Today’s response to Wendell Berry’s essay “The Gift of Good Land” comes from Christian Buckley, author of the forthcoming book Humanitarian Jesus: Social Justice and the Cross.
“The Gift of Good Land,” was published 30 years ago, and we reprinted it in the Fall 2009 issue of Flourish Magazine to celebrate Mr. Berry’s work, but also to provoke some questions: How has the natural world, and efforts to steward it, changed in these 30 years? How has Christianity changed? What is still relevant about Mr. Berry’s words today? What have been our successes and failures as creation’s stewards in these three decades? Where do we go from here?
We’ve asked a wide variety of Christian thinkers, writers, and leaders to respond to Mr. Berry’s essay, taking into consideration these questions and their own relevant experiences. Here is Christian Buckley’s reflection:
Rejecting the Sadness of “I”
By Christian Buckley
It is a very sad state for the Christian when his or her response to creation begins with “I.” That we should encounter God’s magnificent work and reflect that it “has no reason for existence save to serve” our desires must sadden both our, and its, Creator because it reveals, as Martin Luther King, Jr. once put it, “the darkness of destructive selfishness” that is buried within each of us.
That our measure of God’s creation should be grounded in our needs, desires, and ends is not only a troubling perspective to me—and I perceive, implicitly, Wendell Berry—because of its material consequences, but also because it exposes one of the gravest consequences of our separation from God—our intoxication with “I.”
In “The Gift of Good Land” Berry masterfully rebuts the notion that creation exists to serve our needs, and lays out many of the resulting implications, but it is this basic underlying fallacy that struck me most. While a great many arguments support the conclusion that Christians have both implicit and explicit duties to care for creation, the very nature of God and the incarnation of Christ stand in opposition to selfish consumption.
The story of creation does not begin with humanity’s dominion and control in the garden. It begins with God. We do well when we pause in considering our relationship to creation on the very words that commence God’s divine account of his work: IN THE BEGINNING GOD. It was God who created the earth and all its inhabitants and it was God who emptied himself to become a physical inhabitant of it. All of creation reveals God’s glory, and his care of even the lowly sparrow reveals his nature. It was God who used the Red Sea, the burning bush, Balaam’s Ass, the walls of Jericho, the Sea of Galilee, the loaves and the fish, and the stone of a tomb all to serve his plans.
It was also God who blessed Israel to be a blessing, and taught that to be great we must learn to greatly serve. It was God who commanded us above all to love him and, second to that, our neighbors as ourselves. It is God’s word that instructs that we should seek to serve and consider others as more important than ourselves.
In every respect, selfishness and “I” stand in direct opposition to following Christ and serving Him. When we regard his creation as existing to serve us, rather than him, we have commenced a course that can only lead to Thoreau’s lamented “groveling habit” of “avarice and selfishness” that regards creation as something to be exploited, degraded, and deformed.
However, when we regard God’s creation as serving him, and regard ourselves as partakers in his service, we are blessed by God to enjoy his creation, in Berry’s words, “knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, [and] reverently,” rather than “ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, [and] destructively.”
Christian Buckley is a lawyer and entrepreneur whose true passions are revealed in his writing at thinkmoretruth.com and in a forthcoming book from Moody Publishers, Humanitarian Jesus: Social Justice and the Cross. He the co-founder of The Glue Network and Covered Images, and lives in San Diego with his wife and children