When someone asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was he answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” He went on to say “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 30-31) Today I want to focus on the second commandment which is, in essence, the flip side of the first.
As Christians we are called to love our neighbor. Most people know this. But just who should we consider our neighbor? I’ve heard lots of different answers to this over the years and almost all of them have had to do with people living in the present. Almost twenty years ago I came across a book that helped me understand Jesus’ commandment in a whole new light. That book was Robert Parham’s Loving Neighbors Across Time: A Guide to Protecting the Earth. In this book Parham claims “the looming environmental crisis demands that we revisit the governing principle of love for neighbor, expanding it from a purely spatial perspective. We must think about love for neighbor in terms of time.” He insists that “we must see those who live in the year 2050 as our neighbors, as real neighbors. Our unseen great-grandchildren and those of others are as much our neighbors as our present family members and the family living next door.” When you think of it this way it soon becomes clear that “the only way we can love our neighbor across time is to leave them a decent place to live.”
In the conclusion to one chapter he says, “Global warming, ozone-layer depletion, and multiple forms of pollution are three massive earth threats. They assault human life everywhere and jeopardize our entire ecosystem. However, their impact on today’s world is probably far less adverse than it will be on future generations.” Parham believes the time to act is now and that “we must view present-day reforms and initiatives as an insurance policy for the future.”
I realize that the concept of loving neighbors across time will be new to many but it makes perfect sense. If we are going to fulfill what Jesus called “the greatest commandment” then we must take better care of the earth now so that those who come after us will be able to enjoy, benefit and be blessed by it. Love demands we do no less.
(The image above was taken at Irwin Pond in the Hiwatha National Forest. The beauty of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan must definitely be preserved for future generations!)
On U2’s album “All You Can’t Leave Behind” there is a song called Walk On. In this song Bono sings about “a place that has to be believed to be seen.” Some might think this is just a clever turn on the more usual phrase, “I’ll have to see it to believe it” but actually U2’s song touches on a very important truth. Some things really do have to be believed in before they can be seen. This is especially true in the spiritual realm, but it is my conviction that it is also true in the physical realm. Seeing God in Creation requires such believing.
The story is told that after WWII these words were found etched on the walls of a Jewish concentration camp: “I believe in the sun when it’s not shining, I believe in love when I feel it not, I believe in God when He is silent.” These words remind us that we don’t always have to see or feel something in order to believe in its presence. They also remind me of the biblical definition of faith found in Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
The writer of Hebrews goes on to say, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” (v. 3) The affirmation that God is the “Maker of heaven and earth” is a faith statement. It is not something that can be proved using the scientific method. Instead it is something I trust to be true.
It is this believing that enables me to see God in that which He has made. It is this believing that opens my eyes to the wonder and majesty of the Creator found throughout His Creation. Some fail to see God in Creation because they think they must see Him there before they will believe. What they don’t understand is that Bono is right. Some things have to be believed in order to be seen.
(The image above was taken at Rowdy Lake in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.)
A little after 11:00 tonight autumn will officially begin. I’d be more excited about that if they weren’t predicting a high of 94 degrees here tomorrow. I’ve seen a number of recent news articles indicating that this summer has been the hottest one on record. This fall may prove to be warmer than normal too. Still, I have no doubt that the temperatures will soon be more comfortable (for me, anyway) and that the annual brilliant show of autumn colors will shortly begin to make an appearance.
The changing of the seasons is actually something God has promised. In Genesis 8:22 it says, “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” This is the promise God gave to Noah following the Flood. Much later the prophet Daniel would remind others that it is God who causes the seasons to change. He said, “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes time and seasons…” (Daniel 2:20-21)
Even further down the road the apostle Paul spoke of God being behind the changing seasons and how this bears witness to His goodness and faithfulness. Speaking to a group in Lystra who thought he and Barnabas were Hermes and Zeus because they healed a crippled man, Paul said “turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without testimony. He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”
As the seasons change once again today we are reminded that God has ordered this and that it is part of His good plan for Creation. We are also reminded that the One who consistently brings this cyclic succession is faithful and can be counted on. This truly is the testimony of the seasons!
(The top image I took at Rocky Mountain National Park in late September. The bottom picture of Maroon Bells was also taken in Colorado about the same season of the year.)
