A Meditation on Excess Productivity: Great Gifts, Stewarded Badly

Genesis 3: 14-20 describes the curse that befalls creation after Adam and Eve have disobeyed God in the garden. We then hear the stories of their descendants and the story of the Flood before we end up at the tower of Babel in the eleventh chapter.

Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_The_Tower_of_Babel_(Vienna)_-_Google_Art_Project_-_edited

Very quickly, these stories set up the narrative of abundant blessing followed by rebellion, disobedience, and the curses that ensue. When looking at Adam and Eve’s punishment together with the scattering that affects the citizens of Babel, I think it’s important to see beyond the consequences of sin. Both of these stories are made possible in the first place because God gives good gifts to his children. If He had not graciously planted Adam and Eve in such a lovely garden and blessed them with his presence, then there would be little to take away after the Fall. Similarly, men could not have conceived of building a great heavenly tower unless all their basic needs were being met. They had the leisure to dedicate labor to build their own glory. In other words, their gift (from God – because He made culture to develop!) was excess productivity, and it got them into trouble. 

God did not want to make us labor in frustration for our daily bread, nor did he intend that we might be thrown into confusion by fragmented languages. He only takes away his harmony and peace when men choose to exploit and twist these good gifts.  Taking that lesson and applying it to the context of today, I reflect on the tremendous abundance we experience as Americans.  I see the safety we are blessed with, and how it makes us comfortable and less awake to the evils in the world. As I write this, I am comfortably curled on a couch, knowing no harm will befall me. I need not fear. But how many people, even in this country must guard against the hostility that surrounds them in schools, in families, in authorities that can’t always be trusted? Does my knowledge of safety harden my heart to those who cannot boast the same? Are we thanking God for our security, or are we simply priding ourselves on a powerful, efficient military? Are we giving God the glory he deserves, or are we using our power to affect global events in our favor? How are we different from the tower builders of Babel?

And safety is but the most basic provision. If we have taken this gift for granted and used it to make a mockery of how Christians should care for one another, what other gifts have we abused? In what other ways are we like Adam and Eve or those at Babel? Where are we twisting God’s generosity for our own glory? We have wealth in so many ways. This generation of American Christians is generally safe, generally well fed, and generally free to practice the faith in a country that prizes free speech over almost all else. Certainly our sense of personal safety has dulled us to the plight of others in many ways, making us more selfish. It takes much longer for the tragedy of the Syrian refugee crisis to sink in when you can’t relate to the terror that causes you to flee your home, leaving you an alien and an international news item.

Similarly, we as Americans have taken the liberty of free speech and raised it up too high. We might not be making golden calves to worship, but we are certainly making idols of this individual freedom. How many times has free speech been used as a justification to spew hatred? How much have we elevated our freedom to speak our mind above our responsibility to speak kindly to others? I know in my life, I am so embedded in this culture that my default reaction to rebuke is to feel like my liberties have been threatened, not to honestly submit and repent for using words that are unkind, unwise, or untrue. My first reaction is to assess damage to myself, not to care for my brothers and sisters in Christ. My privilege has made me selfish.

And we are equally privileged in terms of being fed – as Americans, we spend a smaller percentage of our incomes on food than citizens of any other developed country. We are blessed with a government that funds research into improving food production and better understanding nutrition and health. We are blessed with a more stable food supply than anyone else can boast, and we have the means to buy food in the event that our own agricultural system were to fail us. Goodness, we have plenty to the point where there is a tremendous amount of food waste.

I grew up on a farm, and I’m working this year in a small grocery store. We bring local foods to Falls Church, often catering to organic and gluten free shoppers. We are filling little niches in the food supply. For a business like this to exist in the first place, here must be a great concentration of wealth, privilege, and leisure. We must have customers willing to pay the extra money for organic produce or milk from grass fed cattle. We must have the infrastructure and the technology to build a network of local, independent providers and source our inventory from this region. The presence of this store, in and of itself, means there is a huge amount of privilege here in relation to food, a privilege that comes from an excess productivity. And since these accounts of Genesis detail the consequences of abusing privilege, I must ask myself if I am at any point contributing to improper stewardship.

 

 

Katelyn Kuck grew up on a farm and works in the grocery industry in Falls Church, VA.  She is a member of the 2015-2016 Falls Church Fellows Program.

Images: Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; Jan Micker (circa 1599–1664) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

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