Does God Love Creation?
Mt Pleasant FUMC
April 15, 2018
For almost a year now, we in the Green Team have been discussing creation care and how we can help increase awareness regarding topics of environmental interest. We’ve worked to educate people about local recycling options and organized a packing materials recycling event at Christmastime, an opportunity that’s available again today and next week.
Those who know me know well that creation care is near and dear to my heart, and I could share with you some of the ways I work to reduce my impact upon our natural resources. But our stewardship of this place we briefly call home is the topic Pastor Diane will explore for next week for Earth Day Sunday, so for today, let’s confine ourselves to the question that essentially precedes a conversation about stewardship.
Does God love creation?
It’s a simple enough question, and the answer seems more than obvious…. Of course he loves creation!!
We know this because of what scripture says! The Garden of Eden, Noah and God’s covenant with the earth, the creation story itself… there are many passages in the OT and the NT that speak of the joy God takes in the wonder of His works.
We also know it intuitively, don’t we? Whether in the beauty of a sunrise over the lake, the artistry of a dewy spider’s web, the magic of spring flowerings, or in the awesome power of storms, floods or earthquakes, we have each experienced and appreciated some part of the glory and majesty of God’s creation.
However…. As with so many questions in our faith walk, as with the myriad mysteries we encounter in the Bible, the answer to this question, does God love creation, is not as straightforward as it seems, because despite the abundance of creation-friendly scripture available to us, there doesn’t seem to be a clear commandment for us to care for creation.
The Old and New Testaments point to Jesus as the ultimate means of knowing God. In these scriptures we find clear and significant instructions for us which are tied to the two great commandments: love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself. Where are the commandments to preserve habitat or to save the whales? What laws are mandated against polluting or poaching? Why should I focus on creation care when I am clearly instructed to prioritize people care?
From this perspective, it becomes more difficult to discern what degree of importance we should place upon creation care in our faith lives. Let’s unpack Scripture a little bit, starting with…
God’s intentions for creation
When on the sixth day, God made creation and then made man, he observed that it was very good, and then he rested. God created Adam and Eve and instructed them to respect the sanctity of the special trees in the Garden. And after God brought Noah’s family and a collection of animals safely through the cleansing flood, he vowed never again to destroy creation by water.
In each of these stories we see that God’s intentions for His creation are unified and covenantal. God created people as part of a creation that he promises not to destroy again by flood. We are to rule over creation, but we are not separate from it, and our involvement is part of a promissory agreement with God.
Furthermore, creation is our God-given home, the place where we live by God’s grace. It reveals God’s wisdom and majesty and teaches us of his love, power and provision. Through its order and beauty, creation reveals our Maker and invites us into relationship with Him.
Of course, as with so many other examples of disobedience, we didn’t respect God’s intentions for his creation. Not just Adam and Eve, but we all have dishonored God through sin and disregard for creation. We all have failed to fully appreciate how creation is meant to glorify God.
So, how else can we know that God loves creation?
Nature reflects God
Just as we are made to love God – he desires us to love him – so the natural world was intended to reflect God’s glory. As the psalmist says: the Lord rejoices in all his works! (Ps 104:31)
In his landmark encyclical Laudato Si, which from the Latin means Praise Be to You, Pope Francis references his namesake Saint Francis of Assisi, who “invites us to see nature as a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness. ‘Through the greatness and the beauty of creatures one comes to know by analogy their maker’ (Wis 13:5); indeed, ‘his eternal power and divinity have been made known through his works since the creation of the world’ (Rom 1:20).”
The glory of God’s creation is further seen in the ordering of nature. Just as God set laws for Israel, to teach them how to survive and thrive in God’s protective mercy, the natural world also has laws meant to keep creation in perfect and perpetual harmony. Over the centuries scientific discoveries in mathematics, chemistry, biology, astronomy and physics have revealed the amazing ways God ordered all of creation.
Now, while it’s impossible to break the immutable laws of science, even if we bend them on occasion, we must confess that we have not honored God through our use and misuse of creation. Through our greed and selfishness, we have caused extensive damage to habitats, resulting in explosions of non-native species and extinctions of others. How can we claim to honor God when we defile his creation so grievously?
If we have broken God’s laws through sin, isn’t nature also corrupted?
Our sin corrupts creation
We have all heard references to God’s perfect creation. We have imagined how Eden might have appeared. God commanded obedience from Adam and Eve. Would their obedience have kept the Garden perfect? We’ll never know, because they were tempted and fell, sin entered the world and all creation was cut off from the Lord.
In the fallen world, our sin caused us to diverge from God’s plan. Rather than creation stewardship, we chose domination and exploitation of nature.
In the words of Pope John Paul II, “instead of carrying out his role as a cooperator with God in the work of creation, man sets himself up in place of God and thus ends up provoking a rebellion on the part of nature”. 95 (John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus (1 May 1991), 37: AAS 83 (1991), 840.)
Am I proposing that nature can be evil, animals are inherently bad? No, that’s just in horror movies…. It’s the degradation we see in the natural world that reflects the corruption of sin. The work we’ll do next week picking up trash from the roadside along M20 west of town is just one tiny glimpse of our carelessness.
Lest anyone think that this is a tree-hugging guilt trip, consider these words from the chapter 11 of the Book of Revelation:
time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the
prophets and your people who revere
your name, both
great and small —
and for destroying those who destroy the earth.”
Now that I’ve given you some fire & brimstone, let’s downshift back to where we started….
Conclusion: Wrestling with scripture
Have we more thoroughly answered our seemingly simple question? Can we say with absolute certainty that God loves creation?
Well, we can certainly be confident that God does indeed love us and the creation together, and that whether together or in parts, we and creation can reflect God’s glory – which pleases him.
However, perhaps you are unconvinced. Perhaps you feel we are innocent of the corruption of God’s creation, or that it’s simply not that important compared to issues such as poverty, hunger, or saving souls. And you know something? That’s okay. I certainly don’t know the mind of God, and I am not asking you to believe me.
I only ask you to challenge yourselves. I only ask you to face each and every question, whether scriptural or doctrinal in the church, whether they pertain to creation care or LBGTQ or anything that’s confusing or frustrating, and not turn away if you dislike where your discernment might be leading you.
Whenever we are faced with uncertainty, we should always turn to God in study and prayer – and God rejoices when we do. It’s when we wrestle with God that we move closer to him.
So I ask that we continue to ponder this question, listening to the Holy Spirit, as if we don’t know the answer. Does God love creation? Please meditate upon this question in preparation for Pastor Diane’s call to action next week.
My own story’s end
As for me, I pray that when my time in this world is ended, and I am set before the Lord, I will have the courage to ask my question…. O Lord, do you truly love creation? Or did I spread my gospel instead of yours?
I don’t know what he will say, but after a lifetime of trying to celebrate and protect his creation, I’d like to think that he would hold and comfort me, and in a still small voice would tell me, “well done, good and faithful servant.”