feast: Creation Stewardship
Our Responsibility to God's Creation
Martin G. Collins
Given 03-Oct-01; Sermon #FT01-02; 61 minutes
In this timely message on the environment, Martin Collins points out that to worship nature is idolatry, but to care for the environment is obedience to God. We as Christians should strive to be the most conscientious environmentalists or creationists in the world because the world because the earth and its fullness are the Lord's (Psalm 24:1-2). Our responsibilities in the Kingdom of God could well depend on our current environmental stewardship. Calvin De Witt has identified seven (godly) provisions of creation, including (1) energy exchange from the sun (2) soil and land building (3) cycling, recycling and eco- systems (4) water purification (5) fruitfulness and abundant life (6) global circulation of water and air, and (7) human ability to learn from creation. Even though man has sullied and degraded every one of those provisions, God will have the final word. As God's offspring, we must get in sync with His stewardship principles.
I want to tell a story about Glenna Street. I warned her ahead of time that I would do this. It fits in with the sermon somewhat.
She was making a call, as many of us do. It was either a government agency or a company of some sort. You know how when you get on the phone they say "Press one for this, press two for that." And it was a long menu of things to push. The last choice was, "or say help." So she was fairly confused as we are sometimes, so she said "help." Nothing happened. She said, "Help!" Nothing happened. Her frustration was rising at this time. She said, "Help! Help! Help! Help!" Well, her loving son Ty came running into the room and he said, "What's wrong Mama, what's wrong?!?!" We have all experienced something like that.
Well, God's creation is also yelling for help. We know why—because of the sins of mankind. A quote in Christianity Today stated something I find hard to believe.
"Our belief in God drives our environmental concerns."
Recently, a poll conducted by the authors of Environmental Values in American Culture (MIT Press), revealed some surprising news: Most Americans agree with the statement,
"Because God created the world, it's wrong to abuse it."
That, to me, is an amazing find in that poll. This includes people in the United States who are not Christians or who do not attend any churches.
But, as we human beings reject God, proportionately we abuse His creation. That is exactly what is happening today in our nation and in the world.
We may privately acknowledge the need to be better stewards of our natural resources, but we generally stay away from groups and organizations working on environmental issues because we suspect they are either too "liberal," or that they are "New Age."
According to this poll, average Americans want to take better care of the earth for a similar reason that we (Christians) do: God made it. That is at least according to what they answered.
Thankfully, more true Christians are motivated more by obedience to God's Word than by fears spread by environmental extremists. But, many mainstream Christians, especially in the United States, seem to feel that ecology is of no real deep concern, and they (speaking of mainstream Christianity) emphasize the "human soul" [rather than the physical world].
The question is not the motives or politics of others who are concerned about the environment, but where biblically informed and godly motivated care leads us. We should do a better job of caring for the environment because "the earth is the Lord's, and everything in it."
In Exodus 19 God told Moses to tell the children of Israel:
Exodus 19:5 "Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine."
Exodus 9:29 says, "As soon as I have gone out of the city, I will spread out my hands to the LORD; the thunder will cease, and there will be no more hail, that you may know that the earth is the LORD's."
Psalm 24:1-2 The earth is the LORD'S, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein. For He has founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the waters.
There is no doubt who is the Creator of our environment, of nature as we see it.
At this point, I want to tie in a connection to Deuteronomy because I think it is fairly important.
Deuteronomy 1:8 "I have set the land before you; go in and possess the land."
Now, all of the way through the book of Deuteronomy, it talks about possessing the land. For the physical Israelites, we know what that means—that in the Millennium they will go in and possess a land. They will be required to be obedient to God in order to possess that land. And they will be required as a way of responsibility to take care of that land.
But for us in the church, in the firstfruits, what does that mean? What does it mean for the spirit beings who will be around during the Millennium? The land basically represents a kingdom.
All kingdoms have to have something. Mr. Armstrong told us three things. I believe it was: territory, subjects, and law. And that land in Deuteronomy in God's Kingdom will represent that territory, that land. By extension, that is talking about our responsibility to the territory of the Kingdom, to the far-reaching ends of the universe and beyond. We will go into the Kingdom and possess that territory of the Kingdom of God.
