30. Valuing our World

Meditations in Meaning & Values  30. Valuing our World

Gen 1:1,31   In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth ….. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.

We could not end a series about values without thinking about the world on which we live. Over the past fifty years a number of organisations have sprung up concerned with the welfare of the world. For instance Greenpeace whose vision statement declares “The underlying goal of all our work is a green and peaceful world – an earth that is ecologically healthy and able to nurture life in all its diversity.”  What has been a shame is that Christians have been so heavenly minded that they missed the boat when it come to caring for God’s world.

So let’s ask a basic question: why care about this planet, what we do to it, how we treat it?  A hundred years ago we would probably have viewed it as a big planet which was immune to our activities upon it. Today we see it as a ‘global village’ and holidays to all corners of the earth are common making it feel much smaller. Global warning has made us aware that what we do on the earth does affect it. Back in the past century there was a growing awareness that pollution could devastate local nature. Preservation and conservation are common words in the call to care for wildlife, plant or animal. All of these trends have caused voices to be raised in the name of preserving this world, saving the earth from destruction. Survival has moved on to the agenda. But is survival, as important as some would make that appear, the only cause to think about this world?

As Christians our starting place must surely be that the Bible firmly tells us that God created this world, He made a great job of it, and He made it for us.  The Bible tells us that God is spirit (which I sometimes define as ‘energy with personality’  recognising that is about as far as we can go in understanding ‘spirit’) but He created and formed a ‘material’  or ‘physical’ world. Various thinkers from the past, Plato being a notable example, distinguished between material and spiritual on a bad and good basis. This was a false dichotomy because God creates both material and spiritual and when He had finished making this material world we read, as in our verses above, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”.  If material had been bad then God would never have had his Son come to the earth in human form. After he was raised from the dead Jesus still had human form, even though it appears to have had some additional abilities. Amazingly when Jesus ascended back to heaven, he did it with a physical, human body.

When you start contemplating the world that God has given us, the mind starts to boggle. I always remember the quote that I once heard that there are well over a thousand sorts of edible bean in the world. Why? Why not just six, say? Our TV screens give us the answer: God clearly likes variety.

Solomon clearly had revelation when he wrote the book of Proverbs and no more so than in chapter 8 as he personifies wisdom in what has to be a description of the Son at the Father’s side during Creation: “I was the craftsman at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.” Prov 8:30,31) What a beautiful picture! Rejoicing in his whole world”! And even more, “delighting in mankind”.  How amazing, the Son enjoying the wonder of the world his Father was bringing into being and allowing him to help with.  This says this world means something to the Father, it is His work of art and therefore the way we think about it will reflect something of how we think about Him. This world reflects Him as the apostle Paul wrote, “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.” (Rom 1:20)

But of course Sin entered this world and it is not quite as it was when God first made it: “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 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. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (Rom 8:19-22) Whatever else these complex verses say, they say that the world was affected by Sin (which God knew would happen) so that death and decay are ‘normal’ parts of it now, but the coming of Christians points to a new possibility yet to come. We see that new possibility right at the end of the Bible: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” (Rev 21:1) However we see this, certain things can be stated: a) this present world has a limited duration, b) God will remake both heaven and earth at some future time but note c) there is no indication that the ‘new earth’ is anything less than the original material (physical) earth that God originally created. A new physical earth appears clearly on God’s agenda for the future – yes, a physical earth. God clearly likes the physical dimension He has created, as well as the spiritual dimension.

So here we are, a world to care for and to enjoy, God’s gift to mankind. It is of limited duration because, it would appear from the revelation of the New Testament, God knows than mankind will abuse the present world, and so He plans a new earth at some future point. Enjoy it, thank Him for it, be careful with it. It is of immense value to Him quite clearly, so may it also be so for us.

And with that, I sense this series should come to an end.

