Augustine, Genesis and Feeding the Hungry

A few weeks ago, I finished “rereading” St. Augustine’s The Confessions. I put “rereading” in quotations because it was really only the first 3/4 or so that I had read before. It was my third time reading the first portion, which I like to call “the ultimate diary.” In the final quarter or so of The Confessions which was new to me, Augustine meditates on the opening of Genesis.

I found it somewhat hard to understand Augustine for this final portion, mainly because his method of interpreting Scripture (allegory) is so different from how I’ve interpreted. I’m still not certain how Augustine gets from God creating the ‘vault of heaven’ (i.e. sky) to the authority of Scripture. And God creating the sea creatures and birds being a lesson on the sacraments is still not something I see intuitively in Genesis 1. Nevertheless, one piece of Augustine’s interpretation really jumped out at me.

In the midst of meditating on God assigning the fruit of the earth as food for living creatures, Augustine concludes that the fruit of  the earth allegorically represents acts of mercy that come from the “fertile soil” of a persons faithfulness. Augustine then thinks of the acts of mercy Christians in Macedonia showed to the apostle Paul, and the lack of mercy other Christians showed Paul on the day of his trial, according to 2 Tim 4:16. Augustine says that these latter Christians owed the fruit of mercy to Paul simply on the grounds that Paul was a living creature, and that it was God’s will for every living creature to eat the fruit of the earth.

Even if we don’t follow the allegorical jump that Augustine makes in interpreting the creation accounts of Genesis, his interpretation still shows an important ethical imperative implicit in Genesis 1 that we often miss. God commands the first humans and every living creature to eat from the trees of the garden. God desires people to eat. Hunger is not a part of  God’s original created order.

I’ve often heard people criticize conservative evangelicals who defend creationionism but then fail to take seriously, and at times even argue against, the call to environmental stewardship that should logically follow. It’s true that affirming that God is the creator of the earth should lead Christians to care for the environment. However, I don’t recall anyone pointing out that a faithful reading of Genesis 1 leads us to feed the hungry. The implication: tolerating hunger in our world is not only a failure to follow the teaching of Jesus and the example of the early church, but it is also a denial that God is creator.

**As we approach Christmas, a time when when we celebrate God entering his creation in the incarnation of the Son (and a time when most of us eat far more than we need to), consider taking steps to fight hunger in our world. World Vision has a great gift catalog that enables you to buy farm animals for villages in the developing world (as well as other means of meeting basic needs). If you’re in Pittsburgh (or if you just like Pittsburgh!) and are looking for a more local opportunity, East End Cooperative Ministry gives the opportunity to purchase meals for the elderly, homeless, and vulnerable. **

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