To possess the land means to be responsible for it. We will have that responsibility. But will God give us that responsibility if we are not taking care of our own environment, taking care of God's creation, if our homes are not neat and clean, if our yards have five old cars going back to the 1930s piled up in the back? Look at your environment personally and say, "Would God want me to rule a city, or five cities, or ten cities in His Kingdom and have them look like this?" Absolutely not.
Nothing in the New Testament suggests that the biblical concern for creation was canceled by the coming of Christ. It was quite the opposite! Jesus Christ was very interested in the environment and used it in many of His parables.
The beauty of nature is part of Jesus' point in His picture of "the lilies of the field," which surpass even the splendor of Solomon's clothing as you well recall in Matthew 6:28-29.
Equally important is Jesus' command to "consider" the lilies of the field, in part, a call to aesthetic contemplation of the beauty of nature and by extension for us, in a spiritual way, a contemplation of the beauty of the Kingdom that we will be part of.
In the risen Jesus Christ we see the first fruits of a renewed creation. With God's help Christians should be the most effective environmentalists in the world, the most balanced and sincere. Our belief in a Creator, not crisis scenarios, should drive our environmental concerns.
Today, I am going to be using the words: creation, nature, and environment interchangeably. Although, I prefer the term "creation" as in God's creation. Maybe, we should get in the habit of using the theological term "creation" instead of the more secular environment or nature. Because when we use the word creation, we are automatically attaching it to our Father and Jesus Christ the Creators.
The theme of how creation tells of God's glory and love is echoed throughout Scripture: God lovingly provides the rains and cycling of water, provides food for creatures, fills people's hearts with joy, and satisfies the earth. All of this is described through nature.
It is through this manifest love and wisdom that creation declares God's glory and proclaims the work of the Creator's hands. Creation gives clear evidence of God's eternal power and divinity, leaving everyone without excuse before God.
Romans 1:20-21 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
But today we often acknowledge God as Creator without grasping what it means to be part of creation. We have alienated ourselves from the natural processes. As human beings, we abuse God's creation without realizing that we thereby grieve God.
Of God's magnificent provisions in creation, Let's identify seven at this time. These provisions, many of which are described in Psalm 104, point to the beauty and integrity of what God has made.
Through the ages they have led to wonder and respect for the Creator and creation. They also magnify the seriousness of our era's many times reckless disregard of our Father's world—our modern society today.
Christianity Today ran an article in June of this year entitled, "Don't believe everything you hear about the church and the environmental crisis." One segment of the article was written by Calvin B. DeWitt. It was titled "Myth 2: It's Not Biblical to be Green."
Calvin B. DeWitt is an environmental scientist with the Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also guest lectures at many theological colleges across the nation in this very subject of environment. He lists seven provisions of creation that I thought were worthwhile for us to take a look at to really appreciate God's creation to see how involved God is in it and what a genius God is.
The first provision of creation is Earth's energy exchange with the Sun. Our star, the Sun, pours out immense energy in all directions, heating anything in the path of its rays, warming us of course. A tiny part of the Sun's energy is intercepted by our planet. This energizes everything on Earth. The Earth becomes warm —— but not too warm—so it is perfectly balanced.
The provision of these greenhouse gases —— in just the right amounts —— makes Earth warm enough to support the wondrous fabric of life we call the biosphere. It works very much like the glass of a greenhouse that lets sunlight in, but makes it difficult for the heat to get out.
Anyone who is in school right now or has been in school recently knows about the greenhouse effect. Anyone who has read their papers has heard about it. It is associated with the environmentalist and the "New Age" movement, but nevertheless it is an affect that happens within our biosphere.
The Sun's energy also contains lethal ultraviolet radiation. This can break up chemical bonds that hold together molecules and thus disrupt and destroy living creatures and tissues. Of special concern is the breaking up of DNA, the genetic blueprint of living things. Doing so can kill microscopic creatures and induce cancer in larger ones.
But because God had originally had designed everything in balance we didn't as individuals have to worry about skin cancer. But because of the imbalance man has caused, now we do. Not only through the arguable "greenhouse effect" but also in our diets.
