The Liberation of Creation
by Ted Schroder
Some of the most fundamental questions of human existence are “How do we make sense of the world around us? What is going on in the universe?” The teaching of the Bible and the perspective of Christian faith provides a map of reality that enables us to discover clues to the meaning of the universe. Alister McGrath comments on the words of C.S. Lewis: ‘I believe in Christianity as I believe the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.’ “For Lewis, the Christian faith was like an intellectual sun, illuminating and irradiating the rich conceptual landscape of the natural world, enabling the observer to make sense of, and hence appreciate, the intricate tapestry of human experience and thought. Cultivating the art of seeing is the key to unlocking the meaning of the world.” (A Fine-Tuned Universe, 21)
In Romans 8 St. Paul is helping us ‘make sense of, and hence appreciate, the intricate tapestry of human experience and thought.’ He provides a map of reality that enables us to discover clues to the meaning of the universe. This map reveals a process of salvation and restoration of the whole creation. He uses the analogy of human aging to help us see the whole creation as a system that is aging, to enable us to make sense of the world around us, as well as our own lives.
“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.” (Romans 8:20,21)
The story of the Fall in Genesis 3 includes, not only the Fall of Man and Woman (Adam and Eve) from God’s presence, through their desire to be like God, but also its effects upon the rest of creation. “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, and you will eat the plants of the field.” (Genesis 3:17,18) This curse will not be lifted until the new heavens and the new earth portrayed in Revelation – “No longer will there be any curse.” (3:22) Humanity, when opposing the will of God, degrades the natural world. Nature today is at peril owing to overconsumption. The planet, in many parts, is plundered and poisoned by the selfishness of man. The Fall of Man: our hubris that seeks to play God, threatens the devastation of creation.
St. Paul sums up the result of God’s curse by the one word, frustration.
It means ‘emptiness, futility, purposelessness, transitoriness’ (BAGD). “Once humans seek to discover the full possibilities of their selfhood through disobedient self-assertion rather than through drawing closer to the will of God who made them, their relationship with each other and with their surroundings is at once distorted. Mutual trust is replaced by blame, envy and violence; what has been received as gift has to be worked for, struggled for.” (Christopher Southgate, The Groaning of Creation, 28) The creation, viewed as an evolutionary process, is futile, with the extinction of over 98 per cent of the species that have ever lived.
The creation is in ‘bondage to decay.’ The second law of thermodynamics speaks about entropy – the inevitable and steady deterioration of a system or society. The universe is aging, and in the process is deteriorating, declining, decomposing, and dying. God has subjected the universe to this bondage to decay to remind us of our dependency, our mortality, and our sinfulness. Sin is also ecological. We are meant to be stewards of creation. The creation as a whole, not just humanity, is in need of redemption.
But Paul reminds us that the creation is subjected by God to frustration and decay as a prelude to the hope of liberation. “The story of creation is a forward-looking story in which a tragic state is being transformed, with much suffering and struggle, into one of liberation.” (Cherryl Hunt, cited in Southgate, 94) This liberation will parallel the glorious freedom of the children of God. What God is doing for his children, he will do also for the rest of creation. There will be a new creation, a new heaven and a new earth. Decay, one day, will be reversed. New life will be produced. This is the hope of the Bible, the good news.
“The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.” (Isaiah 35:1,2) Jesus talked about ‘the renewal of all things.” (Matthew 19:28) Peter spoke about the ‘restoration of all things.” (Acts 3:21) “The general promise of the renovation and transformation of nature is plain, including the eradication of all harmful elements and their replacement by righteousness, peace, harmony, joy and security.” (Stott, 240)
“No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found, Far as the curse is found.” (Isaac Watts)
This age in which we live is revealed as a temporal boot camp which is meant to prepare us for the day of liberation which is at hand. In this temporal boot camp there is frustration, and bondage to decay, but we can endure it, because we have the hope of graduation - liberation into the glorious freedom of the children of God. Boot camp is essential, because in it we learn the skills, and acquire the knowledge which will enable us to survive and fulfill our mission. This life separates out the ‘men from the boys’- those who can follow orders, and save lives, from those who can’t. It separates out those who can look out for their comrades, and those who would abandon them for self-interest. It separates out those who are willing to give their lives for something greater than themselves, and those who won’t.
How does this map of reality help us to make sense of our lives and the world around us? It enables us to understand our own frustrations, our feeling sometimes that what we do has no purpose or meaning. It enables us to understand the frustrations of the rest of humanity in its search for solutions to its problems. Generation after generation seeks to deal with its frustrations by various methods: spiritual, psychological, financial, social, political and military. This frustration is the result of the Fall. It is part of the sinful human condition, as is our bondage to decay – our deterioration. But Jesus comes to give us hope, that we and the whole creation will be, one day, liberated from this bondage to decay, and brought into glorious freedom. It is this hope that sustains us with clues to the meaning of the universe. His resurrection overcame death and decay, and ushered in the new age into which we are born: an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. (1 Peter 1:4)
“The book of Revelation portrays every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea joining the saints who surround the throne of God to sing God’s praises (Revelation 5:9-14). If such redemption comes, it will be God’s doing. In a world where what lies behind us has actually managed to happen, almost anything can happen….The same God that lured protozoans into persons may still work on scales that we cannot imagine scientifically….The miracle of a new heaven and a new earth would be a lesser miracle than the fact that this past and present heaven and earth are and have been here in the first place. The story of the last several billion years has not been so much the loss of value as of its transformation into new levels of attainment and power.” (Does Nature Need To Be Redeemed? Holmes Rolston, III, Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 29 (no.2 1994: 228)
The good news is that Jesus has given us this hope of liberation and glorious freedom.
July 12, 2009
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