Archives For Creation

I have been trying to learn how to “be”—as in “Be still and know…” It is so hard to downshift, to stop my mind from doing NASCAR laps, to stop “doing” and truly disengage. So hard. Our 21st century American culture is not friendly toward such an attitude.

But here we were, my wife and I, two weeks in the mountains, on what many would call “vacation.” But it was more than that; it was a gift of time to slow down, even to stop, and to learn more about “being.” It took several days to downshift from high gear to medium gear. I was beginning to wonder if I would ever make into low gear… and then on day five…

I started this blog series awhile back called “The Church is a Mystery” with the tagline “Exploring How God Shows up at Church.” I have been posting one blog per week on the many varied churches that we have been able to attend, and exploring the incredible diversity of places that make up the Body of Christ. This post is a bit different.

As we spent this time in the mountains, I felt like I was in church much of the time (“church” defined as a place to encounter God, not as an “ekklesia” assembly of believers). I was in God’s cathedral, surrounded by His creative masterpieces, and I had the time (and took the time) to listen, and to look, and to be still.

Early in the morning of our 5th or 6th day, I had to take our puppy out for a “necessary” walk. As I drowsily stepped outside, I was jerked awake by the colorful splendor of the sunrise on the still snow-covered mountains. That evoked an extended meditation on the fact that God is a God of color. His creation is full of color, all kinds of color. Trees, plants, flowers, sky, sunrise/sunset, oceans, rocks, beaches, animals.

But what colors did God choose to dominate His creation? As I gazed around me, I saw mostly green and blue. Plants, trees, grass, crops—green. Sky, oceans, water—blue. Even from space the earth appears mostly blue. My mind wandered. Why did God choose green and blue to be the major colors of His creation?

My amazing bride did some research for me and discovered that green has strong emotional correspondence with safety; it has great healing power. Green is the most restful color for the human eye. And blue is often associated with depth and stability. It symbolizes trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence, faith, and truth. Blue is considered beneficial to the mind and body. It slows human metabolism and produces a calming effect and is strongly associated with tranquility.

So think about this: when God decided what color to use for the trees and grass and leaves and most plant life, He chose a color that is restful. And when He decided what color to make the sky and waters and oceans, He chose a color that is calming and peaceful. He didn’t choose red, which increases respiration rate and raises blood pressure. He didn’t choose orange or yellow, which cause stimulation. He chose restful, calming colors. Or, He determined that those colors would be restful and calming! Or, however He did it!

So what did God say to me as I met with Him in the mountains? Rest. Slow down. Be calm. That is how you will hear from me. And getting out into creation is a good way to rest, surrounded by calming colors. Elijah discovered that God speaks in a still, small voice. Jesus needed to get alone so He could hear from His Father. We need to take time to be still. I would argue that is the only way we will get to know God—by slowing down, being quiet, resting, letting the calming colors of green and blue minister to our spirits.

A.W. Tozer, who certainly knew his God, had this to say on the topic:
“God now speaks by the wind and the earthquake only; the still small voice can be heard no more. The whole religious machine has become a noisemaker. The adolescent taste which loves the loud horn and the thundering exhaust has gotten into the activities of modern Christians. The old question, ‘What is the chief end of man?’ is now answered, ‘To dash about the world and add to the din thereof.’”

He wrote that in 1955!!! We have only gotten busier, moved faster, found gears beyond high gear so we can go even faster, and find it ever harder to hear God’s still, small voice.

So yea, I went to church in the mountains. It took five days of being still before I began to meditate on how God is a God of color, and how He has surrounded us with the very colors we need to calm down, slow down, be still.

I heard and saw Him in other ways that I will share in subsequent posts. We have a lot of catching up to do in learning to “be” rather than to “do!”

Be still and know that I am God. – Ps 46:10

Last week my firstborn son and I went kayaking for his twelfth birthday. For five hours, we enjoyed the beautiful Arkansas countryside. It is good for the human soul to bask in God’s creation. As we navigated through the rushing white waters and glided through calm pools, we noticed the Caddo River bedecked with stacks of turtles and the occasional crane. I couldn’t help but to feel continuity with

creation. But moments later a large pile of empty Pepsi cans, crumbled Lays Barbeque potato chip packages and other random bits of rubbish interrupted my musings. My awe at God’s creation erupted into anger at man’s pollution of it.

When I was twelve years old, I camped with a group of Christian men. As we were packing up to leave, someone asked whether we should pick up the litter. One of the leaders responded: “Nah, it’s all gonna burn anyhow.” His words were seared into my memory. What did he mean by “it was all going to burn”? I heard similar expressions throughout the next few years. I came to understand that this idea was based on their interpretation of passages in the Bible. God is going to burn the world to the ground. He is going to annihilate the earth and then replace it with a new version: Creation 2.0.

