Genesis 3:17, Genesis 1:28

Genesis 2:25, Romans 8:19-24

A severe thunderstorm blew in during the church’s vacation Bible school. Mrs. Murphy’s third grade class huddled quietly together under the table until it passed. Then the students resumed their work, writing letters to God. Here is Tim’s: “Dear God, We just had a bad thunderstorm here. And what I want to know is this. Is Mother Nature in your family?”

What with tornadoes, drought, severe winters, and earthquakes, indeed, we all might well wonder about Ma Natures’s family background!

The fact is, we live in a tough and tender universe. The same fire that cooks our food and warms the home can maim and kill. The wind that cools a hot, sultry August afternoon while rustling a lullaby in the leaves can spawn a destructive tornado. And then there is water. It quenches our thirst, bathes our bodies and sometimes drowns our children. It is a steel and velvet universe. And we live here amidst tough and tender forces.

So the question again: Is Mother Nature a part of God’s family? The Christian answer is, “Yes, but…” Ma Nature does belong to God, but she is deformed. We sing the hymn, “This is My Father’s World.” Creation does belong to God. But it suffers from sin and a curse.

This Is The Way It Was

The Bible opens with the story of Creation. There in Genesis one and two the Lord sets about making earth an optimum human habitat. The sea, dry land, the wind and the stars, plant life, animal life— God made them all.

As one reads the account of the original creation it becomes obvious that it was a place of harmony. The environment was so temperate that clothing was unnecessary. Fresh, nutritious food was to be had for the picking. Man and animals lived together in close communion with no fear of savagery. There is no mention of illness, disease, storms or death. It was, very simply, paradise. And man found himself living right in the middle of it!

But, as we have studied in previous chapters, there came Satan, temptation, disobedience, and the fall. And the result was not only a broken man, but a broken creation as well. Not only did Adam and Eve become sinful and abnormal, creation became abnormal, as well.

Creation Is Broken

This, then, is the point of Genesis 3:17, the first text. Because of man’s disobedience God said, “Cursed is the ground because of you.” He did not curse people. He cursed the environment. And the effects of that curse became immediately apparent. Man’s optimum human habitat became less than optimum. The woman experienced pain in childbirth (Genesis 3:16). Thorns and thistles began to blight the land (3:18). At one time it is hot enough to sweat (3:19). And another time it is so cold God had to provide animal skins for Adam and Eve’s warmth (3:21).

Now man is afraid of snakes (3:15). He begins to prey upon animals for their hides (3:21). Gone is the harmony of Eden paradise!

And now death is mentioned for the first time. “You are dust, and to dust you shall return (Gen. 3:19).

We still live in a broken and cursed world today. The same ecological judgement which Adam and Eve faced we face as well.

There is the fallen environment with all its earthquakes, tidal waves, floods, droughts, severe winters and pestilences. Such woes make life miserable, if not impossible, for millions around the globe.

Then there is animal savagery. Strong predators prey upon the weak. Only the fittest survive. The shark attacks the smaller fish. The lion devours the antelope. And the snake eats the field mouse. There is evidence in the Bible that nature red with tooth and claw is not as it was intended to be. Isaiah 11:6 following describes a coming day when…

“The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,

And the leopard shall lie down with the kid,

And the calf and the lion and the fatling together,

And a little child shall lead them.”

The prophet goes on to envision how cows and bears shall eat together, lions shall eat straw like an ox, and a child will play with snakes and be unscathed. “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” says God. Here we plainly see that this dog-eat-dog world is abnormal. It is fallen from God’s original intentions. But there will come a day when God will put it normal again.

Fallen creation is not only evidenced in the natural order and the animal kingdom, it is also evidenced in man’s being, as well. Birth defects, flu, epidemics, allergies, cancer, and death are also expressions of a world gone awry. Even the population explosion can be seen in this light. God told man to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 1:28). But the Lord did not tell us to overfill it. In 1976, the earth’s population reached four billion. By 1990 we reached 5 billion. And soon we’ll pass 6 billion. And as we are not now adequately caring for the nutritional needs of six billion people, just think of the deprivation seven billion will experience!

