The Comfort of Creation

When you want to instill hope and encouragement in someone where do you normally point them? When you counsel people where do you often take them? Where do you point people that they might know comfort and solace? I have three anchors I encourage people to tie into when the winds are high and the waves are big—and even when the seas are calm. The three C’s: creation, cross, and coming. I see a pattern in Scripture that calls on us to look back to the cross and forward to the 2nd coming of Christ for our confidence and support. Nothing surprising here. But creation as a source of comfort, thats a bit unexpected. Here are three examples of this approach.

What message would bring hope to the exiled Israelites? They had lost everything and yet God calls to Isaiah, “comfort, comfort my people” (Is 40:1). How should Isaiah accomplish this task? What should he say? What follows in Isaiah 40 is a creation sermon. Isaiah calls the exiles to behold God and then he recalls many of his creative acts. He wants to remind them of his greatness, power, ability, and self-sufficiency. He wants them to understand that the Creator is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the God of the covenant they have received. Their hope for restoration is rooted in a covenant keeping Creator. It is pretty amazing to watch God preach this creation sermon and bring it home to his people. It’s definitely worth a read.

How about Job. How would you approach a man in this situation? It is simply amazing to watch God engage with him. He sits Job down and gives him a thorough creation lesson. This is incredible. Of all the things God could have said he he chooses this! I think there is something significant here. He preaches creation to to humble, comfort, and awe Job. We know God’s intention was not to crush Job with his words. God’s activity toward him was laced with compassion and mercy (James 5:11). Through his exposition of creation he reminds Job of his providential concern for him. He demonstrates his intimate knowledge of Job. He helps Job recognize his love for him. Apparently creation is exactly what Job needed.

What message would you bring to seven local churches facing persecution and even death? This is the daunting task of the apostle John in the book of Revelation. I think this book is one of the clearest examples of rooting the church in all three C’s. Look at the last two chapters of the book and what do we see. Another creation sermon—with a new creation twist. John paints a wonderful picture for us of the new heavens and new earth that God will bring at the end of the age. It is this creation restored that should stoke the flames of hope. It is the hope of life with the Lamb and his people on this earth that pushes the church to endure even unto death.

Apparently God sees creation as a significant source for counseling. Jesus confirms this when he uses a sparrow as a baseline for thinking about how much God cares for people (Matt 10:31). He turns to creation to encourage his disciples of God’s concern for them. I wonder where else we see creation used in Scripture to counsel and comfort the people of God. Can you think of further examples of this theme? Let me know your thoughts. I am really interested in thinking more on this.

Creation and the Neighbor

As you might have noticed I have been thinking a lot about creation and its significance for us. Many of my thoughts about this theme have come from an ongoing dialogue with a very close friend of mine, Jason Nichter. For the last five years I have appreciated his brotherhood, his sharp mind, and his deeply pastoral heart. He has done good work on this topic and I am thankful for his willingness to share some of his thinking here.

In previous posts Kory has pieced together for us different building blocks related to creation. In this post we’ll discuss one more implication flowing from our theology of creation: how we view The Neighbor.

We’re informed in Genesis 2 that God built man out of His previously created dust, and breathed life into him. This “creation out of something” pattern (see previous post) is continued in the calling God puts on man to be “fruitful and multiply and fill the earth,” (1:28). The creation chain is not started by God throwing ingredients in an oven and seeing what kind of creature comes out. “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (1:27). God’s design was to create all of humanity to reflect his characteristics, and none of his creatures to lack significance.

God’s intention for his created men and women to be significant image-bearers is a tremendous compass for us in social settings. God created every person, which means every person that crosses your path is important. The Neighbor who interrupts your reading at a coffee shop – important. The Neighbor who calls you when you’re listening to your favorite song – important. The Neighbor fast food restaurant worker who serves you your spicy chicken sandwich – important. They were all created by God, and as such they are all significant enough to warrant your conscious attention.

Additionally every act of service that we perform – whether related to our occupation, charity, or general good nature – is validated. There is no place of employment beneath us, because we are contributing a good to a community of “neighbors” created by God. There is no act of service without importance – even pushing the breaks on our car to let grocery shoppers cross is contributing to preserving the image bearers God made.

Perhaps this is why after explaining loving God as of first importance, Jesus said, “The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:31). No one understood the neighbor more perfectly than Christ Himself. Indeed through Jesus, God was showing us one who reflected the intended image in creation perfectly (Col 1:15,19), and did so on our behalf (Col 1:21-23). He smashes our breach of his creation by being the perfect creature-lover for us.

