist without it. Our first home is a garden.
In the garden, the ancient story says, humanity is forbidden to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Why?
There are different interpretations. Some interpret eating from the tree as a decision of moral autonomy. To eat its fruit is to claim to know what’s good or evil, right or wrong. Some today claim absolute power to choose what’s right or wrong, good and evil. Rejecting human limits and finite human wisdom , they claim to know it all.
Another interpretation sees eating from the tree as a decision to trust only in human experience and the knowledge we gain as we grow as individuals and as a people. Like children distancing themselves from parents, we grow in self sufficiency, gradually relying on a wisdom of our own.
The danger is to have human experience and human wisdom become absolute. Some distance themselves from a timeless wisdom and trust only in the wisdom of today.
In his letter Laudato Si, on our common home, on climate change, Pope Francis speaks of the danger of “anthropocentrism,” putting human beings at the center of everything, a trend he traces back to the beginnings of the Enlightenment in the 16th century. It’s a way of thinking still with us today.
Trusting human knowledge and creativity, some believe that science and technology have the answer for a perfect world. But science and technology aren’t enough to meet our present environmental crisis, the pope says, we humans need to change. We need to humbly accept our place in creation, as God meant it to be.
We need to remember where we come from. Science tells us much, but let’s not forget an old story. Our first home was a garden.