Have you ever noticed how there is a tendency to blame God for the catastrophes that strike the earth? When there is an earthquake, people silently wonder why God did it. When there is a drought, men beg the Lord not to withhold the rains any longer. I know I once preached in Calhoun, Georgia, just after a horrible tornado had passed through killing a number of people. A lady who had lost a loved one asked me why God had judged the community so harshly. But I don’t think God is any happier with disasters than we are! I don’t think God causes tornadoes and earthquakes. The Bible teaches that this world is broken. It is abnormal. And God is working to normalize it again.

If you study Scripture thoroughly, you will find that God is seldom the cause of calamity. The Lord often permits misfortunes, but He does not will it. Satan, the fallen angel, is the initiator of destruction. Consider this in the book of Job. Satan tells God that the only reason Job is faithful is because the Lord has blessed him materially and with health. “Quit being Santa Claus, take his luxuries and health away, and he will not serve you,” Satan wagers. God then gives Satan permission to afflict Job. And what does Satan do? He uses war, fire, disease, and storm winds to afflict Job’s family, destroy their homes, and kill them (Job 1:19). Here Satan is seen as able to control lightning, wind and disease. Sure, he has to have God’s permission to do it, but he is the malevolent force behind it, not God.

There is a sense in which Satan can possess the natural order. We have already seen that the devil possessed a serpent in Eden in order to tempt Eve. This ability to possess nature is evidenced in the New Testament as well. In Mark 9:14-29, Jesus cast a demon out of a small boy. He used a certain Greek phrase in rebuking the demon and casting him out. This same Greek rebuke is used again in Mark 4:35-41 when the wind storm is threatening to sink the disciples’ boat. Jesus rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” (Actually, the Greek says, “Peace! Be muzzled!”) It is as if Jesus is exorcizing the storm like He did the small boy. It’s as if he is muzzling the demon, just as we would a vicious dog. So you see that it is more scriptural to blame Satan for the woeful destructions that come upon man than it is to blame God. The Lord is loving. Satan is hateful. God does not accept creation like it is. He is working to change it. But Satan is at odds with God. He seeks only to destroy.

Broken Man On Broken Earth

Not only does the Bible teach that creation is fallen. It teaches that mankind is fallen upon fallen creation. The Lord told man to be fruitful, to subdue the earth, and have dominion over it (Gen. 1:28). He told Adam to dress the earth and keep it (Gen. 2:15). But, again, man has not obeyed God. We have raped the earth and left the environment unkept. It is as if man is sick and wants the whole environment to be sick with him.

You will remember that the man Legion in his unregenerate state was something of a pollutant (Mark 5, Luke 8:26-39). He was naked and unwashed. He was always crying out night and day. He was, you might say, a walking case of eye, ear and nose pollution. The human race is still in Legion’s condition today. Our environmental hygiene is very poor.

During the Great Depression, people went without basic needs. Then came World War II, and men were further deprived. After the war, people began to grab for all of the things they could get. It’s as if people were saying, “I’ll never do without again!” To satisfy man’s appetite for things, western industry since the war has steadily spewed out goods and services not only meant to meet man’s needs, but also to indulge his wants and desires. It is nothing to go into a home that has three television sets, four automobiles, toasters, shower massages, motorcycles, and gadgets like hot combs, trash compactors and electric toothbrushes. People don’t need, but are wanting and getting, their second homes, clothes by the closets full, and their air conditioners and frivolous trips. My, how people love their things! And we have turned into idolaters. Our new god is materialism. He is a god fashioned from our own hands, yet we have made him supreme. He is the answer to all our prayers. He is the god of Wall Street, Madison Avenue, and Pennsylvania Avenue— the god of things, things, things!