But here we find another remarkable provision of the Creator. For in the gaseous envelope of Earth-high in the atmosphere —— we find a gas that absorbs ultraviolet light: ozone. This forms the "ozone layer" or "ozone shield."
Not much ozone is present; although it spans a layer several miles deep in the atmosphere. If you collected it at 32 degrees Fahrenheit at sea level around the Earth, it would measure only about one-eighth inch thick. Is that fine-tuning of our environment by our Creator? It is amazing.
Nature as a mighty order —— even a hierarchy of being —— is evident in Psalm 148, where the poet marches down the scale of nature from "the heavens" to "the earth" to "all peoples." The notion of control underlies the picture of how God shut in the sea with doors and prescribed bounds for it.
Job 38:8-11 - "Or who shut in the sea with doors, when it burst forth and issued from the womb; 9 When I made the clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band; 10 When I fixed My limit for it, and set bars and doors; 11 When I said, 'This far you may come, but no farther, and here your proud waves must stop!'
We see there an example of God's power and His care in creation.
The daily circuit of the sun in Psalm 19:6 is another picture of the regularity and design of nature. The interdependent organism portrayed in Psalm 104:10-18, for all of its diverse splendor, reveals nature's order and control. So it must have a Designer. It must have a Creator. It must have a Sustainer.
The second provision of creation is soil and land building. Many of us know from gardening that soil can be made more productive through tilling and composting. This process also takes place unaided by human cultivation. Climate, rainfall, and soil organisms work together to make soils richer and more supportive of life.
This entails a remarkable variety of cycles. It requires a carbon cycle, a water cycle, a nitrogen cycle, and so on. This constant process enables even bare rock eventually to support a fabric of life to living things.
What a remarkable provision that is—that just bare rock, just in the course of nature, will eventually become able to sustain abundant life. It is amazing how slow the process is.
But this soil building teaches patience. That is a lesson we can learn out of God's creation. It may take a century to produce just one eighth-inch of topsoil. It is amazing how slow the process is. In this way the land is nurtured, refreshed, and renewed—all by God's design.
The writers of the OT reveal that they belonged to a nation of farmers: people approached Creation with a gardener's and a farmer's interest. We see that throughout many examples in the Bible. They are very encouraging examples of Gods' glory and His power, His care and His genius. The clearest example is Psalm 104, where creation is emphatically good for something (useful, in other words).
The poet is in the psalm interested in what the various forces of nature contribute to creation's ongoing existence —— water for animals, trees for birds, grass for cattle, plants for human beings to cultivate, and so on.
Genesis 2:8-9 - The LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. 9 And out of the ground the LORD God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
In an agrarian society in which nearly everyone is dependent on land and nature, the luxury of contemplating nature in a disinterested way is just not an option because their very being relies on it. In our society today, where we just go to the grocery store and pick up a carton of milk or we pick up a can full of vegetables, we sometimes forget where that has come from. The amazing design God had to put into our biosphere in order for us to receive that so conveniently and so easily. That is one of the drawbacks of being away from an agrarian society.
In the millennial setting, the norm will be places where people "make gardens and eat their fruit."
Amos 9:13-15 - "Behold, the days are coming," says the LORD, "When the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; the mountains shall drip with sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. 14 I will bring back the captives of My people Israel; they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them; they shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them. 15 I will plant them in their land, and no longer shall they be pulled up from the land I have given them," says the LORD your God.
So God is even going to plant the people. He uses the terminology of "planting the people" in an abundant land.
As human beings live God's way of life in the millennium they will have a much closer more fulfilling relationship with God's creation. Through which they will better understand the intelligence, the wisdom, the love of God, the genius of God. It is through Creation that people really get a feel for God's genius. I am speaking of people that are unconverted, who do not have God's Holy Spirit, who just cannot read the Bible and see God's genius. But through the Creation, they can live it. They are learning the lessons of that without even realizing it.