So trust Christ’s restoring work done for you. Put away your smart phone when your neighbor is talking to you. Preserve your highest attention for the people around you, and not social media. Be thoughtful towards the person in front of your face throughout the day. God created those neighbors of yours. Let’s celebrate Christ by being like Him for the benefit of The Neighbor.

The Gift of God in the Book of Lamentations

The presence of Lamentations in the canon points us to the kindness and graciousness of our God. The simple fact that you can open up a Bible and find this book there testifies of a God who deeply cares about us. It is God’s voice toward us and our voice toward him all at the same time. It is an inspired account of an anguished people voicing their pain to God. As we listen closely we discern the voice of God in their cries and laments. This is God’s word to us about how God would have us communicate with him. It is a gracious invitation to engage with a gracious God in the midst of horrific circumstances. It’s divine inspiration and placement in the canon is a gift. We are the richer for its solace and voice. Where would we be without such a companion in our darkness? What would we do without such rigorous expressions and metaphors to articulate our deepest emotions?

This book gives us voice. It instructs our voice. It emboldens our voice. It testifies to us that though we lose everything we never lose our voice. All else may be stripped away from Israel, but they still have their voice to cry, petition, and lament. This he will never take away. He has bound himself to us by a covenant that guarantees his ear. He will hear. He must hear. He has bound himself to do so. Thus when all else is removed—possessions, vocations, health, friends, family, and freedom—one thing remains: voice. We see this in Israel, the slave in Egypt. We discern this in the shrill cry of Job. We recognize this in the exiled people of God. The loss of all things except voice is manifest most clearly in a carpenter outside the Jerusalem wall. Stripped of everything but his voice. The cry of forsakenness is a bold refusal of silence.

Do you see the gift of God in authoring such a book?  He knows our frame. He knows our limits. He knows our needs. He instructs us in the way of pain and suffering. He invites us into a bold dialogue with himself and he gives us the words to speak. Pain is inevitable in this earthly sojourn. The pathway through pain to peace and rest is not inevitable. Bitterness, callousness, faithlessness, and despair are very real ending points for our experience of pain. Lamentations is a canonical declaration of God’s commitment to walk with us through the pain. This is a commitment I am thankful to be on the other end of and a gift that I am very glad to receive.

Desperation and the Design of the World

Why were you born into your family? Why were you born at a certain point in history? Why were you born in a certain geographical location? Why were you born with a specific ethnicity? Why were you born rich or poor? Why do you have the job you are working? Why are the circumstances in your life the way they are? The litany of why questions could go on. But check out these verses for a minute. They come from Acts 17:26-27.

“From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.”

His design for the lives of his creatures is desperation. He orchestrates all the details of our existence, from big to small, in order that we might seek after him. There are many things we don’t know or understand about our backgrounds, circumstances, and challenges. But one thing is certain from this text. Their is design in them. I believe there is application here for both the believer and unbeliever.  In God’s grace he arranges things in such a way to push us to pursue him. This is the hidden gift in bitter suffering and pain. This is one certain reason why things in your life are the way they are right now.

Creation by Transformation

In Genesis 1-2 we encounter three types of creative activity. God creates out of nothing. God creates out of something. And finally, God creates by transformation. I want to focus on the third for a moment. We can see this dynamic in days 1-3 of creation. After God creates light out of nothing we are told that he separates it from darkness (1:3). He then names what he has divided. “Darkness, your name will be night. Light, you will now be called day.” The division between light and darkness is creative transformation. He takes what he has made and brings about change.

We know from 1:2 that the earth was covered in water. On day 2 he goes to work transforming this situation. This part of the creation account has always intrigued me. God speaks to the watery earth: ” Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters” (1:6). The result is a division of waters. Some remains below and some is held above (1:7). Day 3 picks up where he left off. He gathers the waters below into one place in order to allow the dry land to appear (1:9). He then names these two creatures earth and sea.

God speaks a formless world into existence (1:2). Like a potter he takes his clay and begins to shape it into something beautiful. He takes some of the clay and makes other things out of it (plants, animals, humans). The remainder of the clay is transformed by the steady hand of the divine artisan (separation of light and darkness, land and water). This is whats going on in creation by transformation. He is working the clay.

