God likes colour.
God likes details.
God likes surprises.
God likes creativity and imaginative design.
God likes grand statements, and intricate whispers.
God likes to reveal himself, and to work invisibly.
We know these things because God reveals himself in Creation. Through nature God shares the things he likes with the people he loves.
This past Sunday our church held our annual Worship in the Park. Each year we enjoy lots of good food and games for all ages. We also worship in the open air surrounded by a wall of trees… and harassed by numerous insects.
My text this year was Isaiah 66:1-2. In preparation for this special service I started reading a new book by Hicks, Valentine & Wilson titled Embracing Creation. I’ve really enjoyed it so far as the authors draw attention to God’s love not only for humanity, but creation as a whole.
“Heaven is my throne,
and the earth is my footstool.
Could you build me a temple as good as that?
Could you build me such a resting place?
My hands have made both heaven and earth;
they and everything in them are mine.
I, the Lord, have spoken! Isaiah 66:1-2a (NLT)
The opening lines of this text describe heaven and earth (Creation) as God’s self-built temple or dwelling place. He then contrasts this with any temple or dwelling humans could construct for him.
When we think of Creation as God’s temple, the next logical step is to recognise Eden as his Holy of Holies. Eden provided the focal point for God’s presence and there he communed with humanity.
If God created the universe as his temple, it gives meaning to psalms such as Psalm 148 that call upon all nature to praise God. The temple is a place of praise and honor.
Science does a wonderful job of telling us how bird songs reflect mating calls, or statements regarding territory, or warnings of danger. But Christians also view the world through a more poetic eye. We recognise that birds sing not for our enjoyment, but to praise their Maker.
As the temple of God, Creation’s well-being correlates with humanity’s relationship with God. In Genesis 3 Creation bears the curse resulting from Adam & Eve’s sin.
Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field. Genesis 3:17b-18
In Isaiah 55 God invites his people to renew their covenant with him. If they will return to him he describes the consequences. Notice how God’s Temple, Creation, rejoices as joy and peace once more characterise the relationship.
You will live in joy and peace.
The mountains and hills will burst into song,
and the trees of the field will clap their hands!
Where once there were thorns, cypress trees will grow.
Where nettles grew, myrtles will sprout up.
These events will bring great honor to the Lord’s name;
they will be an everlasting sign of his power and love.
It is then unsurprising that Revelation describes nature responding in torment to the affliction of God’s people. As those worshiping in God’s temple are persecuted…
I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair, the whole moon turned blood red, and the stars in the sky fell to earth, as figs drop from a fig tree when shaken by a strong wind. The heavens receded like a scroll being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. Revelation 6:12-14
I’m not suggesting that every natural tragedy can be paired with a sin. Rather, highlighting how God views the created world. I believe that if we walk through life and walk through nature regarding it as God’s temple, we’ll find ourselves seeing God around us. I believe we’ll interact differently with nature when we have the attitude that we’re engaging the temple of God. How we regard nature influences how we worship God.
Thus in the closing scene of Scripture we again find God coming to dwell upon the redeemed new heaven and new earth. The temple has been purified and humanity is once more invited into the Holy of Holies as God shares what he likes with the people he loves.
And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” Revelation 21:2-3
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’).