The third provision in creation is cycling, recycling, and ecosystems. Recycling is not a recent invention. It is not one that man has created recently just to get rid of his garbage. But it has been around since the beginning of time because God is a recycler with the way He designs. The whole creation uses and reuses substances contained in soil, water, and air—constantly refurbishing the earth.
Carbon dioxide breathed out by us —— and raccoons, lizards, and gnats —— enters the atmosphere later to be taken up as the carbon-based raw material from which to make the carbon-based substances of life—one minor area in the design of God's creation. This is, in turn, transferred to the animals and microscopic life that depend upon it for food. And soon these consuming creatures return the carbon back to the atmosphere through breathing, or by their own decay and death—thereby using it most efficiently.
Water, too, is recycled. Taken up by animals, it is released through breathing, sweating, and releasing —— finding its way into the atmosphere, or through sewage —— treatment plants back to rivers and streams. Turn with me to Psalm 104. I've mentioned this several times already. Taken up by the roots of plants, some is pumped up through the bundles of tubing in the roots, stems, and leaves of plants and back to the atmosphere. That moisture joins water evaporated from lakes, streams, and other surfaces and forms rain and snow that again water the face of Earth.
Psalm 104:10-13 - He sends the springs into the valleys, they flow among the hills. 11 They give drink to every beast of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. 12 By them the birds of the heavens have their home; they sing among the branches. 13 He waters the hills from His upper chambers; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of Your works.
So what we are seeing in our biosphere is the fruit of God's good works in a physical way. This provision in Creation shows God working hard, as a result producing fruit. God's involvement in Creation teaches us that the producing of fruit, whether physical or spiritual requires work, lots of effort, lots of knowledge, and lots of wisdom.
The fourth provision in creation is water purification. It relates very closely to number three that we just finished. Some water percolates through the soil to the ground water below and supplies the springs that feed wetlands, lakes, and ravines; we call this percolation. If you go buy land and you want to build a house on it, one of the first things they require is the "perc" test. That is where the word comes from—"to percolate"—how fast water will go through your soil.
In similar fashion, water that percolates through soil or rock is filtered, but usually over much greater distances. The result is that by the time it is pulled through our wells or through springs, through the rivers, and we are able to get clean drinking water by God's design. We have so polluted this earth that we have to artificially filter the water before we drink it. I understand from Ronny Graham that the water under the lectern here is distilled water, filtered water as well. It is a shame that we have to go that route.
Psalm 29:3 says, "The voice of the LORD is over the waters; The God of glory thunders; The LORD is over many waters."
God's sovereignty includes His design of the earth's water purification. God's design and God's works and His involvement is so important, so necessary, and so deeply involved in the environment around us. Yet many times we just abuse it. I have been trying to recycle more lately after preparing this sermon. But every time I use a plastic cup or bottle, I feel a little guilty. We are in a society in which in many cases we are stuck using this in this way. Yet we have to do our part in taking care of our environment firstly and to be concerned about the environment as a whole. Because as I said earlier, will God give us a city to rule if the environment we have, our home, looks a mess. I doubt it.
The fifth provision in creation is the Fruitfulness and abundant life. Of the known flowering plants alone, there are 250,000 species of orchids, grasses, daisies, maples, and sedges. And each of these interrelates with water, soil, air, and other organisms, forming the interwoven threads of the household of life we call the biosphere—God's creation.
It is estimated that there are somewhere between 5 million and 40 million different species of living creatures. This biodiversity is so great that we have just begun to name the creatures on earth. This is just the kind of provision you would expect from a remarkably creative Genius, of course, God.
Now here in Psalm 104, we will continue and read verses 24-25.
Psalm 104:24-25 - O LORD, how manifold are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all. The earth is full of Your possessions— 25 This great and wide sea, in which are innumerable teeming things, living things both small and great.
Another complimentary dichotomy that the Bible makes much of consists of the related qualities of order, design and control in His creation. On the one hand, and energy, abundance, and excess on the other hand you have order, design and control. Sometimes they seem to contradict, but of course they don't because God has designed them very closely to work together.