39. Love & Death

Meditations in 1 John : 39 : Love and Death

1 John  3:14,15   We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.

The word ‘life’ appears 12 times in this letter. Death just appears twice here and three times in chapter 5. John’s focus is, therefore, very much on life, but here he contrasts it with death. We have seen how a number of times he contrasts light and darkness; well now he does the same thing with life and death. Of course this is spiritual death he refers to because he says “we have passed from death”.  We had been dead but now we are alive. Link this with the light and darkness concepts and think of death being like living in the darkness of a cave. That was not where we were designed to live but sin had imprisoned us there. Through the work of Jesus on the Cross we have now been delivered out of that cave into the open air, into the light where we are free to enjoy the world as God designed us to do.

Let’s chew on this idea a bit more. The psalmist uses this idea of a big open place to contrast the imprisonment he felt when opposed or oppressed: They confronted me in the day of my disaster… He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.” (Psa 18:18,19) and “You have not handed me over to the enemy but have set my feet in a spacious place.” (Psa 31:8) Life means enjoying the freedom of God’s world in the way God has designed us to enjoy it and that includes enjoying Him. Spiritual death refers to being unable to sense things – a dead man senses nothing – unable to sense the goodness of God’s world, unable to enjoy it as we’re designed to, unable to sense God Himself. Yes, we have passed from death to life.

But that’s only the start of what John is saying. He has been talking about being children of God (v.10), loving one another (v.11), evil Cain hating his brother in the same way the world sometimes hates us (v.12,13) and now he says that this expression of our love for our brother is a sign of how we have come out of death and live in life. In other words, now we live in this big place of light and freedom, we are freed from the things of darkness (hatred) and are free to enjoy and indeed love those close to us.

Of course the other side of the coin refers to those who don’t love. Anyone who doesn’t love, says John, is still in that old place of death. Real, genuine love is one of the indicators of just where a person is – in life – and if they do not have love it is obvious that they have not come into life and are still spiritually dead.

Spiritual life is the very presence of God Himself in our life, the presence of the Holy Spirit living out His life in us, and again, as we have noted before, later in the letter John says “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16). He brings life to our spirit and we start to become aware of the Lord and of His will for us, the wonder of His plan and purpose for our lives but if we have never invited Him into our life, then we are still spiritually dead. This is such a fundamental teaching in the New Testament. But when His life comes to us His love also comes to us. With God, life and love come together. Likewise death and the absence of love go together. Love is always outward looking, wanting the best for others. The absence of love is self-centredness, wanting the best for me. When we come to Christ we lay down our old self-centred life and it dies and it is replaced by the God-energised life which is always outward looking and looking for the wellbeing of others.

Now John pushes this a stage further to show how bad hating another is. He has already recently mentioned Cain who was jealous of Abel and hated him and eventually killed him. So now John says, “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer.”  If you actually hate someone you want their destruction and so whether you have got round to achieving it or just think it in your heart, you are still a murderer, at the very least a potential murderer, but that is what you want to achieve at the end when you hate someone. When we get to this place of hating someone we want to get rid of them from our life, our wishes are for their destruction, for them to be removed from us. Hatred can be the outworking of upset and hostility and breakdown in relationship. When we have been deeply hurt we can want the source of that hurt to be removed from us, to end the hurt, we want their death and although we may not have done it, we hold the desire for murder in our hearts.

But, says John, you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.  Eternal life is the life of God, of the Holy Spirit living within us. If we hold such feelings and desires, we stand in opposition to God who desires life and love for everyone. While we hold such feelings we quench the Spirit and deny Him access in us. Hatred is darkness and light and darkness cannot exist together. If we have been hurt and hatred arises in us, we must seek the Lord for His grace to be able to come to a good place and good attitude towards the one who has offended us, because until we do, we are living a stunted life. The amazingly good news is that in such situations the grace of God is still working to draw us back into a good place. We may not realise the darkness we are living in, the lack of His life flowing in us, but He will be working to show us our state and bring us to repentance to release that person so that they too might come to repentance and seek our forgiveness, but until they do we must ensure we hold a good attitude towards them because God’s love wants to reach them as much as He wants to reach you. Let Him bring it.