Somewhere in the list of “100 Bible passages Christians know best” you will find Romans 1:20.
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
Christians often point to the grand elements of nature and say, “there must be a God”. At other times we will highlight the intricacy of nature and say, “there must be a God”. One statement expresses awe at enormity and grandeur, the other expresses awe at delicacy and intricacy. At either end of the scale what we really ask is, “How could anyone look at this and deny the existence of a God?” We then point to Romans 1:20 and say, “See, people (atheists, remote tribes, scientists…) are without excuse for rejecting God.”
Unfortunately, we often fail to notice the details in this verse. Paul doesn’t claim that Creation tells us about Jesus. He doesn’t claim that nature informs us about the church. He simply says that nature reveals two aspects of God: Eternal power; and Divine nature. Basically, nature tells us that a divine God exists, and God is powerful.
Nature by itself does not enlighten us to the goodness of God. It doesn’t reveal the grace, or mercy, or love of the divine God.
It is true that at times we may see glimpses of goodness and tenderness in a sunset, a flower, or the way animals interact with each other. It is also true that carnivores feeding on other animals, earthquakes, droughts, diseases, and death may justifiably give a very different impression of God. This second view still sees God as divine and powerful, but adopts a very different view of His character.
Although Creation has a voice that speaks of God, God’s people still have a vital responsibility to use our voices to fill the many silences of creation.
If creation speaks of God, then I wonder if the way we treat creation speaks of the way we value God?
Harking all the way back to Genesis 1 God has given humanity the responsibility of caring for Creation. In the beginning this was the only responsibility God gave the people he created in his image. Don’t eat of one tree. Care for everything in the garden.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Genesis 1:28
In my experience many people have taken the directive to “subdue and rule” as an opportunity to consume and exploit resources. We have taken our place at the top of the biological pecking order and acted as though everything else on the planet exists for our benefit alone.
Sadly, caring for the environment and other species inhabiting this planet has become a political football. Because the Green Party, or the Democrats or whoever have emphasized this so much, many people want to swing to the opposite extreme. That opposite extreme is to say that economics always trump environmental concerns.
I’m fine if we all have different ideas of what it means to rule over creation, as long as we all have that goal. Our track record as a collective humanity is not great. The World Wildlife Fund maintains a long list of animals that it regards as currently endangered. It doesn’t take very long searching the internet to find even longer lists of recently extinct species.
We can argue around the clock what the reasons are for the loss of biological diversity over the past 100 years or so, but I think most people would agree that humans have contributed to some degree.
We can also argue over definitions, but a key word for me in this conversation is “sustainability”. God wants people to live in a manner that sustains the life of the planet, the plants and the animals. While this charge was given to all humans through Adam and Eve, Christians who believe in the existence of God and the role of nature in revealing God, should take a lead role in promoting environmentally sustainable living.
From the very beginning God challenges us to consider what it means to “subdue and rule”. Humanity well knows the tendency for absolute power to corrupt absolutely. We understand the desire to accumulate power, to assert our will, to pad our nest, all at the expense of others. God calls us to a different manner of ruling.
God calls us to rule as He does: for the benefit of others. Jesus himself provides the ultimate example of this type of leadership. The King of the Jews allowed himself to be nailed to a cross for the benefit of all humans. He calls us to love our neighbours. And ultimately the health of the planet is linked the wellbeing our all people.
As a closing point I want to direct our attention to Hebrews 2:5-9 which quotes Psalm 8. These verses discuss “the world to come”. As I understand this passage, it states first that the world to come will not be subjected to angels, but, in light of Psalm 8, to humans. Christians in eternity will share the same responsibilities to the world we inhabit then as we do today on planet Earth. So we better take this task seriously.
What does the way you think about nature, which reveals God, communicate to those seeking God?
- “The Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of Creation” by Richard Bauckham.
- Chapter 4 in “Old Testament Ethics for the People of God” by Christopher J.H. Wright, (the chapter entitled ‘Ecology and the Earth’).
- Chapter 5 in “Surprised by Scripture” by N.T. Wright, (the chapter entitled ‘Jesus is Coming – Plant a Tree!’). Scot McKnight provides a brief review of Wright’s essay HERE.
- Chapter 21 in “Kingdom Ethics” by Stassen & Gushee (the chapter entitled ‘Care of Creation’).
The early leaders of the Restoration Movement emphasised restoring the structure and worship of church to its New Testament origins because they believed existing churches had moved too far away from that model. In The Crux of the Matter, Childers, Foster and Reese make this observation:
“Like us, they searched the Bible for information that would address their concerns, and address them in ways that made sense in their time and situation. …Constantly changing human conditions demand a constantly renewed approach to Scripture.” (2001, 154)
In many ways the Church of Christ is the way it is today because we stopped reading Scripture to answer the questions of our time and situation. We’ve continued to teach the answers to the questions of 200 years ago. While many of those questions continue to be relevant, some do not. Our contemporary culture also asks questions that Stone and Campbell couldn’t have imagined. For instance, environmental stewardship is a relatively new theological discussion. Do Christians have a special responsibility toward Creation? (A friend of mine published a discussion guide on this topic available on Amazon. Or you can visit his website: www.IsJesusGreen.com)
One of the exciting aspects of the Restoration Movement is the name “Restoration”. While it has previously had a fairly narrow focus on “restoring the New Testament church”, we have an opportunity to expand that application. In many ways the whole of Scripture describes a movement toward restoration. In Acts 3:21 the apostle, Peter, described the return of Jesus as “the time … for God to restore everything , as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.” History culminates, not in destruction, but in restoration!
If the church exists as an outpost of God’s kingdom, then we must adopt His mission as our mission. As God works toward restoration, then we must also. But what does this look like? I believe it means that the church and its members will involve ourselves in social and humanitarian causes that work to restore justice and equality in our society. When we see decay and brokenness we recognise the need for God’s restorative healing to work. This need may exist in a marriage, or in a neigbourhood, or a nation. The grand scheme of restoration involves eliminating hunger, disease, war, environmental pollution, discrimination, etc. While we live in a world impacted by sin we can’t eliminate all of these, but we can make a difference for God.
To see an example of a church that has committed itself to the expanded theme of restoration visit the website www.ARestorationMovement.com. The Highland Church of Christ in Abilene, TX has committed itself to restoration projects within the church, the local community and around the world. You can listen to the sermon that launched this project here.
Of course, restoration of a spiritual relationship between God and humanity through the death and resurrection of Jesus remains the primary mission of the church. But proclamation of the Gospel still fits within a greater context of the restoration of Creation which we cannot ignore.
- What’s your first thought at the idea of linking faith with environmental stewardship?
- What comes to your mind when you think of Christ returning to “restore all things”?
- Can you think of examples from the New Testament that demonstrate an enlarged Restoration Movement?