Monday, July 15, 2013

God's Word on the Environment

“Spirituality” has become a kind of buzz-word in our society. There have been countless books and articles written on this subject in recent years. And the word conjures up all kinds of images from Mother Teresa to New Age religions, from prayer journaling to séances. With all the hype centering around this word, I think it is important for us to come to an understanding of what it actually means. Or at least come to a working definition of “spirituality”. That way we will not accept every attempt at “spirituality” without question and we will also not reject everything “spiritual” for fear of being confused with a New Age séance participant.

Brian McLaren, a Christian minister and author, defines spirituality this way. He says that anything that works toward reconciling creation to God should be considered “spirituality.” I think his definition is worthy of consideration. I’ve spoken to you before about the relationships God established at creation. A communal God created a communal world. Father/Son/Holy Spirit created a world with like relationships. God is in relationship with us. We are in relationship with each other. God created these relationships to function much like the relationship of the first community – Perfect – Seamless.

After the Fall, however, everything changed. Relationships became difficult. God and human now have to work at having a relationship. Male and female have to work at having a relationship! Through the cross God has called us to be in the “reconciling business.” Making right those messed up relationships, Paul called us God’s ambassadors for Christ’s ministry of reconciliation. This ministry of reconciliation gives life to our mission statement here at Glenwood. We glorify God and make disciples by graciously helping a fallen world stand up again!

I want us to recognize an aspect of this mission that often goes unnoticed. We certainly should be in the business of reconciling people to God. And we should also work to reconcile people to other people. But another aspect of spirituality calls us to reconcile people to creation!

I know, I know, I can already hear the feet shuffle and I can see the eyes of those who think: Here we go…Environmentalism!

The fact is, “Environmentalism” has become a dirty word in our world…especially among Christians. It is often associated with political fanatics or hippies. People who care more about trees than other people! In fact, I found some interesting quotations to support this line of thought. John Davis, editor of Earth First Journal, writes, “Human beings, as a species, have no more value than slugs.” Dave Forman, founder of the same magazine, writes, “Phasing out the human race will solve every problem on earth, social and environmental.” David Graber, from the National Park Service is a little more blunt:

“I know scientists who remind me that people are part of nature, but it isn't true. Somewhere along the line ... we quit the contract and became a cancer. We have become a plague upon ourselves and upon the Earth.... Until such time as Homo sapiens should decide to rejoin nature, some of us can only hope for the right virus to come along.”

Yes, there are many people out there who, I think, take environmentalism to the dangerous extreme believing the answer to global warming is to rid the earth of human beings or to suggest that the way to save water is to not allow humans to use it anymore! Certainly, taking human beings out of the equation would eliminate many of our world’s problems, but that is certainly not the will of God.

We must never forget, in this entire discussion, that humans are God’s prized creation. Scripture is crystal clear on that point. In Genesis one, the human is the crowning point of creation. In Genesis two, the two humans are described as having a unique, special relationship with God from the beginning. So, I am not saying this morning that we should all turn our backs on the human race in an effort to save the earth. But I am suggesting that to be truly human, to be the people God called us to be from the very beginning means that we must take seriously the first vocation God ever gave to us, that is, to take care of His creation!

Here is why this message is so important for us to hear…

The reality is this: many Christians are the first to stand in line against environmental issues. We treat them as political issues. And worse yet, political issues that do not concern us. And certainly few of us have ever considered environmentalism as an aspect of spirituality. I recently read from a Christian that he rejects environmentalism because the Bible has nothing to say on the subject. He said, the Bible gives humans dominion over creation. There is a little section in the Old Testament telling the Jews to bury their waste. But other than that, there is no mention of our role towards creation! I think many Christians share his perspective.

But let’s look at the text together and see what God has to say about it…

We’ve spent a lot of time together in recent months in Genesis 2. Like I’ve said before, I think all theological study should begin in Genesis 1-2! These chapters give us the picture of the world as God intended for it to operate, in perfect, seamless relationships.

When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, however, everything changed. God comes looking for them in the garden, but they have hidden. A dialogue takes place between God and Adam and Eve. “Who is responsible?” “Not me, her…” “Not me, the serpent…” And finally God hands out His punishments. He curses the serpent. Crawl on his belly, eating dust all the days of his life, enmity between it and woman. He curses the woman, increased pain in childbirth, her ultimate desire would be for her husband—now that’s a curse! He curses the man. And notice what else God curses…

And to the man he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,
and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread
until you return to the ground;  for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3: 17-19

Because of Adam’s sin, God cursed the land! Not only are you and I “fallen” because of the events in the garden, so is the earth. You and I are subject to sin. The earth is now subject to decay.

We often overlook this part of the story. We forget that the earth shared in the misery of that day. Before the fruit was plucked from the tree, everything worked just like God intended for it to work. The humans worked the ground. The ground blessed the humans with food, a perfect reciprocal relationship. The man protected the animals. They lived with him in the garden as fellow creatures of God. But when the humans sinned, the earth was punished. Through no choice of its own, the land was cursed. The land was innocent in this matter, but through the actions of God’s prized creation, the land was punished.

Listen to how Paul describes these events…

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now;
Romans 8: 18-22

Paul has an interesting paradigm that he often uses to describe salvation. He says in both Romans and Corinthians through one man sin entered the world. And through one man, salvation comes to the world. Through one man, the earth was cursed. But through one man, Jesus, the land will be redeemed.

Paul explains something very important here. We often overlook the land’s curse in Genesis 3. But many more of us overlook the land’s portion in salvation. Through Jesus’ act, you and I receive salvation. And through the same act, the land will also be saved…restored to its former state, redeemed from the curse and put back in right relationship with God and humans from the day in the garden until Christ rose from the grave, creation (Paul says) has been waiting for its own salvation.

Salvation is a funny word. We often think of our reward in the far off, distant future. But you know that Scripture speaks plainly on this issue. There is salvation for Christians even today, salvation from the brokenness of life. Understand then, that creation experiences the same kind of salvation. One day, God will create a new heaven and new earth. But until then, the land should be experiencing a taste of salvation today. In some way, after Jesus rose, the land was liberated! How? Through the sons of God! Paul says creation has been waiting in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. Because the sons of God are those who best understand the purpose for which they were created. To protect their Father’s creation, to go back into the garden and restore those broken relationships

I realize some of you might not have ever considered environmental issues as “Spiritual Issues” before today. But I encourage you to not be swayed by political agendas or stereotypes our world creates. But instead, be shaped by the Word of God. I honestly believe Christians have been a primary obstacle for many well-meaning people who would like to protect God’s land. When all along, we should have been leading the world in this effort.

God is calling to us even today, “Can you hear Me now?” Maybe its time many of us began to listen to what God has to say about our home. Instead of fighting every effort to “plant a tree” or “save the earth,” maybe we should be asking other questions: What is our role? As protectors of God’s creation, as children of the Creator, what is your role in this world?

You know, in olden days, when a father left home for a while, the role of protector often fell to the oldest son. That son would protect his mother. He would protect the home. Family, our Father has left the house to the charge of His children for a time. Will we protect it? Or will we leave that job to others?

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