We find a certain extra abundance and energy in nature that always threatens to overwhelm the design that is equally a part of nature. The sheer multiplicity of natural activity that God is said to oversee in the 38th and 39th chapters of the book of Job creates an image of overflowing energy—of abundance. That is the way God does things—in abundance. But there are requirements. And the requirements, of course, are obedience and reverence to Him.
Nothing stands still in the pictures of nature in the Bible: water flows, vapors ascend, lightning flashes, the sea roars. When God waters the earth, He does so "abundantly." God doesn't simply have snow and hail at His disposal——He has "treasuries" of them as Job 38:22 tells us. Some translations for treasure say "storehouses." God has storehouses of snow and sleet and rain.
To the biblical imagination, pastures can be so lush that they make the wilderness drip, a grape harvest so abundant that the mountains and hills drip and flow with wine, and a harvest so lavish that harvesters get in the way of people who want to plant the next year's crop as in Amos 9:13.
The sixth provision in creation that God has designed is Global circulations of water and air. Because of its 23.5-degree tilt, our Earth gets unequally heated from season to season. Both seasonal and daily differences cause differentials in Earth's temperatures. This, in turn, produces temperature gradients that drive the flow of water and air from place to place, of course, by God's design.
Atmospheric and oceanic circulations are vital provisions for maintaining life. Carbon dioxide produced by animal and plant respiration and oxygen produced by photosynthesis are released
to air and water. Carbon dioxide is moved around so that it comes into contact with plants that reincorporate it. And, oxygen is similarly circulated by air and water currents. Global circulations provide the "breath of life" on a planetary scale. All this by God's design.
Job 33 and verse 4 says, "The breath of the Almighty gives me life." Well, this sheds a little bit more light on that—that the circulations of the earth, that God has created, are a type of God's breath and they give life.
The seventh provision in creation is Human ability to learn from creation. This is the most important for us. Human beings are endowed by God with minds that integrate what creation teaches us. Through observation and experimentation, we are able to revise our models of the world to represent reality better by comparing what we are doing in life to God's creation. King Solomon commanded that the sluggard to "go to the ant" to learn a lesson about self-motivated industriousness.
Nature functions as a moral teacher. Jesus commands us to contemplate the lilies of the field, not simply for their implied beauty, but to learn a practical lesson about the uselessness of worry over one's physical needs for food and clothing.
Matthew 6:28-34 - "So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 "and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 "Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 "Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32 "For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 "Therefore do not worry ...
All 7 of these provisions of Creation carry a condition in order to receive them from God. Of course, that condition is that we obey and reverence Him.
Moses re-emphasized the ground rules to Israel, even though they existed beginning with Adam: if the people keep God's commandments, He will give the rain for their land in its season" and "grass in their fields for their cattle.
Whereas if the people disobey, God will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain, and the land will yield no fruit."
Deuteronomy 11:13-17 - 'And it shall be that if you earnestly obey My commandments which I command you today, to love the LORD your God and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, 14 'then I will give you the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the latter rain, that you may gather in your grain, your new wine, and your oil. 15 'And I will send grass in your fields for your livestock, that you may eat and be filled.' 16 "Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them, 17 "lest the LORD'S anger be aroused against you, and He shut up the heavens so that there be no rain, and the land yield no produce, and you perish quickly from the good land which the LORD is giving you.
In one sense, human beings can mute and diminish God's testimony in creation. We have the ability, in the words of Revelation 11:18, to "destroy the earth." Nearly every day now, we learn about new destructions of land and creatures. While some reports are dramatized and overstated, professional technical literature , that is proof, again and again describes new and increasing instances of environmental degradation.
There are "seven degradations" accepted by the scientific community. Practically every one of these degradations is a destruction of one of God's provisions in creation, one of the seven that we just heard about.
The first is Land conversion and habitat destruction. Since 1850, people have converted 2.2 billion acres of natural lands to human use. Now, that is not necessarily wrong. This compares with Earth's total of 16 billion acres that have some kind of vegetation and current world cropland of 3.6 billion acres.
We know that this conversion of land is taking many different forms: deforestation (forests), drainage or "reclamation" (wetlands), irrigation (arid and semiarid ecosystems), and opening (grasslands and prairies). The greatest conversion under way is tropical deforestation, which removes about 25 million acres of primary forest each year —— an area the size of the state of Indiana.