But this is not what Paul says in Romans 8.

“19The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” (NIV)

In this passage the Apostle connects the current state of creation to Genesis 3 where God cursed the earth in response to Adam’s sin. You see, the history of sin is more than a human tragedy: it is a cosmic calamity. Therefore, according to Romans 8, God’s rescue mission is not merely for his children but also for his creation. Or, as my friend Eddie Adams puts it,  “salvation consists not so much in the rescue of human beings from a sinking ship, but in the recovery of the wayward vessel itself.” For this reason, the world waits—not to be destroyed but to be delivered. At the second coming, when the children of God appear, the earth will be renewed rather than replaced. And the world cannot wait. For at that time, in the words of Nietzsche,

“Nature, which never leaps, makes one leap, and that a leap of joy: for then it knows that at last and for the first time it has attained its goal.”

To be fair, I should say that Paul’s view of creation in Romans does cut against the grain of a common Jewish and Christian ideology that did expect a cataclysmic destruction of the earth. But in Romans, Paul does not subscribe to such a radical antithesis between the old world and the new. Instead, creation is to be redeemed, not redeemed from.”[1]

Despite the importance that Christians tend to place on Romans, I find it curious that many have tossed this view of creation onto the cutting room floor. Instead of saying, “it’s all gonna burn anyhow,” perhaps we should reconsider Romans 8, pick up our Pepsi cans and be stewards of our inheritance. But please do not misunderstand my point: this post is meant to be more than an anti-litter rant or Go-Green rally. It is an appeal for us to change the way we think about creation altogether, to know that, like us, nature is not hopeless. Over against the picture of an incinerator—the world in ash, I prefer that of labor and delivery—a new world that proceeds from the womb of the old.[2]



[1] James Dunn.

[2] Ibid.

 

Why do a series of blog posts on sin? So I can talk about the end of the story! Think about it. We spend every moment of our lives in a cursed world. The effects of sin are everywhere, from the pain that haunts us to the pollution in the air to the brokenness in our relationships. Every tear we shed, every unsatisfied longing we feel, every regret we entertain—sin surrounds us, threatens us, takes every opportunity to ruin that which God created to be good.

The world is not now as it is supposed to be. In the first pages of the Bible, we see a picture of our world. The world of Genesis 1-2 looks familiar, yet there’s something distorted about it—distorted in a good way! It’s a “good” version of our world. It’s difficult to read without a sense of loss and a longing for a place we’ve never visited but recognize as our true home.

“The Adoration of the Lamb” by Jan Van Eyck (1432)

The good news is that at the greatest possible cost to Himself, God has defeated sin through Jesus Christ! We experience substantial healing now, and receive the Holy Spirit, who empowers us to conquer sin in our lives and enables us to please God (see Rom. 8). Through the redemption that Jesus offers, we are called into the battle against sin and evil that God has been fighting from the very beginning. This battle is deadly serious, and even with God’s enabling power we will only just overcome in the end.

But there will come a day when we will step into eternity. The time is coming when our experience with the sin-stained world will come to an end and we will find the home we have always longed for in God’s new creation. John was given a vision of the end of the story, and what he saw resonates deeply in the heart of every Christian. He saw a picture of God’s new heavens and new earth. This new creation evokes the good creation of Genesis 1-2, yet things appear to be even more glorious in the end. When John sees the new creation, he records some of the most beautiful words in all of Scripture:

“I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’” (Revelation 21:3-5)

Think of every tear you’ve ever cried, and picture God Himself wiping those tears away, promising that you will never shed another tear. Think of all the ways that death has affected your life—from stories on the news, to family members passing away, to the fear of death that has hung over you like a dark cloud—and hear God’s declaration that death shall be no more. Think about all the pain you’ve experienced, whether personally or vicariously through those you care about. There will be no more pain, no more mourning, no more crying. The former things will pass away. Everything will be made new.

Here is our glorious future. And the part that should sustain us more than any other is that “the dwelling place of God is with man.” He will dwell with us, and we will be His people, and God Himself will be with us as our God.

The story of sin has an amazing ending. In the beginning, God. Sin has affected much in the middle, but even then God’s plan of redemption has brought healing and victory in unbelievable ways. And then in the future, God. The world is not the way it’s supposed to be. But that day is coming.

Look around you. Think about every situation you’ve ever been in. Every day of your life (including the very best and the very worst) has somehow been affected by sin. There is a fundamental difference between the world as it was when God created it and the world as it stands after Adam and Eve rebelled against God.

God placed His first man and woman in a beautiful garden where they lacked nothing. They experienced an intimacy with God that is difficult for us to get our minds around. But when they rebelled, everything changed. The ground was cursed and work became frustrating instead of joyful (as God designed it to be). Something as beautiful and life giving as childbirth became exceedingly painful (so I’m told). Adam and Eve were displaced from the beautiful home God had prepared for them, and found the entrance heavily guarded.

