The online journal of Luke Dockery

Tag: Creation (Page 1 of 2)

Scripture Reflections: God’s “Invitations” in Genesis 1

This year as part of my daily Bible reading I am doing some journaling and notetaking, and I thought it might be a useful discipline to share some of my reflections here on The Doc File. I use the word discipline because this is a habit I would like to cultivate that I hope will be beneficial for myself and readers alike (I did something similar several years ago but fizzled out after a few posts).

So, my goal for these brief posts will be two-fold:

(1) To remark on aspects of the biblical text that I find to be of interest that the reader may or may not have thought about previously.

(2) When possible, to point ahead to the work and person of Jesus Christ. I believe the Bible is a unified story that points to Jesus, which means that He is frequently alluded to or foreshadowed in some way throughout the biblical canon.


One of the things I love about reading Scripture is how you can notice something in a very familiar text that you had never noticed previously. Genesis 1 is one such text: I have no idea how many hundreds of times I have read it in my life, but its depths seem to be endless, constantly offering up new discoveries. This time, as I was reading through, I was struck by the rhythmic quality of the text: over and over again, God speaks, “Let there be” (light, an expanse, the sprouting of vegetation, etc), and over and over again, we have the repeated narrative comment, “And it was so.”

It is as if God is inviting creation to take place and unanimously, automatically, creation responds to the invitation of the Creator: God speaks, and it is so.

On the sixth day, God speaks into existence the pinnacle of creation: humanity, created in God’s own image. As image-bearers, humans are given a divine vocation: to rule over creation (under God’s authority), to fill the earth, master it, till and tend the garden of Eden, and give names to the animals (Genesis 1.26, 28; 2.15, 20).

Such creatures obviously possess enormous potential for cooperation in God’s good plans, but ironically, it is in this pinnacle of creation where we see a break in the pattern of the unanimous, automatic response to God’s invitation of how things are supposed to work. As we see in Genesis 3, rather than accepting God’s invitation to rule under His authority, Adam and Eve fail to reflect the divine image and seek to establish their own autonomy and authority instead. They eat of the forbidden fruit with disastrous consequences.

This has remarkable implications. That God allows His image-bearers to ignore His invitations of co-rule shows how He honors humanity with freedom. Far from an automatic response where God reveals His will and humans unanimously and immediately respond in accordance with that will, God invites us to reflect His wisdom and authority but does not force it upon us. He does all that can be done to bring us around to His side, but He allows us to pave the path to our own destruction. He is grieved by our poor choices, but He honors us too much to prevent them.

What a marvel to be given such ability with such freedom, such potential for good or evil!

As C.S. Lewis says in Prince Caspian:

“You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,” said Aslan. “And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content.”

Or, in the words of George MacDonald:

“However bad I may be, I am the child of God, and therein lies my blame. Ah, I would not lose my blame! In my blame lies my hope.”

What humanity desperately needs is an exemplar, someone who will harness the dangerous gift of freedom, submit to the wisdom and authority of God, and in so doing, perfectly reflect the divine image.

Of course, we have such a Someone; His name is Jesus.

Creation and New Creation: Connections Between Genesis and Revelation

Introduction: The Bible as Literature

I recently preached a sermon in which I was discussing literary techniques that we see in Scripture. Sometimes people read the Bible in a flat, wooden sort of way, almost like they were reading a police report or something similar, where all you have is a list of facts and no sort of interpretation.

I think that is unfortunate, because the Bible is really a library of books all telling the same grand Story, and within that library, there are various types or genres of literature, and different genres of literature need to be read in certain ways if we are to understand and apply them faithfully. Much could be written both about different types of literature that we see in the Bible—wisdom literature, history, ancient biography, prophecy, poetry, apocalypse, epistles, etc.—and also different types of literary devices that biblical authors used to tell their stories in more powerful ways.*

Examining either of those in detail is beyond the scope of this post, but one literary technique that I do want to focus on here is what I call echoing, or the frequent practice of the authors of Scripture to refer back to an earlier event in the Bible by repeating certain language, or telling stories in similar ways, or comparing certain characters.



