Jan 9 2013

Understanding Creation

ANP 571Names are important.  One indication of this is how most parents spend a great deal of time trying to decide what to name each of their children.  Names are also necessary.  We need them to identify ourselves and others.  They become vital in our relationships with one another.  Everyone realizes this.  What many don’t realize is that in the Bible one’s name implied much more than it does today.  In biblical thought one’s name spoke of one’s character or personality.  One’s name truly meant something.  In fact, if a person’s character changed his or her name might be changed as well.  A classic example from the Hebrew Scriptures is Jacob.  After his wrestling match with the messenger of God he received the new name, Israel.  (Genesis 32:28)

There are many names for God throughout the Scriptures.  Often this goes left unnoticed because our English translations simply render the various names, “God.”  The different names for God, however, are very important for, as already noted, in biblical thought they conveyed God’s character.  Much is revealed about who God is simply by paying attention to the various names attributed to Him  throughout the Scriptures.

ANP 165In the very first verse of the Bible we read, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1)  A more literal reading would be “In the beginning Elohim created the heavens and the earth.”  This is the name for God that is used here.  This particular name goes a long way back and was used by pagans prior to being adopted by the Hebrews.  It referred to one who was chief among the gods.  Elohim was understood to be a deity of great power, as well as king and judge.  He was also viewed as one who was merciful and gracious.

ANP 119Understanding a bit of this background adds meaning to the Creation story.  It gives us a better grasp of the Who behind Creation.  The One who made the heavens and the earth was/is the supreme God.  God’s great power and sovereignty are underscored by the biblical insistence that Elohim spoke the world into being.  Just as important to me, if not more so, is the affirmation that the One who created the world is merciful and gracious.  Throughout the Creation story in Genesis one (where the name Elohim appears 26 times) we are told that what God made was deemed “good.”  Creation is, in fact, “good” because behind it stands One who is also good, merciful and gracious.  It is our anthropocentric tendency that makes us think we determine what is good or not.  When it comes to Creation, however, we do not get to make the call.  It has already been made.  Creation is good because Elohim has declared it to be.

ANP 835I truly believe that a proper understanding of Creation is necessary for a healthy world view.  Understanding the earth’s divine origin affects how we look at ourselves.  Because God created the world we know that life has purpose and meaning.  We are not here by accident.  Understanding the earth’s divine origin should also help remind us of our proper relationship to the earth.  First, it will reveal that we do not own the earth, God does. Psalm 24:1 insists that “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.”  In the very next verse the Psalmist explains why the earth is the Lord’s: “for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.”  Second, we are told in Genesis 2:15 that the first humans were placed in the Garden of Eden “to work it and take care of it.”  This clearly reveals that one of God’s intentions for us is to be responsible stewards of the good earth He created.  Knowing this should definitely affect how we live our lives.

I’m not sure I could emphasize enough the importance of the doctrine of Creation.  What it says about God and about us is vital to our existence.  I encourage you in the days ahead to spend some time reflecting on your own understanding of Creation and on the One who was gracious and merciful enough to share it with us.

–Chuck

(All of the images used today were taken at Acadia National Park in Maine.)


Aug 26 2012

Ecology and Creation

The story of Creation begins in the opening chapters of the Bible.  Most people are quite familiar with the biblical accounts found in the first two chapters of Genesis.  Once the story is told, however, it is certainly not forgotten.  Israel’s affirmation of God as Creator played a central role in the other writings of the Old Testament.  The doctrine of Creation continued to be a key element of the New Testament and the faith of Christians.  It would be difficult to overemphasize the importance of the doctrine of Creation.  In so many ways it determines our understanding of God, ourselves, and the world we live in.  It also affects how we live our lives on this planet.

This past week I read a book entitled Creation by Alister McGrath, Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford University.  In this beautiful little book McGrath talks about the many ways the doctrine of Creation affects our lives.  He wisely notes that understanding the earth to be God’s Creation not only affects how we think about the world but also changes the way we behave toward it.  He says, “It forces us to abandon any idea of the earth as our servant which we can exploit as we please.  Instead, we are forced to think of the world as something wonderful and beautiful, created and loved by God, which we are called to tend, as Adam tended the garden of Eden.”

McGrath goes on to offer four major implications for ecology that evolve from the Christian doctrine of creation:  1. “The natural order, including humanity, is the result of God’s act of creation, and is affirmed to be God’s possession.” 2. “Humanity is distinguished from the remainder of creation by being created in the ‘image of God.’  This distinction is about the delegation of responsibility rather than the conferral of privilege.  It does not encourage or legitimize environmental exploitation or degradation.”    3. “Humanity is charged with the tending of creation, in the knowledge that this creation is the cherished possession of God.”  4. “There is no basis for asserting that humanity has the ‘right’ to do what it pleases with the natural order.  The creation is God’s, and has been entrusted to us.  We are to act as its guardian, not its exploiter.”

Over the years some have tried to blame our modern ecological crisis on Christians.  They point out that many in the church have taught that humans are called to have “dominion” over the earth and that this means it is ours to do with as we please.  Unfortunately, many have, in fact, taught this. What we desperately need to do is make sure people realize that this is a distortion of the biblical narrative and that a proper understanding of the doctrine of Creation demands practices and a lifestyle that brings good to the earth, not harm.  I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, if anyone should be leading the way in caring for the earth it ought to be Christians.  This has been our calling from the very beginning and will remain our calling until the very end.  Whether we live up to this calling remains to be seen.

–Chuck

(I took the floral images shown above this past Friday at a private garden in Mount Sterling, Kentucky.)