There is much discussion among Christians about creation care. Creation was given to us as a responsibility to steward. But that responsibility has a flip side. And that flip side is enjoyment. I would argue that as humans, enjoying creation is our birth right.
In the Biblical narrative, enjoyment comes before responsibility. God did not put humans in a patch of rugged earth and ordered them to start making a living out of it. Instead, God planted a garden, where he placed humans. And there he caused all kids of trees to grow, which were both beautiful to look at and had delicious fruits (Genesis 2:9). The name of the garden was Eden, meaning ‘delight’.
God did not just provide us with the necessary resources, but with things that were beautiful to see and delicious to taste. We were meant not to just sustain ourselves but enjoy ourselves.
Yes, the fall meant humans had to leave paradise and deal with the hostile side of nature. But even though creation can be hostile to human needs and is wounded by human exploitation, it is still stunningly beautiful. The earth we were given to rule and care for, is before anything else full of splendour. In many places in scripture, the beauty of creation and the majesty of it is meditated on and enjoyed. And through it, God speaks and shows his power and wisdom.
Enjoying creation needs no purpose, though it has many. Much research has been done to show how the natural world inspires creativity, improves our physical and mental health, and helps us recover from the burdens of life. But even if none of that were true, we can still enjoy the beauty of the world for joy’s sake. We do not need an excuse to take pleasure in nature and enjoying beauty is not wasting time. Really looking and experiencing the beauty around us, is a way to honour the God who made it. It is worship. It is what we were made for.
Whatever is good, evil will try to take away. Hundreds of millions of people live in inner cities surrounded by nothing but concrete, or in slums where the environment is too cramped and polluted to allow for green spaces. Whereas rich people sometimes chose those inner-city environments to live in for convenience, they can also escape them whenever they want.
However, many poor children grow up trapped in artificial environments, without even knowing what it feels like to walk in a field or enjoy views over the hills or the sea. Being deprived of nature is a serious form of social injustice. It is a denial of a deep human need to be connected to other created things. It removes people’s birth right to find joy in nature. And it makes people miss out on the many benefits of this enjoyment.
I have lived in different inner-city environments that were almost completely deprived of nature. I felt constantly trapped by the noise, the pollution, and the walls of concrete around me. The first time I was taken out of that environment to a grassy hill side I felt peace and perspective return. Breathing clean air and seeing far views was like being released from prison.
But even small green spaces in cities can make a huge difference to the well-being of people. One particularly grim inner-city area I visit from time to time, has the most spectacular flower beds. I think it is a worth while investment of the city council. Creating spaces for trees and flowers in cityscapes is a way of saying that the people in the city deserve to enjoy natural beauty. That they are worthy of its goodness. It is a recognition of their God-given birth right.
Yes, we carry a serious responsibility for creation. But we must take care that any thoughts about nature do not get overshadowed by concern about its destruction. We honour the Creator by taking care of creation, but no less by delighting in it. Enjoy your birth right today!
(If you need some inspiration to get started, listen to the beautiful song ‘This is my Father’s world’ on Youtube. This is a version I enjoyed! )