The ecological crisis that we now face is an old story really. It is the story of the monster Frankenstein. Remember the plot of Mary Shelley’s novel? Man creates. Man begins to worship what he creates. And then his own creation turns and destroys him. Look at what we have done to the air in our quest for things. Fumes, smog, fallout— did you know that children in Los Angeles are frequently discouraged from exercising during school recess due to air stagnation? And look at our rivers and oceans. A river in New York state actually caught fire it had so much waste in it. The fire department had to come and put the river out. The chemical kepone dumped into the James River now threatens the lower Chesapeake Bay with environmental disaster. Here in North Carolina the chemical PCB has contaminated the ground water in the central Piedmont. So much garbage, oil, and radio-active material has been dumped into the ocean that Jacques Causteau, the famous French oceanographer, said, “In 1967 I would say that 25 percent of the ocean’s vitality had been lost. Fish are disappearing; plants are disappearing.” Things have gotten so bad in some places that one fellow has erected a tombstone beside the ocean in California. “The ocean was born (and he gives a hypothetical date), the ocean died A.D. 1989. The Lord gave; man hath taken away; cursed be the name of man.”

There is a modern fable that imagines a conversation between Gabriel and God. The archangel Gabriel has just returned from inspecting earth and he is reporting to God on the depreciation and property damage inflicted by the tenants of the planet earth. The angel says, “God, you must face the facts. You have a choice piece of real estate and undesirable tenants. By any conceivable rule of property management, you have but one choice.” Then Gabriel, raising a golden trumpet to his lips, says, “Shall I sound the eviction notice now, Lord?” The Almighty Landlord sighs deeply, and says, “I know, Gabriel. I’ve seen what they’ve done to my air, my rivers and land. It breaks my heart. But don’t blow your trumpet yet. I keep thinking that sooner or later people are going to stop acting like they own the place.” The Scripture teaches that “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” (Psalm 24:1). As such, we do not own anything. We are only tenants. The Lord put us here to have dominion over the earth, to wisely dress the earth and keep it. But we have disobeyed the Lord. And now the earth is even more broken and fallen. Perhaps a Wintu Indian best summed up man’s busted relationship with the environment when he said, “…The white people rip up the ground, pull up the trees, kill everything. The tree says, ‘Don’t. I am sore. Don’t hurt me.’ But they chop it down and cut it up. The spirit of the land hates them… How can the spirit of the earth like the white man? …Everywhere the man has touched it, it is sore.”

God Will Redeem Both Man And Creation

What is the good news concerning man’s relationship with the environment? Is the news all bad? Must things get worse? Must the earth go on harming man with its fitful storms and quakes? Must man go on working his fallen ways on creation? Must things get worse? The Bible talks about salvation here. Romans 8:19-24 teaches that creation is waiting with “eager longing” for the day when it will be set free from God’s curse and fallen man’s greed and sloppiness. The Bible teaches that the Lord is working to redeem both fallen creation and fallen man.

We have seen that the man Legion is an example of sinful man. He was a walking pollutant! But the Lord’s salvation offered substantial healing in this area of his fallen relationships. Legion became clothed and in his right mind. He was no longer a public and ecological nuisance! As Christians saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ, we have this healing offered us as well. What we need to do is draw out that salvation to its logical conclusion in our lives. We need to manifest love towards God’s created order. To do this it is necessary to become involved, to find out what the issues are, to learn to implement God’s tenant regulations (Gen. 1:28). We also need to see that our personal lives witness redemption in our environmental relationships. We need to strive to raise the world’s level of consciousness concerning creation, to tell them what time it is ecologically. And we need to strive to pass sound legislation which acknowledges the earth as belonging to God, not a possession to treat as we please.

