Author’s Note: This is the fourth part in a series on mankind’s search for the ideal — the perfect, the mature, the right. I m convinced that every human being, Christian or not, has at some depth a desire for things to “be right” in the world. This longing drives us to seek answers. Some look internally, some look to religion, and others look to a higher power. Lately, I’ve been deeply craving for certain areas of life to be perfect, complete and ideal. This series explores some of my longings. Maybe you can relate!
“What’s the catch?”
A little Red-backed Junco bird landed on the ground outside my cabin and looked at me quizzingly as it pondered whether or not to dive into the pile of birdseed I had left on the ground earlier. It waited for my response.
“Go ahead, my little bird friend,” I coaxed the tiny creature to eat, “It’s all for you.”
Again, the bird hesitated, first looking at the seed, then back at me.
“You’re joking, right?” he replied. I assured the little guy that, indeed, this is real. Free food, no tricks. “Bon appetite!” I said, then turned to go inside the cabin, adding “Tell your friends! They’re welcome here, too.”
And just like that, I had one bird, then two, then ten, then a hundred hooked on dining at Chef John’s. We’ve become friends, these birds and I. (Well, as much of a friendship as a take-and-not-give relationship can offer! I give and they take.) I have since added a birdbath/fountain because — hey — eating and drinking go hand-in-hand, right?
There is little more than I would enjoy in this life than to have a perfect relationship with God’s creatures. I really want them to trust me and to see me as God’s representative, here on planet earth to protect them, provide when they have need, and be a conduit of God’s grace to them. This is right and good and… ideal.
There were a lot of sad repercussions stemming from Adam and Eve’s sin. We Christians often devote our entire theologies to the human sin/redemption narrative and, indeed, this is the most important aspect of the Fall. But we overlook something else that affects our everyday life, a sad curse that has twisted the very natural world we experience around us. Creation itself, from trees to birds to rocks, is declining and degrading and becoming less perfect.
“For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time
I wonder why God subjected all of His Creation to decay. I mean, why turn animals against each other? Why make things worse? Is it all because of Adam and Eve? Is all of creation’s trouble the direct result of mankind’s ongoing sin? But whenever I think things unfair I just have to remind myself that God will one day recreate heaven and earth, giving us a new earth that is perfect and ideal. I also have to remind myself that all of this happened a very, very long time ago, and that God is God and He has His perfect ways.
The Creation Ideal
The ideal of a perfect human-nature relationship goes back to the foundations of Creation itself. Adam, as the highest of God’s created order, was given charge over the Garden of Eden. Here’s the abridged story from Genesis 1-2:
God said, “Let Us make mankind in Our image, in Our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image… God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and (take charge over) it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.
Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. A river watering the garden flowed from Eden… The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. (Genesis 2:8-10, 15, 19-20)
Here is Genesis we see mankind’s God-given role in Creation. It is a role that people, when justly following God, act out today, despite Creation’s fallen state. Adam and Eve were tasked with the role of being God’s vice-regent over nature — His representative, bearing God’s own image. This is the ideal. Would God abuse His Creation? Never! As God’s image bearers, why should humans? Instead, we are to be “in charge (the Hebrew word often translated “subdue” in 1:28 means “to command” and not “to dominate”). Basically, man is to be God’s representative to birds, animals, fish and other living things.
And people are to be fed and provided for by that same Creation. Adam and Eve were given vegetables and fruits (every seed-bearing plants) — even kale and Brussels sprouts (yuck!). Even more, Adam, as God’s vice-regent, was given the task of naming the animals. We do the same thing today with our pets! Scientists do this whenever they discover a new species of creature. I’ve even been calling my birds by their formal names lately. There’s Junco and Warbler, Broad-Tail and Rufus, Wren and Blue Jay…
Preaching to Birds
When I think of the ideal of Eden, I automatically think of the stories and legends surrounding St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226). He is considered the patron saint of animals and birds because of his unique relationship with them. For example, it is said that he once preached a sermon to a group of birds. He also supposedly quieted a loud pack of dogs that were interrupting a sermon. Here’s a summary from catholic.org:
“Much has been written about Francis’ love of nature but his relationship was deeper than that. We call someone a lover of nature if they spend their free time in the woods or admire its beauty. But Francis really felt that nature, all God’s creations, were part of his brotherhood. The sparrow was as much his brother as the pope. In one famous story, Francis preached to hundreds of birds about being thankful to God for their wonderful clothes, for their independence, and for God’s care. The story tells us the birds stood still as he walked among him, only flying off when he said they could leave.”
Sounds neat, eh?
After examining the role that humanity was intended to play in Creation and the ongoing care that God the Creator maintains in keeping up His creation, I can only conclude this: a Christ-Follower acts in godliness when they care for other created things. Be they birds, beasts, fish, trees, grass, whatever… to take care of them is to pursue God’s ideal for His creation. Do you have to hug a tree? No. (But I’m sure the tree would like it! Ha!) But you have to look out for God’s living creations as if you are a vice-regent over the earth (which you are!).
Here’s another conviction of mine in this age of grace. By protecting and providing for God’s creatures, be they humans, birds or beasts, you are playing an important part in displaying God’s common grace towards them. You are a conduit of God’s grace! How special! I consider feeding and watering (eh, providing water to) birds as an honor because I am stepping into the grace process and acting justly as part of God’s love for the things He has made. (Btw… this is “creation care” under a theology of grace)
I long for the day when I’ll look at a cat and say, “Yo, cat, what’s your name?” and the feline will respond and I’ll understand it. No more sin, no more mistrust, no more abuse of animals, etc… just the right, perfect ideal of mankind and creatures.
P.S. — Here is a quick photo gallery of some of the winged (and grounded) creatures now frequenting Chef John’s avian gourmet restaurant… I have a lot more photos but here are seven I shrunk down to upload.