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Christian Hope in the World of Pollinators

By Rev. Philip Westra

In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls us to pay attention to flowers growing wild in a field as an antidote to human worry. “See how the lilies of the field grow,” he instructs. “If that is how God clothes the grass of the field...will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:28–30, NIV). There are two moves we make as we carry out this lesson. First, we move beyond ourselves by aiming our attention elsewhere. With our attention on a grassy field, the second move is to contemplate God’s gifts in this common scene. 

Worry has a way of blinding our peripheral vision and refracting our thoughts back on ourselves. “Will I make ends meet this month? What if I fail this examination?” Since worry infests when our grammar is dominated by the first person, Jesus bids us to direct our eyes elsewhere, to the beauty of flowers in a field. Then, with our gaze fixed on the field, we notice God is doing something in spaces we often pass unnoticed at 55 miles per hour. According to Matthew 6:29 the Creator has decorated the field with a splendor surpassing that of Solomon, the wealthiest king in Israel’s history. These lilies are God’s provisions for beauty which give us delight. Observing God’s gifts for creation helps us recognize God’s gifts for us. The more we recognize God is providing, the less we are worrying. 

As a pastor I need this lesson as much as anyone else. In the last few decades many churches in North America have been declining, splintering, or closing. Pastors are fatigued by denominational turmoil and spiritual apathy. When church leaders worry, it can be a cognition that leads the whole congregation to worry, only making matters worse. Amidst all this, I can testify from experience that Jesus’ instruction to pay attention to what is flowering around me actually helps. I missed this for many years because I never actually did this until I became a beekeeper. It was my vested interest in helping honey bee colonies thrive that led me to pay attention to what the bees were eating, and therefore pay attention to the flowers feeding them.

I suspect one reason we are plagued by worry today is because we live much of our lives out of touch with God’s creation. When we stop observing ecological realities through the eyes of faith, we forget about God’s genius designs and generous provisions. For me, beekeeping is a way to get back in tune with the created world. Nine seasons of tending to honey bee colonies has given me what Craig Bartholomew and Ryan O’Dowd call a “discipline of natural wonder” (Old Testament Wisdom Literature: A Theological Introduction, pg. 13). I have learned by trial and error how to submit to the seasons God gives, and discover both my limits and responsibilities in caring for these colony creatures. Beekeepers continue to come up with new questions we have still yet to answer about the world’s most studied insect. The sense of awe I gain at the power and order of creation through beekeeping helps me stay sane in a world obsessed with self, image, and performance. 

Just as the flowers in the field teach us something about God’s generosity, I believe the pollinators of those flowers also have something to show us about their maker. If you obey Jesus’ call to look at the flowers that are coloring our landscape and then observe them up close, you will notice various pollinators bouncing from flower to flower. It turns out that this seemingly mundane movement of small creatures is God’s way of sustaining life as we know it on the earth. Insects like honey bees move pollen within and among flowers to fertilize the ovules. Pollination enables these plants to not only produce the seeds which give existence to their next generation, but also grow fruits and vegetables that feed us. 

For this reason, I believe God’s call to steward creation should involve protecting pollinators. As those who read this publication probably know, indiscriminate use of insecticides can harm our beneficial insects at the same time they keep crop threatening ones at bay. It is clear that toxins in pollen have become one among many stressors causing bee colonies to get sick and die. Pollinators also require acres that feed them to sustain them. Pay attention to the flowers of the field and their pollinators, because it is through them that God is at work providing for creation and for us. 

On the occasion of pollinator week, I have taken time to reflect and attempt to articulate one more way I believe tending to this aspect of creation benefits us. Wearing my pastor and beekeeper hats at the same time, I would like to propose pollinators not only help us notice God’s provisions in the here and now, but also give us a glimpse of the world that is to come. 

Christians believe that one day the Lord Jesus Christ will return and “make all things new” after “the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4–5). The Christian Scriptures suggest this newly constituted world will be one where there is harmony, described in terms of the lion and the lamb eating together rather than one eating the other (Isaiah 65:25). Revelation 21:4 tells us God’s future creation will no longer include death, grief, or pain. Unlike other belief systems, the Christian tradition holds that eternal life will be a physical existence with newly created bodies fit for a newly created world. This means the hopeful vision for the future is not totally detached, but has some continuity, with the here and now. 

But those most studied in biological realities might struggle to make sense of such a future hope. From what we can tell, the decay of previous life is what provides the resources needed for things to thrive today. From composting to oil drilling, death in the past provides life and energy in the present. And the way plants and animals function biologically in our world requires them to eat each other. The ecological arithmetic of our current world is a zero-sum game. How could God give us a new world where one species thriving does not mean another species is consumed? How might a future world without death sustain life forever? 

There is one part of God’s creation today where a perfect symbiotic relationship exists between two parties. This is the relationship between the pollinators and the flowers. A flower offers a honey bee nectar as a sweet source of energy and pollen as a nutritious protein. The foraging bee does not take anything that harms or sets the plant back. The flower offers the honey bee food and the honeybee gives the flower pollination. Both thrive in this mutually beneficial relationship. Both parties have something to give and both parties benefit from the other’s gift. Pollinators are like a parable of harmonious relationships which can exist today in the form of human friendships and marriages. In the future, at the return of Christ, creation will be reconstituted in a way that overflows with love and mutual blessing. 

Jesus called our attention to the flowers of the field to notice God’s provisions. I believe the pollinators of such flowers give us a foretaste of the new creation. In a world where sin destroys human relationships and greed degrades God’s creation, I urge us to pause to notice the flowers in the fields. It is here our creator has shown us provisions that ease our worries and points us toward the hopeful world yet to come.

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