Creation and New Creation

One powerful example of echoing can be seen in a comparison between Genesis 1-3, which talks the Creation of the heavens and the earth, and Revelation 21-22, which talks about the New Creation of the New Heavens and New Earth. I shared this particular example in the sermon that I mentioned above, and considering the feedback I got from people who had never noticed these strong connections before, I thought it would be worth sharing here.

Simply put, in the description of the New Heavens and New Earth in Revelation 21-22, over and over again you have echoes of what occurred in the creation of the heavens and earth  Genesis 1-3:

  • In Genesis 1.4, there is a division of light and darkness; in Revelation 21.25, there is no night.
  • In Genesis 1.10, there is a division of land and sea; in Revelation 21.1, there is no more sea.
  • In Genesis 1.16, the rule of the sun and moon is described; in Revelation 21.23, we learn that there is no need for the sun or moon.
  • In Genesis 2.10, we are told about a river flowing out of the Garden of Eden; in Revelation 22.1, we are told about a river flowing from God’s throne.
  • Genesis 2.9 describes the Tree of Life in the midst of the garden; Revelation 22.2 describes the Tree of Life throughout the city.
  • Genesis 2.12 tells us that God and precious stones are in the land; Revelation 21.19 tells us that gold and precious stones are throughout.
  • God walks in the garden, among His creation as described in Genesis 3.8; Revelation 21.3 states that God’s dwelling will be with His people.
  • Following Adam and Eve’s sin, Genesis 3.17 states that the ground itself will be cursed; in the New Creation, there will be no more curse (Revelation 22.3).
  • As a result of sin and the curse, life in creation is characterized by pain and sorrow (Genesis 3.17-19); in the new creation, there will be no more sorrow, pain, or tears (Revelation 21.1-4).
  • Additionally, the sin results in death, described as a returning to the dust (Genesis 3.19); in the New Heavens and New Earth, there is no more death (Revelation 21.4).
  • Adam and Eve are banished from the garden, and cherubim guard the entrance to it (Genesis 3.24); angels actively invite into the city in Revelation 21.9.

There are actually many more points of comparison that could be made, but I think these are sufficient to prove the point: in Revelation, John is clearly describing the eternity that God’s people will spend with Him in the New Heavens and New Earth in language that echoes back to the story of creation and fall in Genesis 1-3.

In making these connections between Revelation and Genesis, John is making a significant and profound theological point: the creation that God created good but that was tainted by sin, He is going to redeem, recreate, and perfect!


*When I discuss Scripture as literature or as story, I am not suggesting that these characteristics somehow diminish its truth. I believe the Bible relates the truest Story of all, but it is still told as story, and employs a variety of literary techniques in the telling of it.

Book Review: Embracing Creation

At the end of December, I finished one of the better books I read in 2016: Embracing Creation: God’s Forgotten Mission, by John Mark Hicks, Bobby Valentine, and Mark Wilson. Dr. Hicks is a former professor of mine, and I “know” Bobby through social media. Both men have written much that has challenged me, and I have been blessed by their thoughts on the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement (Hicks and Valentine), suffering and the problem of evil (Hicks), and the “Jewishness” of Christianity (Valentine). I had not previously read anything by Wilson.

I will go ahead and jump to my overall conclusion and recommendation: this is an important book, deserving of a wide readership (especially within Churches of Christ, which is the primary intended audience). Although Embracing Creation is more complex than I am indicating here, it largely comes down to two significant arguments, which are both based on the biblical reality that God cares deeply about what He has created.

First, humans are to reflect God’s care and concern for creation, and should practice thoughtful stewardship of our planet. Truly, this should not be a controversial claim, but because conversations surrounding care for the environment are frequently hijacked for political purposes, it often is made out to be controversial. Embracing Creation does not argue for a godless environmentalism that holds up nature as something to be worshipped; it does encourage a deep, biblical care for a creation that God calls good, but has been too often treated as expendable and unimportant by humans.

