For the Beauty of the Earth

29 11 2012

Philistine. Christians may yet think first of the people of some three thousand years ago who fought repeatedly with the Hebrews. Originally from Crete, they migrated to the southeast shore of the Mediterranean Sea and established five cities that waxed and waned for a millennium. They disappeared as an ethnic group at the time of the Maccabees, but the word derived from their existence—Palestine—remains to this day.

In the minds of the general populace, the word philistine (spelled without capitalization) denotes a person who is boorish or uncultured and proud of it.  More precisely, a philistine is one who for art would not care to give even five smooth stones from a stream. Evidently, unlike the Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, and Greeks, the original Philistines left no legacy of words or music, sculpture or architecture. Even the ancient Hebrews, who contributed little to the arts in general, nevertheless had great poets.

Here are a few lines from a great Hebrew: “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin. And yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” Who is their Artist?

As it was written by another Hebrew, consider His heavens, the work of His fingers, the moon and the stars, which He has ordained. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth His handiwork,” declares the psalmist.

What is to be our response?

“O give thanks unto the God of gods… O give thanks to the Lord of lords… to Him who alone doeth great wonders… to Him that by wisdom made the heavens… to Him that stretched out the earth above the waters… to Him that made great lights… the sun to rule by day…” The lovingkindness of this Artist endures forever.

And yet, what really is our response? Do we care? Or do we treat the art of the earth with the kind of giant contempt against God manifested by Goliath of Gath? Are we collaborators with those uncircumcised Philistines?

This has nothing to do with the worship of Gaea. It has everything to do with the worship of the Lord God.

This is not primarily about science, junk or otherwise. This is about art. (Note, however, that hard science’s improving perception of the anthropic principle provides plenty of reason to appreciate the Artisan’s creation of cosmos from chaos.)

Art. We may not know the difference between a fresco and a fresh coat of paint, chiaroscuro and charcoal, or rococo and hot cocoa. Even so, who among us would take a finger painting presented with pride by a child and use it to light a barbecue fire? Who among us would take a watercolor given with love by a grandchild and use it for toilet paper?

Now turn this around. Suppose you paint a picture of the lilies of the field, and it measures up to the best of Dürer and Michelangelo, of Caravaggio and Rembrandt, of Constable and Turner, of Monet and Van Gogh, of Homer and O’Keeffe. Even Solomon in all his wealth could not buy it from you. Instead, you give the painting to your children. What would you think if they cut it up to make illustrations for a seed catalogue? If they peeled it apart to obtain sample chips for a paint store? If they burned it to smelt the cadmium and titanium and other minerals from the pigments? If they tore it to pieces so they could puff spit wads at one another? To borrow a line from Saint James and King James, “these things ought not so to be.”

It is written: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:28 NAU).

It is also written, several times: “The earth is the Lord’s.” (See Exodus 9:29, Deuteronomy 10:14, Psalm 24:1, and 1 Corinthians 10:26, 28.)

When God put mankind in the Garden of Eden, what was His intent? The King James Version of the account employs two words—dress and keep.

In the original Hebrew, dress means work. More specifically, it means to work for, to serve another, to serve the Lord as subjects of the Lord.

In the original Hebrew, keep has a range of meanings.  Observe, reserve, and preserve. Regard and guard. Care. Ward. Save. The word can even mean treasure and celebrate.

We are to dress and keep a garden. But what do we do?

We build our houses upon the sand of a beach or floodplain.  When the rain descends, and the floods come, and the winds blow and beat upon those houses, and when they thus fall, we require our taxpaying neighbors to rebuild them, and in the same place.  Then we want those neighbors to pay for projects to protect them, and at the expense of the environment, too.

We build our houses upon the sands of a desert.  We then require our farming and ranching neighbors to give up their land for water projects, and later give up their water rights so we may have green lawns we overload with fertilizers and pesticides, which in turn run off to despoil waterways and wetlands. We require other neighbors to strip mountains and fill valleys and foul the air so we may power gadgets, gizmos, and games.

To borrow a line from Saint John, “And there are also many other things… the which, if they should be written every one… even the world itself could not contain the books…” With regard to such carelessness and even contempt for ecology, what would Saint James say to it all?

Here are the bottom lines.

Reverence for God truly includes reverence for the beauty and goodness of His creation. Besides, the lives and livelihoods of our neighbors, who are also His creation and whom we are to love if we say we love God, depend on it.

 

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