On a recent flight overseas for work, I had the chance to watch Interstellar. You know, the movie where Matthew McConaughey watches the Star Wars 7 trailer.
Overall, I enjoyed it. It kept me interested during its two hours and fifty minutes, but then I was on a plane—where was I going to go?
The movie starts with documentary footage of elderly people talking about dust, food, and the old days. We see people sweeping dust off a front porch and turning china upside down to keep dust from collecting in it. Soon we learn that humans misused technology and the earth’s resources, resulting in a planet unable to sustain human life. As a result humanity turned on technology, labeling it as the enemy and holding machines of all kinds in suspicion—from MRI equipment to NASA’s rockets.
Cooper (McConaughey’s character) is a NASA pilot-turned-farmer who dotes on his daughter, Murph. In pursuing an anomaly, they come across a secret NASA base, where scientists are about to send a team to explore potentially habitable worlds.
The NASA scientists ask Cooper to pilot the shuttle on a mission to rescue the people of Earth. Cooper wrestles with this decision—he desperately wants to explore and be a pilot once more, but he is a single dad and hates the thought of leaving his daughter.
That evening, he talks with his father-in-law on the porch, discussing the decision. Cooper says, “It’s like we’ve forgotten who we are. Explorers, pioneers, not caretakers . . . We’re not meant to save the world. We’re meant to leave it.”
Two things came to mind when I heard that line.
First, the word caretaker conjures up images of old curmudgeons like Argus Filch. How many of us want to grow up to be caretakers? I’d wager not too many. But explorers and pioneers? We think of daring people like Ferdinand Magellan, Neil Armstrong, Jacques Cousteau, and Edmund Hillary. Explorers find new things. Caretakers just maintain order.
But what if our definition of caretaker is wrong? What if it’s not just someone who looks after owners’ stuff while they are gone, but someone who longs to be with it, to see it thrive, to make it grow into something better than when he or she was given charge of it?
Cooper longs to explore, but it’s a means to an end. He leaves his family because in so doing, he believes he will take care of them, as well as humanity itself. The remainder of the movie sees Cooper desperately trying to return home to tend to his children.
Cooper’s idea that we’re not meant to be caretakers seems contrary to Genesis 2, where God “took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Caretakers are exactly what we are to be according to the Bible.
I once read a story about a business owner who has three trusted investors. The owner gives each investor $5K, $3K, and $1K respectively to invest in whatever they see fit. After a set amount of time, the owner calls in the investors to report on their earnings. The first and second investor each purchase stocks and double their initial amount. But the third investor reports that he has exactly what he had been given—no more, and no less.
He was scared to lose money, so he held on to it and didn’t put it to work anywhere. The dumbfounded owner fired the guy, saying he could have at least put the money in the bank, where it would have earned interest.
I think caretaking might be similar. Our motivation shouldn’t be fear of disrupting the status quo but the thought of making something greater out of what we were given originally. (Maybe it should be called caremaking? Never mind, that’s lame.)
This leads me to my second observation from the movie. Cooper says we were “meant to leave [the earth].” While many people I know might agree with this—that we are meant to leave the world and go to heaven for eternity—it doesn’t mesh with what I read in the Bible.
One of Jesus’ followers named John is given a vision for what the end of this age will look like. Now, imagine being able to see two, five, or ten thousand years in the future. I sure don’t think I would have adequate language to describe what I saw. This is what John is dealing with.
He says he sees the “Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven.” What that means or will actually look like, who knows? But John does record words from God about that time. Two statements from his vision are helpful here:
“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them”.
“‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true’”.
We can debate ad nauseam what the imagery in the last book of the Bible represents, but here we are told the specific words above are both trustworthy and true. God will live among the people, and he is making everything new.
God doesn’t indicate that we will live with him, where he is, in heaven. Nope, he is coming to live with us. Where we are. Where he will make things new. What if that means remodeling, renovating, or restoring rather than blowing up and starting over?
We have a wonderful and amazing treasure in this world, both the actual planet and the people who inhabit it. Let’s care for both of these treasures and leave both the planet and our relationships better than when we started.
There is nothing wrong with exploring—in fact, I think there is need for it. Jesus said himself at the end of his time on earth that we should go into all the world. He tells us to explore. However, once we do that, we cannot let things lie fallow. Let’s be caretakers of the places and people we come into contact with.