Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Reflection July 26, 2020
"God Saw that It Was Good: Pondering Creation" - by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
As most everyone knows, I spent a great number of years under the auspices of the Franciscans, more than four decades all told. When I sat before the ABC Metro Ordination Commission, after it was voted that my 1974 ordination would be accepted as a valid American Baptist ordination, I was asked what I would be bringing to our American Baptist region. I answered without hesitation: I bring my Franciscan background.
When I walk my neighborhood, as I often do, I enjoy seeing the occasional St. Francis statue in peoples’ gardens. Francis is often pictured with a bird or a wolf. Francis saw all creatures living as brothers and sisters. He provides us with an example of someone completely attuned to the goodness of creation. Our pets help us understand the goodness of creation and the many blessing of the Creator. Now that I’m pet-less for the first time in 13 years, I miss their company.
In this Advance, I wish to unfold a theology, so to speak, of creation. “And God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” (Genesis 1:31)
At the end of God’s creating, God looks at it all and proclaims it “very good” – not “good” – not “okay” but “very good.” This is God’s judgment on creation. It must be our judgment as well.
Of course, creation is no longer in its pristine condition. It has become subject to death and destruction or as Paul suggests in Romans 8:22: “We know the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.”
Let me note something from my favorite professor, Dr. Zachary Hayes. Dr. Hayes was a good friend of mine and he was a brilliant writer and teacher. He died some years ago after his mind was clouded under the assault of Alzheimer’s disease.
In one of his many books, The Gift of Being: A Theology of Creation, he writes: “In the context of contemporary Western culture, many are convinced that there is, of necessity, some deep and abiding conflict between the biblical vision of reality and the work of the sciences … However, anyone whose understanding is grounded in a deeper knowledge of the Christian tradition does not need to be forced to choose between the Bible and science.”
“Anyone whose understanding is grounded in a deeper knowledge of the Christian tradition does not need to be forced to choose between the Bible and science.” God is not only the author of Scripture, God is also the author of every science.
If we find scientists trying to destroy the religious structures which give us identity then we should resist because such scientists have strayed from their legitimate domain. Science asks questions about what and how; religion asks questions about why, questions about meaning and purpose, questions about our ultimate origin and destiny. As Dr. Hayes notes: “Religion does not suppress the desire to know and understand, but encourages it.”
We, Christians, believe in a creation which has meaning and purpose, a creation coming forth from the power of the Creator. We stand against all meaninglessness. We stand against any and all who proclaim creation to have no purpose. We oppose any and all who argue that humans are pointless products of random cosmic forces.
But our struggle is not with science, our struggle is with those who argue that science can give us answers to questions of value. Our struggle is with those who would demean the practice and power of a life lived in faith. Our struggle is not with the legitimate discoveries of science. We applaud those discoveries. Science can’t tell us why God created but it can help us understand how creation unfolded.
The German Lutheran professor Jurgen Moltmann notes in The Source of Life: “According to Jewish and Christian traditions, it was through God’s Wisdom in the power of his Spirit that God created all things. Through his Spirit, the Creator is present in each one of his creatures … In his Spirit everything comes alive; without his Spirit everything disintegrates.” Moltmann concludes: “God’s eternal Spirit is the driving force and the vital spark in all things.”
As I’ve preached more than once: our God is not an absentee landlord! Absentee landlords have a bad reputation because they often neglect the properties they manage. Of course, we should always be careful in generalizing. I’ve rented my house for 12 years. My landlord lives in Atlanta, so I have an absentee landlord but he does not neglect the house.
W exist as creatures, created by God. We believe that everything we encounter: every other person, every animal, every tree and plant, were created by God. To be created means we exist in absolute dependence on the free, loving creativity of God. To be created means we believe God has a plan for all of us as well as for all of creation.
Creation is not meaningless. Creation is not pointless. Each life has meaning and purpose and not only each human life, the life of every creature has meaning and purpose! This is because every creature exists in God. If God created everything living, from humpback whales to the smallest insect, then every creature deserves to be respected because every creature is a manifestation of God’s creative power.
It is well understood that God speaks to us through creation. Every creature comes forth from and through the Word of God. Every creature is sustained through the power of God’s Spirit. Or as Moltmann states: “As Christians, we understand creation as a Trinitarian process: God the Father creates through the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit. So all things are created ‘by God’, are formed ‘through God’ and exist ‘in God’.” In other words, the three persons of the Trinity of God are always at work in creation.
Therefore if we denigrate or abuse any part of creation, we denigrate and abuse the Trinity. If we despoil any part of creation, we insult the Trinity. Everything created is dependent upon the presence of God’s Spirit as Psalm 104 proclaims: “All creatures look to you to give them their food in due season; when you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die. When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the earth.”
God is intimately involved in creation, still sustaining and creating. God is continually preserving creation even in spite of sin and cosmic disorder. God is intimately bound to creation in such a way that creation’s history of suffering is God’s history of suffering. God is patiently waiting for creation to be completely transformed into a new creation. As Revelation 20:5 makes clear: “And the one who was seated on the throne said: “See, I am making all things new.”
Moltmann asserts: “All of creation will be freed from the power of time for the presence of eternity, and from the power of death for eternal life. Creation which is everywhere threatened by chaos and annihilation will be kept wholly safe and secure in God’s eternal love.”
In the new creation, we will be freed from the power of time. What a wonderful blessing this will be! Is there anyone reading this who doesn’t feel herself or himself a prisoner to time? Many of us race through our lives. Too much to do and too little time in which to do it! Where is our Sabbath? Where is our rest? Where is our balm? When do we really get a day off? I’ve preached on this a number of times over the years.
One major thing we could do to help bring the kingdom of God would be for all of us to take time to breathe, to breathe in the breath of God, to revel in the eternal now of God. This would be one way of respecting creation by changing our frenzied attitude towards time. As Professor Robert Grudin notes in his book, Time and the Art of Living: “Individuals we consider happy commonly seem complete in the present; attentive, cheerful, open, fully in the moment rather than distended across time by regret or anxiety.”
If we want to hasten the coming of God’s new creation, we’d do well to stop being “distended across time by regret or anxiety.” If we live or lives always in a hurry, we bring violence to creation. Our present time of isolation and quarantining is a perfect time to reflect on how much we are prisoners to hurrying.
We’re called in Genesis to be stewards of creation. The way we do this is to take good care of everything created including ourselves. We do not take good care of ourselves when we are frenzied or fearful.
As the famous North African hermit, Charles De Foucauld, stated it: “Faith strips the mask from the world and reveals God in everything. It makes nothing impossible and renders meaningless such words as anxiety, danger, and fear, so that the believer goes through life calmly and peacefully, with profound joy like a child hand in hand with his mother.”
As Moltmann notes: “With the rebirth of Christ from death to eternal life, we also expect the rebirth of the whole cosmos. Nothing that God has created is lost.” Nothing will be lost. Nothing will be in vain. All creation will be transfigured and transformed. This is our hope in Christ Jesus.
We’re very much involved in this process of transformation; this process of helping the kingdom of God unfold in its fullness. What we make of ourselves and of our world matters. It matters to those who come after us and it matters to God.