It has become axiomatic that relationships are difficult. Every book on marriage, relationships, communication, and pretty much everything else assumes that relationships are difficult to maintain. But that hasn’t always been the case. Relationships were whole and untainted by sin and doubt before the fall. We are specifically told that the man and woman were naked and were not ashamed (Gen. 2:25), a reality that signifies a complete trust and acceptance in their relationship.

Once sin entered the world, however, all relationships became problematic. Sin takes that which is designed to be whole and divides it. Sin divides man from God, and it took the death of Jesus to restore this broken relationship. Sin also divides man from man. We mistrust, mislead, and misuse one another regularly. Psychologically, man is also divided within himself. We find the ravages of sin within our hearts, minds, and actions (more on this in the next post). Finally, man is divided from creation. We were tasked with lovingly caring for the creation, but now we must protect ourselves from it and we find ourselves abusing and exploiting it.

The “wages” of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), and everything around us is touched by death. Death inhabits every page of the Bible (aside from the first few and the last few). Our world literally falls apart as entropy moves everything from a state of order to disorder. We feel it in ourselves, and we see it all around us. The author of Hebrews even goes so far as to say that we are subject to lifelong slavery through the fear of death (Heb. 2:15). Death is a bitter enemy, and it will be the last enemy destroyed (1 Cor. 15:26).

All this is the result of sin. We cannot have an experience of the world that is not stained by sin. This should cause us to hate sin. It should lead us to long for something more. We all find this desire for an unbroken world deep within ourselves. And we are not the only ones who long for a world set to rights:

“The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.” (Romans 8:19-25)

Paul’s words assure us that a discussion of sin—as horrific as it is—does not have to be depressing. There is hope and healing, but we’ll wait on that until later this week.

Over the past four posts, I have offered four reasons why Christians should care about the arts. With the exception of my first point, these reasons have focused on the utility of the arts. In other words, I have been arguing that we should care about the arts because of what they can do for us (they teach us about humanity) and how we can use them (they give us the opportunity to test God’s truth and to connect with non-Christians).

But art is not about utility. Art is valuable because of what it is, not just because of what it does. Art is valuable because it is a good gift of God, and we should enjoy it as such.

Francis Schaeffer recognized this in the creativity of art:

“A work of art is a work of creativity, and creativity has value because God is the Creator.” (Art and the Bible in The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer, vol 2, 394)

Warner Sallman JesusCan pure creativity really be a good thing in itself? Shouldn’t creativity serve a more useful purpose—like a drama that portrays the gospel or a painting of Jesus? Creativity is great when it is used this way, but we do not have any grounds to say that beauty, creativity, or the arts in general are only valuable if they are useful.

We can take our cue on this point from God. He created a world that was both useful and beautiful: “Out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Gen. 2:9). A utilitarian God would certainly make trees that were good for food, but pleasant to the sight? Isn’t that a bit extravagant? Or consider the light that God created. God declared the light good, even before there was an eye to see it or a plant to photsynthesize with it. It was just good.

Or take the tabernacle. Without a doubt the tabernacle served many important functions. But God takes up a lot of space in the Pentateuch with describing how the tabernacle should be adorned. Schaeffer brings the implications home:

“Art is not something we merely analyze or value for its intellectual content. It is something to be enjoyed. The Bible says that the art work in the tabernacle and the temple was for beauty.” (394) (For example, see Ex. 28:2.)

Grace Foretold (Fujimura)Not only did God create a beautiful world—a world so beautiful that poets, artists, and ordinary people over the millennia have not been able to help but exult in its beauty—He also created us with the capacity to enjoy it. God didn’t just create sunsets, He gave us eyes that could see them. He didn’t just create sound waves and the physical properties required to create them, He also gave us ears to hear them. He didn’t just give us beauty, He gave us the aesthetic sensibilities to appreciate beauty for what it is. Art can be useful, but it is still valuable even when it doesn’t do anything.

Leland Ryken says it well:

“When we enjoy the colors and design of a painting, the fictional inventiveness of a novel, the harmonious arrangement of a sonata, we are enjoying a quality of which God is the ultimate source and performing an act similar to God’s enjoyment of the beauty of his own creation. We can participate in the arts to the glory of God by enthusiastically enjoying the arts, recognizing God as the ultimate source of the creativity and beauty that we enjoy. If artistic creativity is, as the Bible claims, a gift of God, we can scarcely demonstrate our gratitude for the gift any more adequately than by using and enjoying it.” (The Liberated Imagination, 88)

There are many reasons that Christians should care about art, but ultimately we don’t need more reasons than this: art is a gift from God, and we should enjoy it for His sake.