September 15, 2019

God’s Good Earth: The Case for an Unfallen Creation, by Jon Garvey, Chapter 13 – What Difference Does It Make, Anyway

God’s Good Earth: The Case for an Unfallen Creation, by Jon Garvey,

Chapter 13 – What Difference Does It Make, Anyway

We now come to the end of our review of God’s Good Earth: The Case for an Unfallen Creation, by Jon Garvey.  Today is Chapter 13 – What Difference Does It Make, Anyway.   Beliefs have consequences. Jon says, “When beliefs involve such a core doctrine of Christianity as creation, they cannot fail to affect the life of the believer – and on the larger scale, of the church – profoundly”.  Jon asserts that it makes a huge difference whether one believes the “traditional view” that the natural creation is fallen and corrupted or whether, as he has argued in the book, it retains the same “goodness” that was accorded it by God in the beginning.  What you do not love, you will not value.  If God values not only “Nature” as an abstract concept, but each creature, to the extent that “not one sparrow is forgotten by God” (Luke 12:6) then there is a mismatch of values if we love them any less.

Jon says the first thing to be restored when the idea of fallenness is seen as unbiblical fiction the sheer sense of joy in natural things.  He quotes Thomas Traherne (1636-1674) who saw that the creation stemmed from God’s insatiable desire to spread his love beyond himself into everything he made.  Traherne said:

Till you see that the world is yours, you cannot weigh the greatness of sin, nor the misery of your fall, nor prize your redeemer’s love.  One would think these should be motives sufficient to stir us up to the contemplation of God’s works, wherein all the riches of His Kingdom will appear. For the greatness of sin proceedeth from the greatness of His love whom we have offended, from the greatness of those obligations which were laid upon us, from the great blessedness and glory of the estate wherein we were placed, none of which can be seen, till Truth is seen, a great part of which is, that the World is ours.  So that indeed the knowledge of this is the very real light, wherein all mysteries are evidenced to us. (Traherne, Centuries, p. 80)

Thanksgiving for creation.  Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  Jon says God cannot work for good in all things unless he works in all things (“all things” in the passage being applied to everything in all creation).  And if he is, indeed, working in all things created, they are his servants for our good, and worth of thanksgiving.  The basic Christian prayer of thanksgiving, then, depends on belief in the goodness of God’s creation, or suffers the death of a thousand qualification.

Prayer within creation.  Since thanksgiving requires the creation to be fully obedient to God’s purpose for it, then the very same applies to prayer on similar grounds.  Jon says:

“If nature is in revolt against God, is it going to be any more submissive to him because we pray to him?  If we pray for the bane of disease to be turned into the blessing of health, are we (in fact) asking God to pit his strength to oppose his own creature (the bacteria or whatever), or are we asking him to command his servants to spare us?  If we cry out in distress from a ship foundering in a storm, are we whistling in the wind because storms are “just a natural phenomenon”? It is only the truth of God’s continued sovereignty within his universe that makes the discipline (and joy) of prayer that Jesus practiced and taught worthwhile, or even rational.  What did Jesus teach about God in creation when he commanded us to pray “Give us this day our daily bread”?

Worship on behalf of creation.   One sign of the continuing goodness of creation is its own participation in the worship of God:

The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all. 20. Praise the Lord, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word. 21. Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will.  22. Praise the Lord, all his works everywhere in his dominion.  Praise the Lord, my soul. Psalm 103:19-22

In itself the irrational creation is, metaphor apart, only capable of giving God praise by being what it is.  That in itself, given that Scripture in many places says it does praise him, is firm evidence against its fallenness.

Relating science to creation.  Jon says, “…the biblical belief that creation is both good and subject to God dethrones the still-common Enlightenment principle that the universe is a closed causal system, in which God cannot act and, by implication, on which only science has the final say concerning physical truth… Secondly it is claimed that God would be cheating the freedom and dignity of his own creation by ‘breaking its laws’… Thirdly, some people complain that were God to be actively involved, he would be deceiving scientists in their pursuit of predictable natural causes and laws.”  Jon summarizes:

In summary, to recognize that science is just one useful source of provisional truth, rather than the arbiter of truth, even in the physical and material realm, is a necessary corrective for our scientistic age, and this is greatly encouraged by the knowledge that creation is not only good, but God’s servant for governing the world.  This in no way denies any scientific evidence, though it may involve being skeptical about certain scientific theories in their metaphysical aspect – for one of the achievements of philosophy of science is the understanding that theories are the products of cultures and their largely unevidenced worldviews.