This morning we sang “I’ve Got Peace Like a River” at church. That got me to thinking of other hymns that combine peace and rivers. One of my favorite hymns, “It Is Well with My Soul,” begins, “When peace like a river attendeth my way.” Another popular hymn begins “Like a river glorious is God’s perfect peace.” I’m not aware of any direct link in the Scriptures to peace and rivers. At times rivers do serve as a symbol of God’s presence and this may be a link. In the Bible rivers are also viewed as a source of life. This, too, may be a link. Throughout the Scriptures rivers are associated with cleansing—physical and spiritual. This could be a link as well.
In the end I’m not sure the linking of rivers and peace by various hymnists has anything to do with the Scriptures at all. It may instead simply represent an experience common to many. There is just something peaceful about rivers. People have enjoyed sitting by rivers for ages. There is something incredibly relaxing about watching a river flow by.
On Thursday I went over to Breaks Interstate Park and took some pictures of the Russell Fork River. It had been a stressful week and I really wasn’t in the mood to photograph but setting up my tripod next to the river I felt a sense of peace flow over me. The sight and sound of that river calmed my nerves and brought a sense of tranquility I had not felt for several days.
I realize that when God created rivers He had lots of other purposes in mind than just providing us a place to experience peace, but I’m not so sure that this wasn’t also one of His reasons for making rivers and streams. I think God knew that we would need places we could go to in order to have our spirits renewed, places where we could feel serenity. It really is no wonder that there are so many songs that combine peace and rivers. They go together quite naturally.
(The images above were taken Thursday at Breaks Interstate Park in Pike County, Kentucky.)
As I read the Scriptures I continue to be amazed at how often the biblical writers use nature imagery to make theological comparisons. A case in point is the passage I’ll be discussing tonight at church, Hosea 6. Starting in verse 3 the challenge is made to “acknowledge the Lord” and to “press on to acknowledge him.” Then we read: “As surely as the sun rises he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.”
Here we see God compared to the sun which rises each morning and to the winter and spring rains that you can count on like clockwork. Such images prove helpful to us. Since we must deal with an unseen God, it is beneficial when the biblical writers reveal that God is like something we can see with our own eyes. “What is God’s faithfulness like?” we might ask. The Bible says it is like the sun that comes up everyday—without fail. It is like the rains that return each winter and spring. In other words, God is as faithful as you can get!
In Hosea 6 nature imagery is also used to demonstrate our own unfaithfulness. God says to His people here, “Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears?” (v. 4) By pointing to the “morning mist” and “early dew,” both which come and go quickly, God declares that His people’s loyalty to Him is fleeting at best. Here again, by referring to something in nature that everyone is familiar with, the point is driven home powerfully.
One of the primary goals Rob and I have in sharing our thoughts with you on SeeingCreation.com is that people will realize that by paying attention to the world God has made they can learn much about God and about themselves. As Hosea 6 shows, the Scriptures can help us do that. When the sun rises tomorrow morning, I encourage you to be reminded of God’s faithfulness. If you happen to experience a morning mist or see dew around you, you may want to consider whether these may be a reflection of your own loyalty to God. There is so much in nature that makes us think about things that really matter.
(The image above of an Indian paintbrush surrounded by dew covered leaves was taken last month at Mount Rainier National Park.)
Chuck was talking to me a little while ago about an issue that we have both heard, namely that some Christians feel that we don’t have to worry about what happens to the earth because this is not our “final” home and that if Christ comes soon, none of this matters. I heard such things 40 years ago around the first Earth Day. I remember getting into such a discussion with a young woman once who said that all this worry about the earth was wrong, that we needed to just focus on God, and in a discussion with a self-professed “Jesus freak” who said essentially the same thing. My response was then, and still is now, what will you say to God when you die and are held accountable for your actions on the earth, his creation? The woman actually thought about it, but the Jesus freak quit talking to me.
I have thought about this a bit recently after Chuck and I talked. Imagine if a young couple were given a beautiful house to live in, everything taken care of for them, while their father built a new home for them on the other side of the mountain, in a place even more beautiful. Their father had actually built the beautiful house they now lived in, including wonderful gardens around it. Now suppose that young couple trashed the house and the gardens, saying it didn’t really matter what they did because their father was building an even better home for them on the other side of the mountain.
Can you imagine what most people would say about that young couple? Spoiled rich kids who can’t appreciate what is right in front of them. They do not deserve that home on the other side of the mountain.
Most people would not think highly of that young couple. So this is what I don’t get. It is not okay to trash something that your earthly father built even though it is not the final destination, yet it is okay to trash something our heavenly Father has created because it is not the final destination. That is really odd.
The photo above is from the Alabama Hills below Mount Whitney near Lone Pine, California. It is sort of looking out from the “house” of earth toward the mountains.