Second, God does not intend that His creation be destroyed, but will redeem and recreate it, and will dwell with creation in the New Heavens and New Earth. This will also be a controversial claim for many, but again, it need not be.* Hicks, Valentine, and Wilson argue (and effectively, in my opinion) that the notion of an annihilated and completely destroyed earth and an eternal existence for God’s saints in an other-worldly heaven is actually a fairly modern notion, and does not reflect the biblical text, the belief of the early church, or the beliefs of pioneers in the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement. Instead, these witnesses all point to a redeemed earth, which will be refined and recreated in a way that is analogous to our own resurrection bodies, and will serve as the location of our joyous eternal existence with God. Three texts which are generally brought up to refute this perspective—John 14.2-3, 2 Peter 3.6-7,13; 1 Thessalonians 4.16-17—are all addressed (and quite adequately, I thought).

Here are some of my favorite quotations from the book:

Creation does not belong to human beings. It belongs to God, and it is the Messiah’s inheritance. We are only stewards and junior partners, though we are coheirs with Christ. (16)

Too often we hear “dominion” in tyrannical, oppressive, militaristic, or manipulative ways, but this is not how God rules. As images of God, we rule in the likeness of God. (39)

Above all, Psalm 104 reveals an astounding truth: creation, animate and inanimate, is the object of divine love. If God, like an artist, dotes so tenderly over it, then should not those created in God’s image reflect the same divine delight, love, and care for creation? (53)

The resurrection of Jesus, then, is the pledge of a future harvest, a preview of coming attractions. It is God’s answer to creation’s lament. (91)

Though chaos remains in the old creation, chaos will disappear in the new. (130)

God’s promise is “See, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5). The text does not say that God will make new things. Rather, God will make all things new. This is restoration, healing, and renewal. (131)

Creation is intrinsically good, and this goodness is not based on its utility for humans. (139)

On one level, it does not matter if “global warming” is real or imagined, caused by nature or humans. Caring for God’s good world is a matter of obedience and discipleship…If the Father is mindful of the death of even a single sparrow (Matt. 10:29), then we, who reflect the divine image, will care as well. (140)

Scripture never says heaven, separated from the earth, is the eternal destiny of the redeemed. Forecasting a doomed earth and an eternal celestial abode can result in an escapist outlook that hunkers down until we “fly away,” diminishing support for creation stewardship. (166)

Before closing, there were a couple areas of the book which I thought were weaknesses. First, I think Embracing Creation is a very challenging read for the average Christian. I have spent years (and years!) in grad school reading books on Scripture, theology, and ministry on a regular basis, and felt right at home with this work, but I found myself wondering how well I would have followed it if I had read it as a young minister before I had any sort of seminary training. Now, the exact intended audience of the book is never stated directly (that I can remember), but because I feel the two main points described above are so important and so often neglected, I wish the book would have been written at a somewhat simpler level to make it more accessible.

Second, there is an intriguing chapter at the end of the book entitled, “God’s Restoration Movement: Revisioning the Restoration Plea.” This chapter will be of special interest for readers from Churches of Christ (or other branches of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement), and basically argues that we should view the concept of Restoration not as a return to the practice and beliefs of the first century church (i.e., a look back to restore the church), but rather, a working towards the time when God will come and redeem all of creation (i.e., a look ahead to restore the entire cosmos). This is a thought-provoking proposal, but ultimately, I think it presents an either/or dichotomy which is not necessary: can we not be a people who seek to follow the basic design, practice, and spirit of the early church while also eagerly anticipating and working toward the day when God will make all things new? Interestingly, throughout Embracing Creation, early Restoration pioneers such as Alexander Campbell, Walter Scott, and David Lipscomb are quoted as men who understood God’s plan of Restoration for all creation, and yet they still held to the idea of Restoration as we have typically conceived and discussed it. Can we not do the same?

With these gentle critiques in mind, the fact remains that Embracing Creation is a compelling and important book. It is a book that not everyone will agree with, but perhaps for that reason alone, it should be read by many people. And as I described above, I think its two main points are scripturally spot-on, and their understanding is greatly needed in the church today.


*Some will hear this and associate it with some version of Premillennialism or Jehovah’s Witness eschatology. What Embracing Creation proposes has nothing to do with either.