Care over creation.  Some of us can very well remember when any talk of creation care in conservative and dispensational evangelical circles was frowned upon as “environmentalism” and associated with “liberalism” and a general state of unbelief that Jesus would return at any moment and rapture the RTCs away.  “Environmentalism” was seen as a liberal plot or wedge to spread the big-government gospel of earth-worship and secular humanism… blah… blah… blah.  You know the drill if you came from that sub-culture, and if you don’t know the drill… count yourself fortunate.

It does seem that attitude is changing and a more realistic idea of “stewardship” of God’s creation does seem to be spreading among evangelicals, or was until the retrenchment of Trumpism.  Hopefully, that retrenchment will be short-lived.  Jon says:

Care for creation, then is part of Christian mission – given the truth of Genesis 1:28, it is actually the original part of that mission.  Fortunately this work has attracted the support of leading scientists as well as theologians and church leaders, which at the very least is a testimony to society that this is God’s world and that his people recognize it.  It goes without saying that one is much more likely to wish to preserve what one loves because it is God’s good handiwork, than it one views it as irretrievably corrupted by evil.

But there is more to it than that, because the Christian hope engendered by the resurrection of Christ is the renewal of all things in heaven and earth, not their complete replacement and, still less, a mass evacuation from earth to heaven prior to its annihilation.

Creation and resurrection.  Jon notes that it was due to Gnostic dualism that infected Christianity in the second century, that matter is corrupt versus pure spirit, which led to the idea that our “souls” leave our bodies at death to “go to heaven”.  He says the unique Jewish concept of resurrection arose in the context of the equally distinctive biblical belief in the goodness of God’s material creation.

Jesus’ resurrection endorsed this view as he was the “firstfruits” or deposit on the eventual complete renewal of the original physical creation.  That what was naturally empowered (psuchikos) would at the coming of Christ be swallowed up by the “spiritually empowered (pneumatikos).  But the very promise of that transformation affirmed that it had been “very good” from the beginning.  The resurrection confirms God’s love for, and approval of, the human body.

Conclusion.  Jon concludes:

I will just add a word of personal testimony.  In the time since I began to suspect that what I had assumed about creation’s corruption all my life was mistaken, I’ve begun to see the world with new eyes. When I look out of my study window, I find I can admire the beauty of what I see without a subconscious “Yes but…” imposing itself on the view.  I can love the freedom of a soaring buzzard without thinking, “Yes but it’s spoiled by the evil suffering that sustains it”.  I can rejoice in a gorgeous metallic red and blue parasitic Chrysis was on the patio and leave its lifestyle in God’s wise hands, rather than accept uncritically Darwin’s jaundiced assessment. If I pick up an ammonite from the beach, or read about a newly discovered function for DNA, I find that what I see and experience leads me, in a new way, into expressing worship on the creation’s behalf; a role for which I myself was created.  The more of nature I appreciate, the more of it I may bring into the sacred space of God’s temple of creation.  Practically, I will be more its steward and less its exploiter.  Finally, I will rejoice as much to see it new, yet familiar face, come the transformation of the end of the age, as I shall at the sight of my own face in the mirror.

That, in a very real sense, is to return to Eden, and to extend its borders.

Comments

  1. I grew up having no real belief in a fallen creation, or belief in a fallen humanity for that matter, despite receiving years of religious instruction supporting those beliefs as a child and young adult in the Roman Catholic Church. My own mentality and attitude toward the human and non-human worlds, and their suffering, was far more shaped and influenced by my secular, public school education than by Christianity. As a result, I never looked out at the world and saw the suffering there as a result of the fallenness of creation, nor did I believe that fallenness had somehow ruined creation. My angst about that suffering was the result of direct observation of and intuition about how the suffering of animals must be very much like my own, since as a human being I was an animal too. If I later came to a waffling, semi-acceptance of the idea that a possible fallenness of creation, and humanity, might explain some of that suffering, it was because I was struggling to find a way to make moral sense out of a world so filled with agony. So, for me, acceptance of the idea that creation is not actually fallen returns me to my original state, which was not one of looking out at creation with the kind of attitude that Garvey describes in the last paragraph quoted in the post. I do not see Eden, nor do I see a creation which makes moral sense, but a world in which many living things, perhaps all living things, end their lives in a state of more or less suffering. I find nothing satisfying in that, nor anything to be content about, or that makes me think it or God are good.

    • Well said, Robert F.

      –> “So, for me, acceptance of the idea that creation is not actually fallen returns me to my original state, which was not one of looking out at creation with the kind of attitude that Garvey describes in the last paragraph quoted in the post. I do not see Eden, nor do I see a creation which makes moral sense, but a world in which many living things, perhaps all living things, end their lives in a state of more or less suffering. I find nothing satisfying in that, nor anything to be content about, or that makes me think it or God are good.”

