This is currently the Opus household’s favorite commercial. And yet, even as it makes me choke up a little bit, I must confess that deep inside, I feel a twinge of guilt for enjoying it — and I blame Christian theology, or at least, a skewed version of it.
A good portion of Christians hold that this world is, at best, an inconvenience, a hurdle on our way to final glory. Sometime soon, when we least expect it, Christ is going to return, rapture all of us good believers out of the earth, and reduce this planet to little more than a cinder. Therefore, there’s little need to really care about this little blue gem of a world, and what’s done on or to it, or what happens to it in the long run. In other words, it’s not really all that “awesome” at all.
I might be exaggerating, but not by too much, I think. It’s a frightening idea, and critics of Christianity are right to throw up red flags concerning it. But what many don’t understand, be they Christian or no, is that this notion flies in the face of much that the Bible teaches. Namely, that God’s plan is redemption, not replacement, and that includes the world and the rest of creation. And what’s more, we humans are to play a pivotal role in said redemption.
Some folks look at the so-called “cultural mandate,” and take that little bit in Genesis 1:28 about “subduing” and “ruling” to mean that God has basically given us free reign over the earth, to do whatever we desire. Or, in the words of Anne Coulter, “God said, ‘Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it. It’s yours.’ ” (Which has to make you wonder why God — like any artist — would want a creation that He deemed “very good” to be mistreated or damaged at all.)
I would submit that words like “subdue” and “rule” are better understood within the context of stewardship rather than domination. God has placed us here to be stewards, to tend and take care of what He has created, to “harness the natural world” (to quote Nancy Pearcy). God has given us the raw materials of creation to shape as we see fit, but the guiding purpose is not our ease, comfort, and success, but rather, God’s glory.
Romans 8:18 – 25 has long been one of my favorite passages of Scripture because it so beautifully describes the extremes between which we humans find ourselves.
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 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. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
We live between groaning and hope, between the pains and trials of our lives as they are right now, and the promise of glories to come (of which we sometimes get a foretaste). God has promised to redeem us — not remake or replace us, but to take us as we are, warts and all, and bring out of that something even better than we can imagine. And as the above passage illustrates, the same holds true for the rest of creation, which as Romans so poetically puts it, was subjected to frustration… 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.
What this tells me is that God has not abandoned this “awesome” world, nor will He. Rather, His intention is to redeem this world, to redeem every facet of creation. All the way back in Genesis, He declared this world to be “very good”, which implies total satisfaction and pleasure.
As opposed to the notions that somehow seeped into my mind and soul as I grew up in Christian circles, I do not have to view this planet as a mere hindrance or hurdle, but as a home that I am meant to enjoy, understand, marvel at, beautify, and harness for the glory of God. I can call this world “awesome”, and truly mean it, because God has intended no less. Indeed, God Himself has done no less. This world, and all that is within it, is not meant for the trash heap, but for something more glorious than you or I can imagine.
And, to borrow a phrase from Tolkien, that is an encouraging thought.