Chapter 13 – What Difference Does It Make, Anyway
We now come to the end of our review of God’s Good Earth: The Case for an Unfallen Creation, by Jon Garvey. Today is Chapter 13 – What Difference Does It Make, Anyway. Beliefs have consequences. Jon says, “When beliefs involve such a core doctrine of Christianity as creation, they cannot fail to affect the life of the believer – and on the larger scale, of the church – profoundly”. Jon asserts that it makes a huge difference whether one believes the “traditional view” that the natural creation is fallen and corrupted or whether, as he has argued in the book, it retains the same “goodness” that was accorded it by God in the beginning. What you do not love, you will not value. If God values not only “Nature” as an abstract concept, but each creature, to the extent that “not one sparrow is forgotten by God” (Luke 12:6) then there is a mismatch of values if we love them any less.
Jon says the first thing to be restored when the idea of fallenness is seen as unbiblical fiction the sheer sense of joy in natural things. He quotes Thomas Traherne (1636-1674) who saw that the creation stemmed from God’s insatiable desire to spread his love beyond himself into everything he made. Traherne said:
Till you see that the world is yours, you cannot weigh the greatness of sin, nor the misery of your fall, nor prize your redeemer’s love. One would think these should be motives sufficient to stir us up to the contemplation of God’s works, wherein all the riches of His Kingdom will appear. For the greatness of sin proceedeth from the greatness of His love whom we have offended, from the greatness of those obligations which were laid upon us, from the great blessedness and glory of the estate wherein we were placed, none of which can be seen, till Truth is seen, a great part of which is, that the World is ours. So that indeed the knowledge of this is the very real light, wherein all mysteries are evidenced to us. (Traherne, Centuries, p. 80)
Thanksgiving for creation. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Jon says God cannot work for good in all things unless he works in all things (“all things” in the passage being applied to everything in all creation). And if he is, indeed, working in all things created, they are his servants for our good, and worth of thanksgiving. The basic Christian prayer of thanksgiving, then, depends on belief in the goodness of God’s creation, or suffers the death of a thousand qualification.
Prayer within creation. Since thanksgiving requires the creation to be fully obedient to God’s purpose for it, then the very same applies to prayer on similar grounds. Jon says:
“If nature is in revolt against God, is it going to be any more submissive to him because we pray to him? If we pray for the bane of disease to be turned into the blessing of health, are we (in fact) asking God to pit his strength to oppose his own creature (the bacteria or whatever), or are we asking him to command his servants to spare us? If we cry out in distress from a ship foundering in a storm, are we whistling in the wind because storms are “just a natural phenomenon”? It is only the truth of God’s continued sovereignty within his universe that makes the discipline (and joy) of prayer that Jesus practiced and taught worthwhile, or even rational. What did Jesus teach about God in creation when he commanded us to pray “Give us this day our daily bread”?
Worship on behalf of creation. One sign of the continuing goodness of creation is its own participation in the worship of God:
The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all. 20. Praise the Lord, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word. 21. Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will. 22. Praise the Lord, all his works everywhere in his dominion. Praise the Lord, my soul. Psalm 103:19-22
In itself the irrational creation is, metaphor apart, only capable of giving God praise by being what it is. That in itself, given that Scripture in many places says it does praise him, is firm evidence against its fallenness.
Relating science to creation. Jon says, “…the biblical belief that creation is both good and subject to God dethrones the still-common Enlightenment principle that the universe is a closed causal system, in which God cannot act and, by implication, on which only science has the final say concerning physical truth… Secondly it is claimed that God would be cheating the freedom and dignity of his own creation by ‘breaking its laws’… Thirdly, some people complain that were God to be actively involved, he would be deceiving scientists in their pursuit of predictable natural causes and laws.” Jon summarizes:
In summary, to recognize that science is just one useful source of provisional truth, rather than the arbiter of truth, even in the physical and material realm, is a necessary corrective for our scientistic age, and this is greatly encouraged by the knowledge that creation is not only good, but God’s servant for governing the world. This in no way denies any scientific evidence, though it may involve being skeptical about certain scientific theories in their metaphysical aspect – for one of the achievements of philosophy of science is the understanding that theories are the products of cultures and their largely unevidenced worldviews.
Care over creation. Some of us can very well remember when any talk of creation care in conservative and dispensational evangelical circles was frowned upon as “environmentalism” and associated with “liberalism” and a general state of unbelief that Jesus would return at any moment and rapture the RTCs away. “Environmentalism” was seen as a liberal plot or wedge to spread the big-government gospel of earth-worship and secular humanism… blah… blah… blah. You know the drill if you came from that sub-culture, and if you don’t know the drill… count yourself fortunate.
It does seem that attitude is changing and a more realistic idea of “stewardship” of God’s creation does seem to be spreading among evangelicals, or was until the retrenchment of Trumpism. Hopefully, that retrenchment will be short-lived. Jon says:
Care for creation, then is part of Christian mission – given the truth of Genesis 1:28, it is actually the original part of that mission. Fortunately this work has attracted the support of leading scientists as well as theologians and church leaders, which at the very least is a testimony to society that this is God’s world and that his people recognize it. It goes without saying that one is much more likely to wish to preserve what one loves because it is God’s good handiwork, than it one views it as irretrievably corrupted by evil.
But there is more to it than that, because the Christian hope engendered by the resurrection of Christ is the renewal of all things in heaven and earth, not their complete replacement and, still less, a mass evacuation from earth to heaven prior to its annihilation.
Creation and resurrection. Jon notes that it was due to Gnostic dualism that infected Christianity in the second century, that matter is corrupt versus pure spirit, which led to the idea that our “souls” leave our bodies at death to “go to heaven”. He says the unique Jewish concept of resurrection arose in the context of the equally distinctive biblical belief in the goodness of God’s material creation.
Jesus’ resurrection endorsed this view as he was the “firstfruits” or deposit on the eventual complete renewal of the original physical creation. That what was naturally empowered (psuchikos) would at the coming of Christ be swallowed up by the “spiritually empowered (pneumatikos). But the very promise of that transformation affirmed that it had been “very good” from the beginning. The resurrection confirms God’s love for, and approval of, the human body.
Conclusion. Jon concludes:
I will just add a word of personal testimony. In the time since I began to suspect that what I had assumed about creation’s corruption all my life was mistaken, I’ve begun to see the world with new eyes. When I look out of my study window, I find I can admire the beauty of what I see without a subconscious “Yes but…” imposing itself on the view. I can love the freedom of a soaring buzzard without thinking, “Yes but it’s spoiled by the evil suffering that sustains it”. I can rejoice in a gorgeous metallic red and blue parasitic Chrysis was on the patio and leave its lifestyle in God’s wise hands, rather than accept uncritically Darwin’s jaundiced assessment. If I pick up an ammonite from the beach, or read about a newly discovered function for DNA, I find that what I see and experience leads me, in a new way, into expressing worship on the creation’s behalf; a role for which I myself was created. The more of nature I appreciate, the more of it I may bring into the sacred space of God’s temple of creation. Practically, I will be more its steward and less its exploiter. Finally, I will rejoice as much to see it new, yet familiar face, come the transformation of the end of the age, as I shall at the sight of my own face in the mirror.
That, in a very real sense, is to return to Eden, and to extend its borders.