      Agree completely. And this is why I’ve struggled accepting Garvey’s whole premise. To me, I’d rather believe in a Fall that caused God’s good intentions for His Creation to suffer, rather than thinking God is okay with all this.

      So I will respectfully disagree with Garvey overall in order to keep my own Christian faith “healthy.”

      • I actually agree that the creation is not fallen, but I find it impossible to adopt Garvey’s positive view of its condition now. That leaves me in a bind, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I leave him to look out and see the best of all possible worlds; for myself, I’m incapable of doing so. My heart won’t let me.

        • The Good News is that we have a community of believers here at iMonk who won’t tell you that you MUST believe THIS or else “you must not be a Christian.”

          • Yes.

            But the bad news is that people in Brazil are intentionally setting fires in the Amazon rain forest to clear and commercially exploit it, the fires are burning on an unprecedented scale right now as we talk, and no amount of Christian theology can stop it.

          • Christiane says

            🙂

  2. I have been following Internetmonk for some years but not often commented. I have enjoyed the experience enormously and found it interesting to read a variety of opinions and different takes that emerge in the comments.

    Sadly the comments of late have become more and more political and centred around the President and his character and less about the actual content of the blog. In fact as I read the blog I can make a good estimate of the level of response that will follow with anything containing even a hint of the political producing a storm and the more theological can produce as few as seven or eight responses.

    I am a Brit whose general politics lie somewhere in the middle but see the value of some ideas fro both left and right and centre. I have voted for a variety of parties in the UK and am distressed by our current divisions. This is to set the background to my comment that I find some of the remarks that are being posted of late seem to be positively abusive of those from a different viewpoint.

    I also receive Richard Rhor’s daily email and in contrast he is preaching/teaching a theology of ‘both and’ and of loving one’s enemies. I am sure Chaplain Mike would agree with him.

    I hasten to add that I am in no way criticising Chaplain Mike and have often recommended the sit to Christian friends. He cannot possible direct the discussions as he has pointed out very recxently – he does not have the time. His contribution to end of life care is very important.

    I realise that I can opt not to follow the comments but that seems sad as they have in the past contained so much good but now it feels as if Trump has managed to pervert them.

    I will keep trying for a while in the hope of improvement.

    • I appreciate your patience. Unfortunately, the evangelical support for our current president makes it somewhat necessary to at least deal with related subjects from time to time. I try to keep that at a minimum. I will also try to moderate comments a bit more strictly so that we are chasing fewer rabbit trails in our discussions. As you have said (and I appreciate your support), my time is somewhat limited to do that, and I have always believed in trusting the goodwill of the commenting community to try and keep things on track. We may need to recalibrate a bit, however. It’s possible you will see a post about this tomorrow.

      • Christiane says

        “Unfortunately, the evangelical support for our current president makes it somewhat necessary to at least deal with related subjects from time to time. I try to keep that at a minimum.”

        difficult as now that support among fundamentalist-evangelicals may be increasing dramatically after yesterday’s events regarding DT’s press pronouncements re: ‘King of Israel’ and ‘I’m the Chosen One’ . . . so we wait to find out the degree with which this particular element of the ‘base’ will or will not embrace the new ‘messiah’.

        everyone hopes for some light to come soon, Chaplain Mike . . . we are all very weary now

    • I am so on the fence about this. On the one hand, I agree with you completely, Thelliot. There has been a drift toward the political that’s not of my liking (or maybe better said, my “preference”). I much prefer coming here when the focus is on Christ and the hope he provides and the Living Water he fills us with. And much of what I’ve seen lately doesn’t feel like “Christ-shaped spirituality.” More like “fear-based politics.” I can get that anywhere. I would much prefer this place to be an oasis from that crap, not a place that adds to my angst.

      That said, this place is also a place for the Post-evangelical wanderer. What better place for a Christian who feels an outcast to the Evangelical Right than here, where they can rant and share their angst? And as a Christian who sees Trump as a poison (Clinton was too, in my mind, so don’t respond with “You think HILLARY was the answer?!”), it is nice to come to a place where I can find other Christians who are like-minded in this regard, rather than having to suffer silently with a community of believers who think the President is God.