The immensity of this destruction illustrates our new power to alter the face of the Earth. The problem is not that we are converting areas of the earth, but that as a human race we are sinning and ignoring God and doing it our own way—basically spitting on His creation.
The second degradations is Species extinction. The prophetic vision in Isaiah 11:9 of a millennial time when predators will no longer "hurt or destroy" awakens our awareness of how often animals in a fallen world represent terror. ("fallen world" meaning our world today) And, that terror for human beings is manifested in the annihilation of such creatures. A prime example of that is what happened this summer when all of the sharks attacked. The most common comment I heard was, "Let's start killing them." That is not a balanced approach.
I feel for the people who where attacked. But when you are bobbing up and down in an ocean full of sharks looking like bait... There is a natural design in that, which God has placed in that, so we have to use wisdom as individuals when we interact with God's creation.
The third degradation that scientist agree upon is Land degradation, which we spoke a little about. What once was tall-grass prairie we now call the Corn Belt; here we grow the corn that feeds hogs, cattle, and us. In much of this prairie, two bushels of topsoil are lost for every bushel of corn produced (that is permanently lost), due in part, from ignoring God's command to let the land rest every 7 years. So how are we producing so much corn? ... by destroying so much soil. We are using chemicals in the way of fertilizers.
Part of the "fallenness" of creation is its tendency to decay. If creation is mighty in the Bible, it is also fragile. The most common archetype that biblical writers use to make the point is "the grass of the field," which seems always to be on the verge of death in the Bible's pictures of it
Psalm 90:3-6 - Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men. 4 For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night. 5 Thou carriest them away as with a flood; they are as a sleep: in the morning they are like grass which groweth up. 6 In the morning it flourisheth, and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down, and withereth.
We see there that the earth is very fragile, but God has designed it in such a way that it can endure everything except sin. It's in the nature of the earth's design that it will change.
Psalm 46:2 is probably a picture of land erosion or earthquakes. It says, "Therefore we will not fear, Even though the earth be removed, And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea."
In Romans 8:20-21 Paul spoke of the creation being "subjected to futility" and in "bondage to decay." IF we allow ourselves to, we can be in bondage to sin. This world is certainly in bondage to sin. Well, the earth is in bondage to decay.
The fourth degradation is Resource conversion and wastes and hazards production. Some 70,000 chemicals have been created by our ingenuity. Unlike chemicals made by organisms and the earth, some cannot be
absorbed back into the environment. Among them are many specifically designed to destroy life: biocides, pesticides, herbicides, avicides, and fungicides. If I'm not mistaken, the suffix —cide means "to kill."
Although Leviticus 18 is speaking of moral and spiritual abominations, these abominations cause the people to degenerate and become perverse so that even their treatment of the earth is destructive.
Leviticus 18:24-28 - 'Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for by all these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you. 25 'For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants. 26 'You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations, either any of your own nation or any stranger who dwells among you 27 'for all these abominations the men of the land have done, who were before you, and thus the land is defiled), 28 'lest the land vomit you out also when you defile it, as it vomited out the nations that were before you.
It is interesting the terminology that God uses to describe a land full of sinful people and what happens to the environment.
The fifth degradation is Global toxification. Of the thousands of chemical substances we have created, hundreds have been discharged or have leaked into the atmosphere, rivers, and ground water.
This happens through "disposal" and from vehicles, chemical agriculture, homes, and industry. Some join global circulations like DDT. Even as early as the 1960's DDT was found in the Antarctic in the animals there. Cancer has become pervasive in some of the herring gull populations of the world. And biocides appear in a remote lake on Lake Superior's Isle Royale.
One of the most pervasive illustrations in the prophecies of judgment is God's use of natural disaster to punish a sinful people.
Amos 4:6-8 talks about God withholding the rain. It says He made the rain and He makes the drinking water. But He withholds it against sinful people. Without rain, whatever water is in the ponds and the wells is further polluted, more easily polluted, and more susceptible to pollution.
