(Welcome to Part 1 of my new series God & GMOs, which I’m writing in consultation with my molecular biologist husband, Aaron. If you’re new around here, you might want to check out the Introduction and maybe say “hi” in the comments. I know most readers probably haven’t read much in favor of GMO crops online or in your church, so let me know if you have any questions or need clarification as we go!)
To kick off this series about God & GMO’s, I want to start with looking at the Bible. Christian teachers often speak of the Bible’s big story (or “Metanarrative”), which proposes that all biblical passages are connected to the full gospel story: God’s Creation of the earth and mankind, The Fall of Man into sin, Christ’s Redemption on the cross, and the final Restoration of God’s order for eternity. Don’t we need to get on to science? to economics? to agriculture? to ethics? Yes. But I’m mostly burdened to communicate specifically to my Christian brothers and sisters here. Before we start looking at some of that stuff, I’d like to review these points because we can’t really move forward in charged conversations without a common understanding of our spiritual foundation. (If this part doesn’t concern or interest you, I’ll have some helpful links and explanations about GMOs, research standards, and the scientific method coming up soon!)
“The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.”(Genesis 2:15)
Mankind was created for life in a beautiful, lush garden, that was full of enough food for everyone. No one would get sick, and no one would die. In that perfect paradise, we were created to tend the plants and animals with freedom to eat from all but one tree. Mankind’s original purpose was stewarding the earth and everything in it, bearing fruit by having children and by establishing ways of life for the coming generations. (Sometimes this is called the “Cultural Mandate.”) We love beautiful plants, enjoying the outdoors, hiking, lakes, fresh food, tending gardens and animals, and “agrarian visions” of idyllic farms because that’s what we were originally made for. Everything in us was made for Eden, and I think most of us don’t realize how desperate we are to get back there.
God created the earth, plants, and animals, and called them all “good.” He created men and women uniquely in his own image, (Gen 1:26-27) and called his image bearers living in that world “very good.” This is an important way God emphasizes the dignity of all people.
“…cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17-19)
The original people in the Garden, Adam and Eve, ate from the one tree God forbade. The fall into sin means mankind and nature are both broken, which are connected in devastating ways. God explicitly says the ground itself is cursed, and that drawing out enough food to survive will be the lifelong toil of man. We listen to the Songs for Saplings catechism CD’s with our kids and find ourselves humming the song that goes along with this point – pain and toil, pain and toil, thorns and thistles, thorns and thistles – with amazement that this is still happening every single day. Aaron experiences this when he spends himself for the projects he manages for developing crops all day, and again when he comes home to see that the germination rate of our summer garden is abysmal. Farmers here and around the world live this out even more so as they work harder than most of us can imagine. This is a huge part of my life, too, in some ways. I’m in charge of the meals and eating at our house. Even though we garden and I have every grocery store I could want (and a farmers market) within a mile or so, and always enough money to get whatever we want (not just need), I’m constantly planning meals, shopping, preparing them, serving them, or cleaning up after them while I set up for the next one.
This fall into sin also means that relationships are broken. The primary break and conflict is between man and God, which is not fixed until Jesus’ crucifixion, but this fractures our thinking and our relationships with other people as well. In many ways we are all looking out for ourselves, even at the expense of others. Because of our fallen nature, we look for fulfillment in many different ways, all outside of our standing with God.
[I discussed this at greater length for Christ and Pop Culture last summer as well.]
“…through [Jesus] to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven.” (Colossians 1:20-23)
The only full redemption of the curse of sin in the fall is through Jesus, who restores our right relationship with God by dying in our place. While there are healthy and unhealthy choices we can make about eating, there are no particular kinds of foods or agricultural developments that are always sinful, and, as 1 Corinthians 8:8 says plainly, “food will not commend us to God.” The food that really matters for our spiritual state is Jesus’ body, offered in the Lord’s Supper. (Matthew 15:10-20, 1 Corinthians 8, John 6, Matthew 26:26-29)
After Jesus resurrected and ascended into heaven, we have the promise of his return, but we are still living under the effects of sin and death on our bodies and on the earth. We are not to live our lives in fear of death, but instead look with hope for God’s promised restoration of all things. (Hebrews 2:14-15)
We also have the Holy Spirit for this age between Christ’s ascension and return. It is the Holy Spirit who develops us in unique, personal ways with spiritual gifts to build up the church and the kingdom of God in love until Jesus returns. (1 Corinthians 12-13, John 14:25-30, Ephesians 1:13-14)
“For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:20-23)
The Bible tells us the earth (and the generations of people in it) will be sustained in it’s fallen state and then restored fully with Jesus’ future return. While Christians often talk about “going up to heaven to be with Jesus when we die,” the real promise of Restoration is much bigger than that. Isaiah, 2 Peter, and Revelation talk about a “new heaven and a new earth,” and Romans 8 and I Corinthians 15 also talk about the resurrection being for creation as well as people. In the restored kingdom, or heaven, our resurrected life will be filled with food and feasting, without hunger, sickness, or death. When this happens, there will be sowing and reaping, but it will not require the toil that we’ve had since Genesis 3.
(Romans 8, I Corinthians 15, I Thessalonians 5:1-11, Isaiah 25:6-9)
Now, Christians can (and obviously do) disagree about dietary choices and genetic engineering, but as we go on, I hope you’ll see the gospel story provides ample room for the way biotechnology is advancing modern agriculture. I also hope you can learn about GMO foods and scientific progress with the firm foundation of the gospel offering hope instead of trying to figure it out from a place of fear or confusion. I’ll touch on these (and many other) parts of scripture later, too.