I don’t think Pa Davis would have cared too much about the last post I published, where I suggested we all pause in our work, go outside, and stare at the sky.
Pa, my great-grandfather, was a farmer his whole life, and as much as he loved being outside in the fields and forests, he didn’t allow for lollygagging to look at the stars or the flowers or anything like that. In Pa Davis’ mind, if it didn’t contribute to the farm and the family, there was no point in it.
Something might be beautiful, but it was far more important that it be useful.
Well, with Pa Davis in mind, today I want us to consider the usefulness of creation.
On the third day of creating, God separates the dry land from the seas, making room for the rest of creation to live, to have a place. Then God calls forth vegetation, very specific vegetation, and it would behoove us to pay attention to what the Lord says.
“Then God said, ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.’ And it was so.” (Genesis 1:11)
This is one of those odd passages that provides some very specific detail, and it is easy for us to overlook this as another little quirk in the grand scheme of the Bible. But in Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture, Dr. Ellen Davis advises us to not overlook these details about seeds; the reason we’re tempted to, she claims, is because we are so far removed from our food.
When scripture here specifies, “plants yielding seed, and fruit trees… that bear fruit with the seed in it,” scripture is differentiating these plants from the type of plant that broadcasts its seed. What God calls forth here are plants that hang on to their seed, and therefore provide seed that can be gathered and used.
This would be plants like wheat, barley, beans, peas, okra, tomatoes, and peppers; and fruit trees like apples, pears, figs, and olives. In other words, God calls forth the plants of the farm and the garden.
This is confirmed for us on the sixth day of creation. After creating human beings, God tells them, “I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.” (Genesis 1:29)
What we’re seeing here is how God provides for creatures through creation.
Proverbs 8 tells us that God founded the earth in wisdom, and as we look at creation we see the wisdom of the Lord in how Creation works together to sustain life. From the tides and the natural filtration of swamps that keep the water cycle clean and moving, to the pollinating work of bees and butterflies and thousands of other small creatures, to the winds that every year blow sands from Africa all the way to the Americas, creation is intentionally designed to work together, promoting and sustaining life.
We see that in the scripture.
As God creates, God gives the command, “Be fruitful, and multiply.” God says it to the birds and beasts and lizards and fish, “Be fruitful and multiply.”
Then, after telling us to be fruitful and multiply, God gives humans the gift of seeding vegetation. So, God has already provided the means by which we are to follow the command, “Be fruitful and multiply.”
It’s important to distinguish between those two words, too. Multiply is pretty straightforward: make more creatures like yourselves. But be fruitful means more than just, “make more of yourselves.”
Consider: a fruit bears seeds for the multiplication of the species. But a fruit also tastes good, and contains the calories and the nutrients other creatures need. Growing fruit benefits both the one growing the fruit and the one that consumes the fruit.
Being fruitful means to be beneficial, to promote not only your own life, but the life of others. God’s intended use of creation is the propagation, the continuation, not only of life, but of fruitful life; that is, life that is good and beneficial to more life.
Our use of creation ought to reflect God’s intention; we ought to use creation in such a way that promotes and sustains fruitful life.
However, we can’t talk about the use of creation without also talking about the misuse of creation. Our sin has led us over and over again to work against God’s intentions. Human history has shown us over and over again to destroy fruitful life, not promote it. Ellen Davis even claims, “…humans are the primary source of opposition to God, the source of most if not all threats to the integrity of the created order.” (Davis. Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture. 63.)
Let’s go back to seeds again.
Because we are so far displaced from our food, we easily forget just how important seeds are. To an agrarian society, though, one like the Hebrews who originally received these words in Genesis, seeds were a gift from God, a gift out of the past for the future.
Life, specifically life together in community, was dependent on the propagation of seeds. Anthropologists have claimed that the gathering, planting, regathering and replanting of seeds- specifically wheat and barley- are what led to humankind being able to settle down and live with one another.
In such a system, whoever has the seeds has the power. Those without seeds are at the mercy of the one with seeds. Since we all need food to live, whoever controls food controls life.
We see this in the story of Joseph in Pharaoh’s court. After two years of famine, Joseph’s brothers come to him, pleading; for what? For grain, for seed, so that they may eat and live.
In that moment, Joseph had all the power. He could destroy his brother’s lives, or he could propagate fruitfulness. His choice was between the use or the misuse of creation. Joseph chose fruitfulness.
By providing for his brothers’ wellbeing, Joseph enabled the entire rest of the Biblical story to happen.
This is what I want you to do: inspect your life. Consider where your life touches others. You’ll find it’s a lot. The food you eat, where you buy your stuff, the car you drive, the way you keep up your yard, how you heat your house, the trash you create- all of these things have an impact on creation. All of these things either promote and propagate fruitful life for others, or they eliminate it. All of these things either use creation as God intended, or misuse it.
This is complicated. Our webs are so interwoven together and our choices dependent on so many factors that we really can’t help but misusing creation in multiple ways; that’s the fallen state of our world.
But inspect your life anyway, and choose to change one thing.
Just one thing, one change, might not seem like a lot. But if all of us choose to change one thing, and then we choose to change one more thing, and then we choose to change one more thing, then soon everything is changed.
Living our lives with our neighbors in mind- our human and non-human neighbors alike- will change the world, and will bring about God’s shalom, God’s intended fruitful life, for all of us.