I had the opportunity earlier this year to spend a couple days in the Phoenix area to attend an engineering conference. I’ve only been in Phoenix one time before, and on that trip I never made it out of the airport. So, this was a unique opportunity for me. Although the conference schedule was pretty jam-packed, I decided that it would probably be a long time before I would ever be in the region again and that I should try to carve out time to do at least one thing beyond the confines of the hotel and conference center. My choice: an early-morning hike up Camelback Mountain, a rugged dual peak surrounded by the urban development of Phoenix and Scottsdale. It ended up being a VERY early morning, since I wanted to finish before the conference’s morning session if possible, and my lack of a car made the two-and-a-half mile walk from the motel to the trailhead a bit time-consuming.
Thankfully, the hike did not disappoint! Even the urban walk through Scottsdale’s residential streets was eye-popping for a Midwest denizen like myself, as the early-May desert vegetation was distinctly different than the greenery and colors I am accustomed to seeing in the northern plains.
However, hiking up Camelback was my primary objective, and before long I arrived at the trailhead at the base of the mountain, quickly transitioning from city streets to a rugged trail winding around the mountain and gradually up through sandy and rocky terrain. As I began to ascend, I couldn’t help but notice the beautiful view. And what really struck me as I continued my hike was that the beauty was a “developed” beauty. It was not simply a “natural” beauty of untouched rocks, trees, and hills. The beauty actually came from the interaction of the developed features and the natural features, the well-watered green grass and manicured landscaping and carefully organized subdivisions along with the rugged desert rocks and sagebrush and cacti. Before development from human hands brought irrigation to the Phoenix region, it was just a barren desert wasteland, but now it is a beautiful and unique landscape like few others on this earth that God has put under our dominion.
Genesis 2:15 is a clear and succinct statement of God’s creational mandate to us, His servants in His world. What calling does God have for us as humans in His creation? “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (ESV). We seem to have a tendency to pit the two-fold task presented in Genesis 2 against itself, to focus either on “working” the creation or “keeping” the creation. We feel pulled between either exploitation of the creation or “creation care,” but this division is a false dichotomy! God did not create humans to merely sit passively and observe creation, nor did He create humans to devour His “very good” creation. Our culture tends to want to polarize our mandate, gravitating toward environmentalism that worships the undeveloped creation, or humanism that views us as in control of our own destiny by our own ingenuity and mastery of the resources around us.
We need to remember that we worship neither ourselves nor the earth. Rather, we worship our Lord and Creator, and we exist in Christ’s story, in which He has already accomplished our salvation! Certainly, as we strive to live in grateful obedience each day, it will be challenging to discern specifically what obedience looks like with respect to the resources God has entrusted to us. This challenge is an everyday part of our existence in the “already and not yet” state of redemptive history, since creation has already experienced Christ’s victorious death and resurrection but still suffers the effects of the fall and waits in anticipation of the final consummation of His reign.
So, as we daily make decisions on how to “work” and “keep” God’s creation, let’s remember our task. We are not here to advance our own selfish agenda, and we are not here to preserve the earth in an undeveloped and untouched raw condition. Rather, we are here to use the creation in obedience, glorifying our great God and loving our neighbor. Camelback Mountain provided me a small snapshot of how developing and caring for God’s great earth can be complementary and not divisive, and I pray that God will continue to help me learn every day how to be more faithful in discerning how to work and keep His amazing creation.