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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Brokenness and redemption

Creation is broken.

As I write this, oil is pouring from a failed oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. Everyone from British Petroleum executives to shrimp boat deckhands to President Obama is scrambling to figure out how to deal with the brokenness of creation.

Not all of creation's broken state gets so much press, however. Locally botanists are wringing their hands about a little bug called the Emerald Ash Borer. Pretty name for such a noxious critter. It is destroying trees and scientists don't know how to stop it.

A little over a decade ago my family visited the Kenai Peninsula in southern Alaska. In the middle of the gorgeous scenery we saw mile after mile of spruce forest, dead and dreary, pointing barren tops like accusing fingers at the sky. They tell me a beetle was responsible.

We are tempted to romanticize the natural world. Whether you're for or against reintroducing wolves in Yellowstone, there's a temptation to believe that your version of the natural world -- either elk without non-human predators or elk and predators in a life-and-death struggle -- is better than the alternative, is more beautiful, is somehow good and right. But the Bible is pretty clear that sin's effects have spread far afield and now it is not just humanity that suffers from the effects of sin. Sin's impact is not even limited to that which we touch or that which we indirectly pollute. But creation's inherent goodness is somehow compromised by the presence of sin. Notice in Genesis 6 that when God decides to wipe sin from the scene, he not only has to take out the people; he has to eliminate "men and animals, creatures that move along the ground and birds of the air" in order to clean things up.

Lest you think I read too much into a simple Old Testament phrase, let's go look at Romans 8. There's a fascinating passage in the middle of this chapter that I quote here:

19The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.

There's a lot to be said about this passage, but for the moment, see this: Humans in rebellion against God were the downfall of creation. Humans in submission to God through Jesus Christ will be its redemption. Whether this happens through the efforts of people who love and care for creation on this side of heaven, or whether part of our work after Jesus comes again will be the completion and tending of the "new heavens and the new earth", I don't know. I'm content either way, or more likely with a little bit of both.

The Buddhists have an intriguing idea. They talk about the interconnectedness of all things. One of their teachers has said that "all things inter-are." I have no intention of becoming a Buddhist, but I think that's part of what the Bible teaches us. As our sin infects all creation, so our nurture, our love can bring healing to it. Because we are connected in Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all creation, of water, earth, and sky, as the song goes.

So pick that spot you care most about and tend it. Make it beautiful. Let it become a signpost, a preview, of heaven. Why else would God give some people the gift of flower gardening? Without this understanding of creation and beauty and interconnectedness, it is such a pointless pursuit. But given the fact that God uses our sense of beauty to enhance and redeem a broken creation, gardeners should be held in high honor. If you doubt me, look again at the story of Jesus' resurrection in John 20. Is it possible that Mary mistakes Jesus for a gardener because the risen Lord had been digging in the garden and had dirt under his fingernails?

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