If you had a magic wand that could make tomatoes, you probably wouldn’t care about tomatoes very much. I mean, why would you? Why worry about preserving them in the refrigerator, when you can make more anytime you want? Need a tomato? Abracadabra, a wave of the wand and poof there it is. Do you think you would really pull out a Ziploc to save the unused half of a tomato that you had cut for a salad if you could conjure them at will? Quite likely you would pass them out to the neighbors with abandon. You could use them as compost. You could employ them as the lubricant on a slippery slide for your kids on sunny summer days. You certainly would not cultivate them, nourish them from carefully chosen starters, or set up cages to guide and cherish their growing form. Cheap, magically-made tomatoes would not induce you care about tomatoes. They would be eminently disposable.
This is what creationism buys you. A cheap disposable Earth. I saw a painting at the BYU Bookstore that captured this well. It was a picture of Christ moving his hand across a starry universe with colorful planets, including the Earth, streaming from his fingers. Its colors reminded me of the black-velvet paintings so popular in some places where I served my mission in Arkansas and which typically depicted Elvis or a group of English country dogs in waistcoats playing poker. I suppose that is why I took an immediate dislike to it. But upon closer inspection, I realized that what I hated most was the cheapness of the creation it projected. I saw the roots of our ecological crisis written in the Harry Potter-like wave of the black-velvet Jesus’ hand.
Back to tomatoes. I like tomatoes. My wife makes a salsa that has led to conspiratorial murders and brought down weak governments. Our tomatoes for this ambrosia grow in our backyard unmolested by pesticides. I like watching the gnat-sized parasitic wasps that hunt for the caterpillars on which they lay their eggs. It is fun to spy on the confident yellow jackets pulling off plant hoppers and aphids to feed their larvae. I love our garden. We always have a lot of tomatoes. I cannot predict where the tomatoes are going to appear on the plant. And I’m often surprised by their shape and variety.
But I have to watch them unfold in time. I love seeing the bees visit the flowers and watch the small fruits form new on the vine. I do what I can to shepherd their growth, but it really comes down to a bunch of laws governing genetics, photosynthesis, protein unfolding and some good weather, among other things, to see these come into being. Because of the work involved, the time it takes to develop these wondrous red orbs and the joy that goes into their creation, these tomatoes are precious. Each one is honored and used with care. Not a slice will end up unused. Even the juicy ends (after destemming of course) are popped into our mouths and treasured. Yes, Ziplocs are used for the unused halves.
I believe that such patience and care went into the creation of the universe. I believe it took time. I believe that the universe had to unfold. That life and its gradual evolution on earth is imbedded in deep time. Caring time. That when you see a robin flitting on the branch it was many millions of years in the making. It emerged into the world in an act of patient becoming. Its exact form a surprise perhaps. It is of infinite value because like our tomatoes it took the laws of universe and lots of space and time to become what it is.
How can we value this Earth if we believe that it was an act of a wanded magician rather than a gardener? Is it any wonder that those who hold to a cheap creation also seem to be the first to ignore the peril of our planet? Who argue that we can ignore the global ecological crisis and be assured God can reproduce another planet like our Earth like a rabbit out of a hat? If God can make a blue planet with a wave of his hand and restore all losses in an instant when he comes again, why care for it now? What kind of environmental ethic do we embrace when creation is cheap? I love the idea that creation is part of a long, patient unfolding. The evidence for which we see in the fossils of this Earth and in the DNA of every cell of our bodies—in other creatures’ bodies. Evolution ennobles the creation and Creator. The creation was not cheap. Like my tomatoes, I think God cares for each slice and treasures each of the things that have unfolded here in deep, caring, patient time. God is a gardener. No wonder He asks us to grow one.