Even in narrative passages of the Bible the withholding of rain can be God's chosen means of judgment. And a downpour of rain can be the means of military defeat. So God uses His creation for His purpose and His plan both to bless and to punish.
The sixth degradation is Alteration of planetary exchange. I am going to skip through this one very quickly. Basically, through what is called the greenhouse effect and through other pollutions in the earth's atmosphere, the earth is becoming so imbalanced that the earth's global circulations are being thrown off. This unbalance is causing unbalanced global warming and cooling. We only hear about the warming, but there is both warming and cooling. And this is setting everything off. There has been some debate on the degree to which this is happening, but that it is happening seems clear.
An important aspect of these alterations in Creation is its destructive power. The positive twist on this is that it demonstrates the power and glory of God. But the negative side is that people are vulnerable in the face of creation's fury. A vivid impression of this potential is the flood that sweeps people away.
I will just refer to is, but Psalm 69:14-18 says that God pulls people out of the deep waters. "Let not the flood water overflow me," is what the psalmist is requesting, "nor let the deep swallow me up." He talks about, "deliver me because of my enemies." Well, these deep waters represent our trials, and our enemies the evils of this world. God is there to pull us out of these. What is used to describe that is God's creation.
The seventh degradation is Human and cultural degradation. One of the most severe reductions of creation's richness concerns agrarian cultures that have lived peaceably on the land for centuries. Small farmers around the world are being pushed off their own lands by corporate farms dominating the global agriculture scene.
Six centuries before Christ, Jeremiah described the undoing of creation. It is very interesting.
Jeremiah 4:23-26 - I beheld the earth, and, indeed, it was without form, and void; and the heavens, and they had no light. 24 I beheld the mountains, and, indeed, they trembled, and all the hills moved lightly. 25 I beheld, and, lo, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens were fled. 26 I beheld, and, indeed, the fruitful place was a wilderness, and all the cities were broken down at the presence of the LORD, and by his fierce anger.
Jeremiah was witnessing through the Spirit cosmic catastrophe. It is the story of Genesis 1 in reverse, and probably pictures the coming Day of the Lord. Neglecting to do God's will in the world is not new, and its environmental consequences have been known for more than two thousand years. You can read more of that in Jeremiah 5:22-23, 30-31.
What is man's responsibility to the environment?
The question of how "environmentally concerned" a Christian should be has become very popular during the past few years. It is taught in schools. We see it in the newspapers. There are many, many nature shows about it. It always seems to have the wrong slant—meaning they base it in evolution.
Genesis 1:26-28 tells us that God created man and woman in His image and gave them dominion over all the earth. This included all the animals that God had created as well as the entire earth itself.
God also charged their descendants with the care for all the earth. Even after the curse, God never withdrew this responsibility. We must care for the world that God has given to us as if God were there with us caring for it with us. And for we having His Holy Spirit, He is here with us.
Although Scriptures are in general agreement with many of the ecology groups that man is responsible for his environment, Christians disagree with them on the question of why the environment is important and how it should be maintained. That is why I said earlier that we take care of the environment. We take care of God's creation because God commands us to and it is part of our love by keeping the Ten Commandments that we received from God. We not only love each other but God's creation as well, thus take care of it.
Peter tells us that the earth will someday be restored by Christ and that ultimately God will destroy it by fire; replacing it with a new heaven and a new earth. Well, these ecology groups look at it as if man is going to destroy the earth. God isn't going to let that happen.
II Peter 3:10-13 - But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. 11 Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, 12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat? 13 Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
The Bible is very specific about the fact that the ultimate destruction and restoration of the earth is God's working and is not related to man's "fine-tuning" of the environment.
Another reason that many people support ecology issues is that they seem to view nature as a form of God; their care for the planet is a type of worship. This is where Christians tend to back off and avoid, like the plague so to speak, and we should. The whole "new age" religion emphasizes ecology and "oneness" with nature. This is nothing new. During Jeremiah's time people perverted their relationship with creation by worshipping it.
