A Cathedral of Nature

Each year my church takes our worship service to a local park where we sing, pray, participate in the Lord’s Supper, and I bring a message from Scripture. Each year I try to allow the setting to influence the sermon topic.

Genesis 1-2 describe the Garden of Eden as a natural cathedral. A beautiful place where Adam and Eve could meet God. Talk with God. Walk with God. Work with God, and worship God.

In Genesis 1:28 God gives his created a humans a commission, “Be fruitful and multiply. Populate the earth. I make you trustees of My estate, so care for My creation and rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that roams across the earth.

If we keep reading we find sin entering the garden and God banishes all humans from His presence in that perfect garden. But it’s not just the people that suffer because of sin. The garden also suffers. I have a hard time imagining what the garden was like before sin, but now it will be different. From this point forward the ground itself is cursed.

God announces in Gen 3:17-19,

cursed is the ground.
        For the rest of your life,
    You will fight for every crumb of food
        from the crusty clump of clay I made you from.
As you labor, the ground will produce thorns and thistles,
        and you will eat the plants of the field.
Your brow will sweat for your mouth to taste
        even a morsel of bread until the day you return
    To the very ground I made you from.
        From dust you have come,
    And to dust you shall return.

We usually read this and notice the impact we experience in gardening, farming and producing food. We will fight for food. Our produce will compete with weeds. It will be hard work. And in the end the ground wins as we ultimately return to dust.

But notice the impact upon the environment. It seems the earth will be less fertile. And as every gardener knows, if it’s not managed well the ground will soon be overgrown with thorns and thistles.

From this point on the Biblical picture of God’s kingdom routinely describes not just peace between people. Not just peace between people and God.  In addition to these images, Scripture also imagines harmony in nature. The prophet Isaiah (11:6) speaks of a day when a wolf will lie next to a lamb, the leopard with the goat, and a lion with a calf. God’s plans for his creation involve bringing peace to all of his creation, not just His people.

The apostle Paul in Romans 8 describes how creation is frustrated, not that it did anything wrong, but because humans sinned. Now creation waits for the children of God to be revealed, so that the planet and universe can taste the same freedom that God’s children experience.

Now think back to God’s original instructions to the people he created. He told them to rule over creation. I suspect that throughout history we’ve read that verse and used it as authority to do whatever we want in the world. But if we think about it for a moment, that’s not really how we like to be ruled and it’s not the way God rules. God acts in our best interests. We would like to think that our elected leaders will also act in our best interests.

So when we have an opportunity to rule creation will we do so asking how much we can extract for our benefit, or what’s best for the world as a whole?

Basically, the question is this… Do we act toward creation as part of its curse or do we contribute to its redemption?

God cursed the earth.

When we contaminate water supplies.

When we build golf courses in the desert.

When we introduce radiation into our atmosphere.

When we over-log old growth forests.

When we dig huge holes in the ground pursuing minerals.

When we act without thought to Creation, we participate in the cursing of the earth.

This is a pertinent conversation because we live in an age when across the globe species are going extinct at a rate not seen since the dinosaurs. I don’t have all the answers for how to balance human needs and the good of nature as a whole, but I’m pretty sure we’re doing a bad job of ruling as long as species are disappearing.

I don’t intend to use this blog to promote particular courses of action. I’m not demanding that everybody drive 4 cylinder cars, or recycle every scrap of paper in their house. I’m not arguing over global warming or how we calculate the benefit of a mine to society versus the environmental damage it causes.

My point in writing this article is to simply highlight that God has given his people a responsibility to serve as “trustees of God’s estate, to care for His creation.” If Christians want to disagree on this topic, the conversation should revolve around how to care for creation, not if we should care for creation.

Jesus describes in Matthew 10:28-31 that God cares for people more that sparrows. But notice that God cares for sparrows. When we care for creation, we’re working with God rather than participating in the curse.

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