Creation, Chaos, and Suffering

Introduction

In the last post of this series, I talked about the Problem of Evil, and the two categories of evil which philosophers and theologians usually talk about: moral evil and natural evil. Generally speaking, moral evil refers to the evil acts that people choose to commit which lead to the suffering of others, while natural evil refers to those seemingly random (or, chaotic) things which occur as a result of the way the world works which bring about suffering. A man killing his wife would be classified as moral evil, while a tornado destroying a house and killing the family inside would be natural evil.

If you take the idea of free will seriously (which I certainly do), moral evil is pretty easy to explain: bad things happen because people abuse the freedom of will which they have been given. We might not like it when a terrorist blows up a building, and we might even wish that God would have taken the terrorist’s free will away in order to prevent the horrific act, but ultimately, we know that people should be blamed for the bad things to do.

Natural evil is tougher to explain away, though. It is clear that we live in a world where chaotic things occur and leave great destruction in their wake: hurricanes, tornados, tsunamis, cancer, genetic diseases. They question is, Why does our world work like this? People do not cause these things to happen—did God design the world to be like this? And if so, why?

There are, I think, four basic perspectives on the idea of creation, chaos, and suffering:

Chaos as the Result of Sin

The traditional view (also called the Augustinian view) is that God created the world perfect, without sin or chaos anywhere. Living in a perfect garden, eating from the Tree of Life, Adam and Eve did not have to worry about tornados or skin cancer (which is a good thing, since they didn’t wear any clothes).

But then sin entered the world through their disobedience, and as a result, creation itself was cursed (Genesis 3.17-19). No longer was the earth the ideal home for mankind which God had intended it to be. Sin had far-reaching consequences, including death and chaotic destruction.

Until very recently, this was the view I held, but as you’ll see below, I think it needs to be nuanced a little.

Chaos as part of the Design of Creation

At the opposite extreme from the Augustinian perspective is the argument that chaos (and suffering) were always present, and were simply a part of the way God made the world. This is the argument set forth by Terence E. Fretheim in Creation Untamed: The Bible, God, and Natural Disasters.

Fretheim points out that God created the world good; He did not create it perfect. In other words, God created an earth that suited His purposes; not one that was necessarily flawless or without chaos present in any way.

Furthermore, man is given the task of keeping and tending the garden (Genesis 2.15). This suggests that creation was not a perfect, finished product, but something which required the keeping and ordering of Adam. Is that not a suggestion of a certain level of chaos?

And finally, what is the presence of the serpent in the garden if not an element of chaos? If creation was absolutely perfect, why would it contain a tempter? Instead, the doorway to sin which the serpent provided and the possible ramifications of that sin strongly suggest a chaotic element in creation even from the beginning.

Having said that, I think Fretheim goes too far. In my mind, it is a huge leap from the hints of chaos listed above to the claim that volcanoes, tsunamis, and genetic conditions were present from the beginning (a claim that Fretheim makes many times in the book).

Chaos Outside of the Garden

The last two perspectives are basically hybrids; midpoints between the two viewpoints already described above.

It is possible that the Garden of Eden was an environment free from chaos, but that the rest of creation was not. When Adam and Even sinned, they were cast out of the Garden (Genesis 3.23-24) and forced to live in the “real world.” Outside of the special haven God had prepared for them, Adam and Eve and their descendants had to live with the harsh realities of the world which included natural disasters and disease.

This perspective is intriguing because it marks a clear distinction between the Garden and the rest of creation (and Scriptures seems to do that as well), but I think it has the same problems as the first viewpoint because as Fretheim points out, there do seem to be some elements of chaos in the description of the Garden

Chaos in Creation but Intensified by Sin

This last option is also somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, and best describes my current understanding of the relationship between creation and chaos.

It seems to me that chaos was always present to an extent, but was intensified and multiplied after Adam and Eve sinned. As the “Chaos as Result of Sin” view accurately points out, creation itself was cursed because of Adam and Eve’s sin, and that fundamentally altered the way things worked.

Water is a chaotic thing, and always had the potential for danger (I would suggest that even in the Garden, if Adam’s lungs filled with water he would have drowned), but after the Fall, hurricanes and tsunamis and the true destructive power of water was unleashed. In the Garden, Adam and Eve grew hungry, and if they had refused to eat, they would have died. But after the Fall, they had to grow their food by the sweat of their brow, and sometimes the ground would fail to yield properly. Famine and suffering result.

