Originally published 9/27/2010, this post is at the heart of our core convictions at Care of Creation.
This is a continuation of a series of articles leading up to the third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization that begins in Cape Town South Africa on October 15. Today’s post is a continuation of the last as we move from the Fall to Redemption. Find the whole series to date here.
Like many kids, young and old, I used to enjoy playing with dominos. Not playing the game, you understand, but playing with the tiles. Setting them up in long chains, and when all was ready, carefully knocking the first one over. If all went according to plan, each domino would knock the next one in the line, and one by one, all would fall over. We used that image above to describe the series of relationships shattered by Adam and Eve’s disobedience. As we think of how they are restored by redemption through Jesus, the same domino imagery is useful again. As the domino tiles fall, each pushes on the next, and eventually all are lying flat. But if you want to pick them up, you have to start with the first one that fell over, not with the last one. They have to be set up in the order in which they fell. The same is true as we begin to restore relationships broken by sin.
Just as each broken relationship caused the next one to break, so each restored relationship makes possible the restoration of the next.
Here’s what I mean:
a. We begin with our relationship with God being restored. Theologians call this regeneration. You may refer to it as “personal salvation”. It’s what happens when each one of us, becoming aware of our sins and our sinfulness, comes to God asking for forgiveness and accepting his gift of grace and forgiveness.
Peace with God makes it possible now to experience inner peace as well:
b. Our relationship to ourselves is restored. Adam and Eve revealed inner turmoil when they became aware that they were naked; your experience and mine are similar: A combination of guilt, shame, anxiety, discouragement and despair. An important part of the Christian experience is the gift of inner peace as, having accepted God’s forgiveness, we can be at peace with ourselves. Accepting his forgiveness we can let go the past. Trusting him we can release anxiety about the future. Knowing him we have purpose for living. The agent of this healing process is the Holy Spirit, and theologically we call it sanctification.
People at peace with themselves find it possible to live peacefully with each other:
c. Our relationship with other people is restored. Sin and inner turmoil lead to family and community conflict; redemption and inner peace are the foundation on which we can build a network of authentic relationships, in marriages, in families, and with people all around us – church, work, school. The Bible’s word for God-centered community is “koinonia”, and it is the basis for the institution we call the church. We’re going to have a lot more to say about the church in future posts – for a Christian response to all broken relationships, including those with creation, necessarily centers on the church.
And now, the final stage in redemption: Learning to live together in community becomes a foundation for restoring our relationship with nature and the created order:
d. Finally, our relationship with the rest of creation is restored…
Or it should be.
I expect you were with me through the first three steps, and that you agree with me that the restoration of the first three relationships is a natural and expected result of God’s redemption. Relationships restored are an indication that a person is a follower of Jesus. You can tell by looking at their lives. People who have their sins forgiven should experience inner peace and joy. They should have marriages and families and community relationships that exhibit the grace and peace of God. We can’t see a relationship with God, but we can see that a person is at peace with himself and his fellows.
Conversely, lack of progress in any of these relationships is a spiritual warning sign. For example, Peter tells husbands to treat their wives well, “so that nothing will hinder your prayers” (I Peter 3:7). There is a direct correlation between a husband’s relationship with God, as measured in the effectiveness of his prayers here, and how he treats his wife. The same is true of parents and children.
But my relationship to creation? Do I really want to go there? The same logic would mean that how I treat my dog and how I treat my lawn and how I dispose of batteries is a measure of my faith. This is a leap few of us have taken, but it seems hard to avoid.
If our relationship with creation is broken because of sin (and it is)…
Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you… [Genesis 3:17]
And if the redemption that brought us salvation was intended to restore that relationship (and it is) …
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. [Col 1:19-20]
And if non-human creation is waiting with anticipation for that relationship to be restored (and it is) …
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. [Romans 8:19-22]
Then the conclusion is unavoidable:
Our relationship to creation is part of the same process as all of the others. And just as with the other relationships, a positive relationship here is a sign of spiritual growth and maturity – and a poor or negative relationship is a warning sign of problems. In fact, how I treat my dog and my lawn and how I dispose of my waste really is a measure of how well God’s redemption is working in my life.
Caring for God’s creation matters.
[Note: This article is excerpted and revised from my book, Our Father’s World: Mobilizing the Church to Care for Creation, chapter 5: “Reversing the Curse”. Order the book here.]