Here is just one example of ways people are making a start in cleaning up the earth and managing resources more wisely. Vermont and Oregon have passed laws requiring that all beverage bottles be returnable and reusable instead of throwaway. Someone has projected that if this were done nationwide, we could save $1.6 billion annually in the cost of beverages. On top of that, the energy equivalent of 1.8 billion gallons of gasoline could be saved, not to mention the eradication of 8.7 million tons of solid waste each year. But to pass such a bill would destroy jobs for thousands of people. And therein lies our dilemma. How do you save the environment without destroying the economy? If any of you young people are looking for a job, here is a vital one! This country needs experts in the field of ecology and economics! You see, our economy is at least partly built upon waste and over-consumerism. To get back to a sound ecological stewardship is no easy task. To do it we need ecologists who won’t destroy the economy while helping to save the ecology, and we need economists who won’t destroy the ecology while maintaining the economy.

Not only does the Bible teach that God is redeeming fallen man, that as Christians we have a responsibility to love our neighbor, which in this case is creation; the Bible also teaches that God will redeem fallen creation. The psalmist said, “The Lord is good to all, and His compassion is over all that He has made” (Psalm 145:9). God’s redeeming love does not stop with people. It extends even to the rocks and trees and to the animals. Noah invited even the animals to come into the ark and be saved (Gen. 7). The blood of the Passover lamb not only saved the firstborn of Israel’s children; it saved the firstborn of the animals as well (Exodus 11:1-12:36).

I know a young girl who had a pet horse which she loved dearly. As the horse got older, the girl began to wonder if salvation included animals. She asked her pastor and he scoffed at her, saying, “Of course not! Salvation is only for people!” That pastor was wrong in his views. Romans 8 teaches that all “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.” “The Lord’s compassion is over all that He has made” (Psalm 145:9). See in Revelation 19:11 how Christ Himself returns on a white horse. And where did He get that horse but in heaven itself! So, not only man but the entire creation of earth and animals will be redeemed. A hopeful and vivid picture of this is found in Revelation 21 where God describes a new optimum habitat created for His children.

“Then, I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was not more. And I saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a great voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people… He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have all passed away.”

The Good Book

It is said that a good book opens quickly, develops a conflict, and resolves it by the end of the volume. The Bible is like this! It opens quickly with the creation. The conflict comes only a few pages into the book of Genesis. There is the fall of both man and creation. And then the rest of the Bible tells what God is doing to reconcile this abnormal world. Finally, in Revelation, Chapter 22, on the last page, in the Bible’s last chapter, the curse of Genesis 3:17 on the earth is removed. There is a new world coming! But we can do more than hope! We can do more than wait! We can reveal ourselves to be sons of God by living more at peace with the environment (Romans 8:19). We can work to make the man-environment relationship better until God Himself comes to make it best.

Paradise Lost… And Found

If you go into the lost and found department of a large store, you will discover all sorts of misplaced objects that have turned up. Umbrellas, watches, brief cases, jackets, handbags, even children turn up lost. But did you know that there is a great lost and found department for the universe? That’s right! And not only has man turned up lost in it, the creation has as well. But these articles have not gone unclaimed. In the cool of the evening God has come looking for us. He has come to redeem us, to reclaim that which was lost. So in this sense is paradise lost…and found!

Suggested Prayer

Lord, simplify my lifestyle. Give me a respect for earth as your property. Amen.

“Man shall not live by bread alone, but

by every word that proceeds

from the mouth of God.”

Jesus Christ

Matthew 4:4

Myrtle Grove Presbyterian Church

800 Piner Road

Wilmington, North Carolina 28409

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THESE SERMONS ARE MADE AVAILABLE THROUGH THE VOLUNTARY CONTRIBUTIONS OF FRIENDS LIKE YOU.

To be added to the mailing list, simply write to the address on this cover. This sermon is also available on our web page: http//www.hows.net/28409mgpc

(For those of you who receive the sermon by mail and the opportunity to get it on the Internet, please inform the office and we will remove your name from the mailing list.)

Wanda Locke

"The university is the clear-cut fulcrum with which to move the world. More potently than by any other means, change the university and you change the world." Charles Malik, past president of the UN General Assembly

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