Expanding Eden: Christians as Cultivators of Culture
The Human story begins in a garden.
Despite what many now believe, the garden was not just another chance stop on homo sapiens’ aimless evolutionary journey from primordial soup to the skyscrapers of New York City. The truth is far more astonishing than that. Humans were created for the garden. The Bible reveals, “Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed” (Genesis 2:8). The garden was planted and set aside by God to be the first dwelling for His prize creation.
Eden has become synonymous with a utopian paradise. We imagine that had only Adam and Eve resisted the forbidden fruit we still might be enjoying the cool shade of the garden to this day. Yet, even before the Fall, God gave humans a mandate: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:28). Filling and subduing the earth cannot be accomplished from a garden. Adam and Eve were placed in the garden, but the garden was not intended as a forever home.
So, why a garden? Scripture provides the answer: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15). The Garden in Eden appears to have been intended as a sort of training ground. In the Garden, humans would learn how to care for God’s creation and become creators themselves. Just as God first named His creations and then invited Adam to join the creative act by naming the animals (Genesis 2:20), God also planted the garden in Eden and then invited humans to go forth and cultivate the earth. From the beginning of our story, we were created to be cultivators of creation.
A Creative Mandate
Exile from Eden does not absolve humans from the mandate to cultivate the earth. Christians need not yearn for a return to a place that was only intended as a training ground. Rather, they should recall the lessons they were meant to learn and then apply them to the world around them today.
There is a nostalgic longing for the simplicity of Eden. As some preachers have declared, “Cities only come after the Fall!” Yet, there is also a unique beauty in cities. Cities have always been hubs for art and culture; for innovation and discovery. A world filled with only gardeners and farmers is likely a world without Beethoven, Michelangelo, and Shakespeare, and without airplanes and space exploration. It is a world where significantly fewer people have had the opportunity to hear the Gospel of Jesus proclaimed. The first disciples may have been chosen from rural communities, but the first churches began in the cities.
Christians cannot return to Eden, but they can cultivate the world around them to be more like that beautiful garden sanctuary.
Christians can be many things in relation to culture. Critical. Antagonistic. Fearful. Enslaved. But how often is the Church viewed as being cultivators of culture? Are Christians tilling the cultural soil, plucking the ugly weeds, and planting new trees to grow, flourish, and produce fruit? Christians should infuse art, beauty, and meaningful storytelling into any community that God has currently placed them. A church steeple should be a signpost pointing hurt and broken people to where they can find Edenic peace and sanctuary.
The world desperately needs faithful Christians to fulfill their creative mandate. The enduring allure of Eden is fostered by a modern world that looks nothing like a garden. Today’s culture is more akin to an assembly-line factory or a bitter war zone than a peaceful garden where people can walk with God in the cool of the day.
Unfortunately, Christians do not always live up to this wonderful calling. We often desire our own private Edens, comfortable sanctuaries for ourselves, with little care to fulfill our creative mandate in the world beyond our protective garden walls. God’s plan from the very beginning was for people to go forth and make the world like a garden. Christians are not called to hide from or bemoan culture. They are commissioned to shape and cultivate it into something beautiful.