Concluding Thoughts

I don’t think it is wise to be too dogmatic about this, because the Bible doesn’t explicitly lay out the relationship between chaos and creation. There is a lot we don’t know and thus, our conclusions can never be certain.

Still, it seems to me that there are a few conclusions that we can draw with relative certainty:

(1) From the beginning, there was a degree of chaos. Creation was good, not perfect. Satan slithered around. The Garden needed to be tended and kept.

(2) That chaos was intensified by the Fall. After Adam and Eve sinned, a curse was placed on creation. It is only logical that this made conditions worse. I do not see natural disasters and devastating illness in the chaos of the Garden, but it is easy for me to see them in a chaos intensified and magnified by the Fall.

(3) Outside of the Garden, life involved suffering. Regardless of the amount of chaos that occurred in the Garden, the Garden also possessed the Tree of Life, and presumably, the fruit of that tree would counteract any illness. In fact, it was access to this tree and the immortality to offered which directly led God to banish Adam and Eve from the Garden (Genesis 3.22).

For us, the reality is that we have to navigate life in a world which is filled with chaos. Outside of the Garden, we suffer. Modern technology has revolutionized health care, and yet there are illnesses and diseases against which we are powerless. Modern technology has allowed us to predict dangerous storms with increasing accuracy, and yet people still die.

As Christians, we look forward to when suffering ceases, chaos is conquered, and Christ returns.

Come, Lord Jesus!

The Fall of Man and the Ecological Consequences of Sin

In the first post of this series on the Fall of Man in Genesis 3 and the widespread devastation of sin, I mentioned that we tend to focus on the theological and personal consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin while ignoring some of the other areas. I think the most ignored of those other areas is the ecological consequences associated with the sin in the Garden of Eden.
Men and women were created to live in relationship with God and with one another, and, in a sense, with creation as well. This is clear in the early chapters of Genesis. Genesis 1.26-30 recounts how Adam and Eve were to have dominion over creation, and Genesis 2.15 mentions that they were to work it and keep it. So in effect, Adam and Eve were to rule over creation, but to do so as stewards who would take care of what God had made.
But following their disobedience to God’s command to not eat of the forbidden fruit in Genesis 3, the ecological consequence is evident, as a curse is placed on creation in Genesis 3.17-19:
“And to Adam he said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; 
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 
By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’” 
This curse makes it clear that the relationship between man and creation has been destroyed as well. And that’s pretty easy to see, right? Rather than embrace our role as stewards of God’s earth, we tend to exploit creation to satisfy our own selfish desires. There are countless examples of companies which have carelessly polluted in order to cut corners and maximize profits, and even “little” problems like widespread littering show a basic lack of respect for the home God has created for us.
And I think there is significant indication in Scripture that the problem isn’t all one-sided: creation itself doesn’t operate the way it was intended to. In Romans 8.20-22, Paul makes this point, speaking of creation in personified terms:

“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.” 

A creation that is subjected to futility, bound to corruption and groans in the pains of childbirth seems distinctly different from the creation that God made and called “good.” I suppose this is ultimately unprovable, but my personal opinion is that the natural disasters that plague our lives—tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, etc.—are symptomatic of the problems Paul refers to, as creation lives out a cursed existence different from the one for which it was intended.1
In sum, sin has devastated this aspect of our existence as well. Creation is less than the good and hospitable home for humanity for which it was created to be, and we fail to care for it as we should.2
• • •

1If my thinking on this is correct, then it stands in judgment against the hurtful things that some religious people say in very public ways following a natural disaster such as “Hurricane Katrina was God’s judgment against the wickedness of New Orleans”. Natural disasters are a condition of our broken world, rather than God’s wrath against a specific people/place. Incidentally, I think the promise made to Noah following the flood (Genesis 9.8-17) that man and creation would not again be judged by a massive flood (and perhaps, by extension, other natural disasters) supports this idea.

2I mentioned the general neglect of this topic, and I think that neglect is itself evidence of the distorted relationship we have with creation. In a significant portion of Christendom, discussion of the creation care is considered to be a “political” or “liberal” idea, despite the fact that environmental stewardship is a clearly biblical principle!

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