by Pastor Doug Kings
At the conclusion of last week’s Reflections I wrote,
Our increasing alienation from our planetary home and our alienation from God are not unrelated. To be at home with God requires we be at home in and with God’s creation.
This may sound contemporary or “new age”, yet it is as old as the Bible. This is made clear in a post by Justin Coutts titled “How the Bible Teaches That Nature Speaks.” Coutts, a Canadian, is like many spiritually seeking people in describing himself with multiple “tags.” Raised a Quaker, he has attended a mainline Protestant seminary but has also learned from ancient Celtic spirituality, Native American traditions and practices, as well as Christian mystics and contemplatives.
Coutts draws our attention to the joyous words of Psalm 96.
O sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.
It goes on to describe God’s wonder and the need for all who know God to declare how wonderful God is—and that “all” does not mean just human beings!
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
let the field exult, and everything in it.
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the Lord; for he is coming,
for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with his truth.
What Coutts makes clear is that this not hyperbole or metaphor. The psalmist genuinely believes that, simply in their being, all parts of nature witness to the glory of God, their creator.
It’s only humans, however, who can fail in this. Due to our alienation from God, one another, and our own selves, we miss the glory of God in all those dimensions. So this is where nature can potentially step in to save us from ourselves. If we respect the natural world around us and are in harmony with it, then we will see and hear its witness to the One who is our origin and our life.
As Jesus approached Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Luke says the Pharisees tell him to rebuke his disciples for shouting his praise. Jesus responds, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” When humans fail in their natural responsibility it is up to the rest of creation to step in.
This praise is not about meeting God’s ego needs. Rather, it is simply all creation recognizing and celebrating the wonder and beauty God has instilled in the creation. This is what we miss: that the divine glory is present in every cell and atom of our body and in the depths of our being: our love, our individuality, our creativity, our energy, our knowledge, our joy.
The stars know this, the mountains know this, the plants and animals all know this, but we have forgotten, or live as if we have. And sadly, because of the power (“dominion”) God has given us, in our alienation we are able to spread the consequence of that “forgetting” wherever we go, hurting all that’s around us: our fellow humans but also the creatures and inanimate wonders of our world.
Our alienation from nature and our alienation from God are two sides of a coin. As Genesis testifies, in our ignorance we want to be like God but without even understanding what that means. This, of course, was the teaching of Jesus, that God is love, not domination or exploitation. That we are already in the presence of God here and now whenever we live with compassion and generously share the gifts we have been given.
It is the Bible’s belief, Coutts says, that the creation is declaring God’s wonder and will to us, if we will pay attention. Nature has much to teach us, if only we will listen.
We are meant to tend the garden of Eden not to exploit it. We are meant to care for the other creatures of the earth, not to treat them as raw materials for our industrial dreams. We are meant to hear the words of the sun and the stars, the trees and the flowers, the stones and the waves, and we are meant to join them in praise of the great mystery which has created us all and given life to this one unique rock orbiting a small star in the corner of a galaxy somewhere.
The Bible teaches us that the law of God is spoken without words to all the earth by the movements of the sun. It teaches us that animals have wisdom and trees give knowledge. It teaches us that the stones of the earth and the waves of the sea praise God. And it teaches us that our special place in creation is to tend this garden and rule over it. So, dear sisters and brothers, what will you do with that knowledge?
Blessings in your life and ministry. Pastor Doug