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The book of Genesis opens with the creation account describing a beautiful world of sea, earth, sky, plants, fish, birds and other animals. And then God places a human in the garden. Immediately following this part of the story is a curious verse, which at first seems out of place. The verse is Genesis 2:12, which parenthetically mentions that “The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.” A small footnote suggests that aromatic resin might refer to pearls. Why is this significant enough to be included in the creation account?

As an engineer, I wonder whether these raw materials — latent in creation — have any implications for the role of technology. Curiously, the materials gold, onyx and pearls which appear in the second chapter of the Bible reappear in the second last chapter of the Bible. Revelation 21:20 describes the Holy city, the new Jerusalem, a “city of pure gold” and one decorated with precious stones, including onyx, and with gates made of pearls.

In between Genesis 2 and Revelation 21 we read how these materials are not always used to God’s glory. In Genesis we read of how the “treasures of the Egyptians” were given to the people of Israel as they fled Egypt. St. Augustine wrote about how unbelievers can also uncover “gold and silver” dug up from “certain mines of divine Providence” that Christians can also use.1 However, later, in Exodus 32, we read about how Aaron fashioned Israelite gold into a golden calf. Later in Daniel 3 we read of how King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold and forced people to worship it.

But there are other references to gold, pearls, and precious stones throughout the Bible. A few chapters following the golden calf incident we read about Bezalel in Exodus 35, who was “filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills — to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic crafts” (Ex. 35:31-33). Furthermore, Bezalel along with Oholiab were given the ability to teach these skills to others so that the tabernacle could be built. These skills were put in the service of God for the construction of the temple.

After the birth of Christ, we read about how the wise men brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh (Matt. 2). Here, gold that was first mentioned in Genesis is among the materials presented as a gift to the Christ. However, Christ was later betrayed by one of his followers with another precious metal: 30 pieces of silver.

In 1 Corinthians 3:9-17 we read about how our works are compared to “gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw” and that they will be shown for what they are when fire tests the quality of each person’s work. If our work is built with gold, it will survive the flames and we shall receive a reward, but if it is built with straw, it will be burned up and we will saved but “only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Cor. 3:15). As a teacher and a former engineer, I wonder about when my own work will be tested and “shown for what it is” on that day (1 Cor. 3:13).

I think the mention of gold and precious materials parenthetically mentioned in Genesis 2 is not simply a superfluous detail of the creation account. These are the materials latent in creation with which we forge cultural artifacts, and these may be directed away from God or towards him. We can use these materials to build golden calves or to build temples that honor the Lord. We can use them as a gift to the Lord or to forge our own idols.

Colossians 1:16 reminds us that all things were not only created through Christ, but also for him. The implications of this are profound: all things in creation, including the cultural artifacts we fashion from raw materials, have meaning and a purpose (telos). Thus, technology also has meaning, and the true meaning of technology is found in service to Christ.

An earlier version of this article originally appeared in Christian Courier.

Footnotes

  1. Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, trans. D. W. Robertson Jr., Liberal Arts Press, 1958, p. 75.

Derek C. Schuurman

Calvin University
Derek C. Schuurman is Professor of Computer Science at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, MI.

6 Comments

  • The Bible as a background for these materials is interesting, especially the contrast to how they are used in God’s kingdom. I encourage you to write more, with the next portion addressing the manifestation of technology in various forms of service to the kingdom.

  • Peter Iltis says:

    Thank you for this short piece, Derek. In this day when science and technology are held in suspicion by many Christians and non-Christians, it is so important for us to remind the Church that the truths of God’s creation that are not specifically addressed in the book of Scripture are constantly being gloriously revealed through the scientific enterprise as it continually updates and revises the Book of Nature. This will always be a God-actuated endeavor that reveals more and more of His glory, particularly (as you suggest) when those truths are put to use in service to Christ, acknowledging His active sustaining hand at work.

  • Gordon Moulden says:

    One very encouraging use of technology has been its use for online outreach, worldwide, during the COVID pandemic. Church tech teams have applied their skills, likely in a number of ways they had not imagined, to allow this online outreach to take place. These skills will remain with them even after the pandemic, creating the potential for more creative uses of technology for ministry purposes in the future, not only within the church, but within parachurch and missions organizations worldwide.

  • Gordon Moulden says:

    Besides churches, Christian universities are being transformed by technology because the mandated move for many institutions to online instruction with the COVID pandemic has necessitated revamping our instructional and assessment methods to meet the conditions we face using Zoom, for example. Even prior to COVID, the introduction of online learning management systems such as Moodle and Blackboard began to change the way we make materials available for our students. Even Amazon has had a hand in this, together with continuing developments in handheld devices, with the introduction of “kindle” versions of many textbooks, so that students can hold an e-version of their textbooks literally in the palm of their hand or the side pocket of their knapsack.
    What all this means is that digital literacy has become a must for learners and teachers of subjects from kindergarten to higher education. Those who have adopted well to this are beginning to flourish, but those who haven’t are struggling, in particular older learners who general literacy skills are likewise lacking.
    The meaning of technology is that we are being required to apply our God-given language and other cognitive abilities He has given us in more and more ways to adapt successfully to the changes that our technological innovations have introduced in our lives: in the classroom, workplace, and home.

  • Bill Rusin says:

    Thank you for this. I had not made the connection before, nor understood this passage as part of building an understanding of technology. It reminds me of Wolter’s important little book “Creation Regained”, though you have made the thinking a little more accessible.

    • Derek Schuurman says:

      Yes, “Creation Regained” is a very helpful and important little book! I learned much from the author, Al Wolters, who was a wise colleague when I taught at Redeemer University.