IT PROVIDES US THE OPPORTUNITY TO WORSHIP
You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created (Rev. 4:11). Every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: “Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!” (Rev. 5:13).
Not too many years ago I had the opportunity to tag along on a Christian college study trip to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. On a late afternoon that I will never forget, we pulled the school van into the parking area near the frequently photographed little chapel that lies dwarfed on the plateau just east of the Tetons.Our group was nearly alone at the time, so the biology professor pulled out a cassette tape he had brought just for this occasion and put it in the van’s tape player. Instructing us to get out and separate a little from each other, he opened all the doors and turned up to full volume an unforgettable recording of “How Great Thou Art!” Soon the grand scenery was veiled by the tears in my eyes as the words of that wonderful song stirred my soul:
When thru the woods
and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds
sing sweetly in the trees,
When I look down
from lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook
and feel the gentle breeze,
Then sings my soul,
my Savior God, to Thee;
How great Thou art,
how great Thou art!
In such a setting we could do nothing else but worship. It was as though we were living the doxology, praising God from whom all blessings flow and praising Him with all creatures here below. I’m sure for all people in all times, an overwhelming experience with nature has stimulated them to worship.
Having reason to worship, however, does not mean that we will take the opportunity to do so. Paul confirmed this in the first chapter of Romans. Sadly, those who attempt to declare independence from the Creator choose to worship the creation instead. Paul elaborated:
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. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever (Rom. 1:21-25).
The creation is awe-inspiring because it reflects the infinite wisdom and power of the One who conceived it. It holds marvels and secrets that astound all who find them. According to the Bible, this natural world joins the prophets of the ages, eloquently declaring to all people, in all places, and in all times the glory of the Creator God.
For those who reject the Creator, the only alternative is to unwittingly worship the work of the Creator’s hand. Man, the crown of creation who was made in the likeness of God, is the most likely god-substitute. Having found countless ways of using the creation to fashion alternative gods, man indulges his own desire for independence and immediate pleasure. Historically, the sun, the moon, the animal kingdom, the oceans, and “Mother Earth” have all taken turns receiving worship from a rebel race that is bound to worship anything other than the One who alone deserves to be worshiped.
Yet when creation is allowed to speak for itself, the sun, the stars, the mountains, and the oceans join with all of the plants and animals of the world to declare the unsurpassed glory of the one true God.
This capacity of the creation to inspire worship for its Creator has for hundreds of years been celebrated in the hymns of the faith. Consider the song “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” with the lyrics of Henry van Dyke and the magnificent music from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony:
All Thy works
with joy surround Thee,
Earth and heaven
reflect Thy rays,
Stars and angels
sing around Thee,
Center of unbroken praise.
Field and forest,
vale and mountain,
and flowing fountain,
Call us to rejoice in Thee.
This and many other anthems of praise poetically express the truth of the Scriptures, which indicate that the natural world is in many ways a cathedral built with God’s own hands. Entering that sanctuary on a warm spring morning, we can easily sense that all of nature joins with us in worship of the Creator. Like the psalmist, we can imagine the trees clapping their hands and the mountains and streams praising God—praising Him that they can serve Him by doing what they were created to do. Similarly, we need a steward’s empathy for a natural world so oppressed by the curse and abused by sinful humanity that it groans in its longing for the day when it will share in our final and complete redemption at the second coming of Christ (Rom. 8:18-23).
How can we celebrate the wonder of God in creation? By recognizing and enjoying our humble position as fellow worshipers with a natural world, and mysteriously joining together to give praise to our mutual Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer.
IT PROVIDES US THE OPPORTUNITY TO WITNESS
Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom He has redeemed from the hand of the enemy, and gathered out of the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south (Ps. 107:1-3).
I have a friend who is a professor of ecology in a state university. He’s also a committed Christian. A few years ago, he was presenting a Christian view of ecology to an audience that included a nationally influential Jewish rabbi. At the conclusion of the presentation, the rabbi remarked to him, “Your talk almost convinces me that I ought to reconsider Jesus.” My friend, of course, was amazed to hear such a confession. It affirmed for him that a Christian view of creation and its significance is rarely understood outside Christian circles—and only a little less rarely within Christian circles.
From that experience, and many others, this university professor discovered that when the Christian truth about the earth is presented in the hearing of unbelievers, it compels them to listen. The biblical view of the origin, meaning, and destiny of the earth, in combination with the whole of the gospel, provides the only answer for the world’s environmental ills and crises caused by sin. In his book The Body, Charles Colson concurs:
We should be contending for truth in every area of life. Not for power or because we are taken with some trendy cause, but humbly to bring glory to God. For this reason, Christians should be the most ardent ecologists. Not because we would rather save spotted owls than cut down trees whose bark provides lifesaving medicine, but because we are mandated to keep the Garden, to ensure that the beauty and grandeur God has reflected in nature is not despoiled. We should care for animals. Not because whales are our brothers, but because animals are part of God’s kingdom over which we are to exercise dominion (p.197).
The sad fact is that the church has poorly understood and demonstrated the biblical principles concerning our stewardship role over creation. In his book on the Christian view of ecology mentioned earlier, Francis Schaeffer talks about the responsibility of the church to address the environmental stress suffered by God’s creati on:
A truly biblical Christianity has a real answer to the ecological crisis. It offers a balanced and healthy attitude to nature, arising from the truth of its creation by God; it offers the hope here and now of substantial healing in nature of some of the results of the Fall, arising from the truth of redemption in Christ. . . . A Christian-based science and technology should consciously try to see nature substantially healed, while waiting for the complete future healing at Christ’s return (Pollution And The Death Of Man: The Christian View Of Ecology, p.81).
As followers of Christ, if we are not demonstrating care and concern for the handiwork of the God we say we love and worship, we are missing a great opportunity to show the world that the truth of God’s Word addresses all the world’s distresses. In addition, we will suffer from the spiritual anemia that comes from a failure to apply the whole counsel of God to our Christian behavior. We need to understand that we cannot demonstrate respect for our Creator and Savior at the same time we are demonstrating disrespect for His creation. After all, we and creation will share in the eventual restoration and reconciliation of all things (Acts 3:20-21; Col. 1:20).
How can we celebrate the wonder of God in creation? By taking every opportunity to demonstrate to the watching world a proper concern for all things that come from the hand of our Creator.