Jeremiah 2:26-28 -"As the thief is ashamed when he is found out, so is the house of Israel ashamed; they and their kings and their princes, and their priests and their prophets, 27 Saying to a tree, 'You are my father,' and to a stone, 'You gave birth to me.' For they have turned their back to Me, and not their face. But in the time of their trouble they will say, 'Arise and save us.' 28 But where are your gods that you have made for yourselves? Let them arise, if they can save you in the time of your trouble; for according to the number of your cities are your gods, O Judah.
Again, God clearly teaches that this is not a valid reason to care for the earth.
In Isaiah 45:5, Isaiah quotes God as saying, "I am the LORD, and there is no other; Besides Me there is no God." We know that God is the Creator, not the created. We have no doubt of that.
Colossians 1:16-17 - For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.
Mainstream Christians sometimes say that "biblical faith" has little in common with the environmental cause. Even worse, some Christians fear that teaching people to enjoy and respect creation will turn them into pantheists. That's just not the case.
To worship nature is equal to idolatry. To care for our environment, as commanded, is obedience to God.
One reason that we are commanded to care for the earth is as a training in of responsibility and stewardship. We as the firstfruits of the kingdom, more than anyone else, have to learn this lesson of responsibility and stewardship for the reasons I mentioned before—that God will not give us rulership over anything if we have not shown we are capable of it.
The orderliness of the world ecosystem attests to the sovereignty and beneficence of its Grand Architect. We have to exercise stewardship over the natural world to ensure that we don't efface or erase the marks of its Designer. God is a wise conservationist, and people, made in his image, are to act as caretakers of His world.
We also have to put things in the right perspective and realize that our responsibility to the earth is less important than our caring for each other. This lesson is illustrated in Jonah 4. Here, God reminds Jonah that he has no right to care more for plants and trees and cattle than for the 120,000 people that lived in Nineveh.
Jonah 4:9-11 - Then God said to Jonah, "Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?" And he said, "It is right for me to be angry, even to death!" 10 But the LORD said, "You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. 11 "And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left— and much livestock?"
Now, more than ever, people need to gain God's perspective on what things really matter most —— on what the right priorities are. And, of course, we human beings are the right priority. The brethren are the right priority, and the well being of each other. But at the same time, we are in training to take care of God's kingdom, and the territory in God's kingdom.
God's Creation is the agency of God's providence in the world —— in the sense of: providing for the needs of creation, guiding the history of nations and developing the character of individuals.
The psalms of praise regularly cite provision through creation as a primary activity of God.
Psalm 147:8-9, offers as evidence of God's benevolent provision for His people the fact that He prepares rain for the earth, he makes grass grow upon the hills. He gives to the beasts their food.
When Jesus wanted an image to picture God's universal provision for the human race, it is an illustration from nature: In Matthew 5:45 He says, God "makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust."
God's creation is many things in the Bible, and it unleashes the imagination of the biblical writers. It is both artistic and useful, both picturesque and awe-inspiring. Creation can be both innocent and fallen, both an orderly, controlled design and an overflowing energy and abundance.
Richard read to you Romans 8 yesterday, but it is so important to this concept that I would like you to turn to it.
Creation serves God —— in providence, in the sending of blessing and judgment, and in the revealing of God's nature.
Romans 8:18-23 - For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. [That is, God's spiritual creation in us.] 19 For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation [That is, the physical creation.] was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. 23 Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.
To close this sermon, I would like to read to you the last paragraph of Herbert Armstrong's book: Tomorrow ... What It Will Be Like.
As I read this, I have a request for you. I would like you to take a deep breath right now and let it out slowly. Close your eyes and imagine what the world tomorrow will be like!
"Crime, sickness, disease, pain and suffering, gone. Poverty, ignorance banished. Smiles on people's faces —— faces that radiate. Wild animals tame. Air pollution, water pollution, soil pollution, gone. Crystal pure water to drink; clean, crisp, pure air to breathe; rich black soil where deserts, mountains and seas formerly were, producing full-flavored foods, and fantastic beauty in flowers, shrubs, trees. A world filled with happy radiating humans, guided, helped, protected, and ruled by former mortals made immortal —— and all the humans realizing that they, too, may inherit everlasting life in supreme happiness and thrilling joy. What a fabulous picture!"