God chose not to create a completed world. He chose to create one that needed further work. It’s like a man who chooses to buy a plot of land and build a log cabin with his own hands. He is not interested in a pre-fabricated cabin. He wants to roll up his sleeves and use the resources on his own land. He loves the feel of the hammer as he transforms his plot into a home. I think creation by transformation reveals a God who loves to work. According to Genesis 2:2, God wore a hardhat for six days and the universe was his construction zone. Here we have the seeds of a theology of work and vocation.

The God who works is revealed further in the coming of the Son. The life of this carpenter is an extended sermon on the doctrine of vocation. In the incarnation he takes up his tool belt. His project is our salvation. The vigor of his labor stains his brow with sweat and blood. His vocation leads him to Golgotha, the construction site of the new creation. To complete his work he must relinquish his hammer. Instead of pounding nails he must receive them. On that bloody wood beam we behold the glory of the God who works for us.

Creation Out of Something

In the last post we discussed God’s ability to create out of nothing. In the creation account we learn that this is just one way he fashions things. He also shows his ability, skill, and power by making things from other things. He does not create trees and plants out of nothing. He commands the earth to bring forth vegetation (Gen 1:11). He uses the raw material he has already created and from that makes these things. He does the same thing with livestock. Listen to the language in the creation account. “And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds…'” (Gen 1:24). God issues an imperative to the earth and it obeys! The earth immediately gives birth to living creatures. Not from nothing, but from the dust these come forth. God creates out of something. The same thing is true when he created us. He did not declare, “let there be humans.” He could have. Instead he molded us from the dust of the ground and then breathed life into us (Gen 2:7). We were created out of something.

Creation out of something shows us fresh things about our God. It shows his power to take from one thing and bring forth something else. It demonstrates his skill and creativity. Who would have guessed that a cow could spring up from the ground! Who could have imagined that a human being could be fashioned from the dirt! Only a brilliant and capable artist could conceive and execute such a feat. It also demonstrates a humility that will be shown again and again throughout Scripture. God loves to work through created things to bring about new creation. He certainly could have bypassed the earth to create living creatures. But he didn’t. He chose to work in and through the earth to make that happen. He is a co-worker with creation to bring about creation.

Creation out of something also teaches us some things about us. It instructs about bonds that have been forged in the created order since the beginning. There is a reason why living creatures and humans were fashioned from the ground. We were created for the earth and the earth for us. We are earth bound creatures. Our feet were meant to walk this earth, forever. This is why a new earth is our eternal destiny and not some disembodied heavenly state. This is also why birds and fish were not made from the earth. The sky is the home of the bird and the water that of the fish.

There is  a lot of theology that disparages life as simple creatures on this earth. We are led to believe that spirituality is about transcending our creatureliness. We are told that the goal of this life is escape from this earth and our limitations as humans. This is simply not so. We will only know freedom when we embrace the fact that we were made in the dust and for the dust. We belong here. All the down to earth activities of living are deeply important. We need rescue from sin, not the earth. We need resurrection for our bodies, not liberation from them. We need salvation from our rebellious attempts to be gods who refuse to embrace our glorious position as creatures. We were not made for the sky. We were made for the earth. We need a Savior who will come and restore us and the dirt we come from. In Christ we have such a Rescuer—the Creator who became dirt dweller and enacted the eighth day of creation. His birth, life, death, and resurrection affirm our earthly existence and rescue us back into it.

God’s Toolbox is His Mouth

From nothing God creates. This is the affirmation of creation ex nihlo (out of nothing). With no raw materials he brings forth something. From his powerful word springs forth that which he speaks. His word does what it says. This is an important aspect of God’s work in both creation and salvation. It is a truth that should bring us tremendous comfort and hope.

It assures us that we serve an omnipotent God who is beyond capable of fulfilling all that he has promised to us. This truth shows us that our Creator contains within himself all the resources necessary to accomplish what he desires. He is the only being in the universe that is truly self-sustaining and without need. He is not dependent upon any created thing. His freedom should be liberating to us. It is his lack of need that makes him capable of fulfilling our every need.

For me it is comforting to know that God can make something out of nothing. If he can speak a fish into being then he can certainly transform the disaster called my life. If he can raise Jesus from the dead ex nihlo (Rom 4:17) then he can make my life into something of value. God is in the work of making beautiful things when he has absolutely nothing to work with. I love this. It gives me hope. It means he can work with me. It means he can work with you.

All that God does is directly tied to his word. This is no exaggeration. Creation by word out of nothing. Salvation by word out of nothing. God is a workman and and his toolbox is his mouth.