    • Christiane says

      the Bible says
      ‘Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you along with all malice.
      Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgive one another, as God in Christ forgave you’
      (Ephesians, chapter 4)

      some want AND NEED to keep silent about this present ‘unpleasantness’, and they have great reason for that wish as fearfulness often drives it, and that is sadly human and must be respected with compassion

      and then some prefer not to notice as they do not wish to see what they feel they cannot change because it is heart-breaking for them

      and then there is a history of what is costs to speak out against evil and the image of this cost includes a naked Christian martyr hanging heavily from a piano-wire noose in an SS prison of the Third Reich . . . . so we KNOW what can result from confronting evil,

      as we know the stories of the ones whose own choices led them to their destruction . . . at least by the standards of THIS world:
      ” Frustrated by the unwillingness of church leaders to oppose Hitler’s anti-Semitism, Bonhoeffer created the Confessing Church, alongside Martin Niemoller and Karl Barth. Eventually forbidden to teach publicly and forced underground, Bonhoeffer taught seminary students for several years until even the Confessing Church grew reluctant to contradict Nazi leadership. Having lost this opportunity, Bonhoeffer briefly sought asylum in the United States but, after concluding that it was wrong to abandon his friends, returned to Nazi Germany.”

      in the end, there is some age-old wisdom for them what fears the true cost of grace and instead seeks the common-sense sanctuary of a dignified silence in the face of evil:

      Ecclesiastes 3:7

      in time, we each of us meet with God in the sanctuary of our own moral conscience and there we make decisions about whether to act and how or whether to refrain from acting in certain ways for reasons that are our own, often important reasons that involve others dear to us, who would be tangentially harmed if consequences of our decision were severe

      we cannot know one another’s hearts in these matters, no,
      and we have no right to judge each other in these sacred matters of any person’s conscientious moral choices made before God as witness

      Not knowing one another’s hearts, may we act or refrain from acting, each upon honor and conscience,
      and then
      may we live with each other respectfully and at peace with one another as much as is possible through the grace of the Holy Spirit who gives us patience, and long-suffering, and kindness . . .

      end of anti-rant 🙂

  3. Adam Tauno Williams says

    Good post/conclusion.

    “””What you do not love, you will not value.”””, spot on.

  4. I get where you are coming from, at least I think I do. But let me put it like this – imagine that the religious community in the UK was split down the middle regarding Brexit (I haven’t heard that it is, and I’m assuming it’s not, but bear with me). It is a topic that is constantly in the news, and has and will have enormous economic and social consequences for your country and the world. And your faith community is split – one side is utterly convinced that it will be the greatest thing since sliced bread, the other side is convinced it is and will be a disaster for everyone, both sides cannot be right, the topic cannot be avoided or ignored because of the wide-ranging consequences, and the impasse seems both unsolvable and unignorable. That’s what it’s like to be a Christian here in America today. Believe me, I’d love LOVE to be able to ignore all this – I was second-guessing all my posts yesterday, believe it or not. But when you live in a time of crisis, pretending that the crisis doesn’t exist is not an option.

    • This is in reply to Theelliot above.

    • No one is saying to completely abandon approaching these topics (which I often agree with), however you can often place them on temporary hold while commenting on this particular blog. There’s a time and place to discuss certain things for sure, including this blog at times, but it isn’t *always* that. Others have rightfully pointed out that it’s been spiraling a little out of control lately. Oftentimes, being silent and ignoring the Trump-led soap opera *is* the right solution.

    • +1

  5. Burro (Mule) says

    I think there is an effect of sin on the physical environment, and an effect of sanctity as well. A friend of mine was a real estate agent, and she had two identical houses in the same neighborhood listed, but one was offered for $20000 less than the other. The reason was that a high-profile multiple murder had been committed in one of the houses. The other house, owned by a saintly Methodist minister’s widow, devoted to prayer, sold quickly while the other languished on the market.

    It is not wise to overlook this instinct, as superstitious as it may appear. The Russian settlement of Perm and Siberia followed pretty much the same approach; monks looking for respite from the noise and bustle of lay life sought refuge deeper in the taiga. Peasants following in their footsteps found the prayed-over land fertile and receptive for agriculture, and soon there was the same inquiet and hubbub they had wandered into the forest to escape.

    I think of it in the same sort of way as bribing a corrupt official. You never, ever suggest that you are offering them money so that they won’t so their job, just that they would do it more slowly or more rapidly, and that their priority would be different. Sin retards the salutatory effects of nature and sanctity enhances them.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > as superstitious as it may appear

      Superstitious or not, WE can, as your real-estate example demonstrates, materialize these conceptions.

      > Peasants following in their footsteps…. and soon there was the same inquiet and hubbub

      proto-gentrification? 🙂

      > Sin retards the salutatory effects of nature and sanctity enhances them.

      Agree.

  6. Nature, in its immensity and grandeur, is a source of endless delight and perpetual fear. Not at all unlike the Lord of Hosts with whom we have to do. I don’t live in daily fear of either but I never forget that there is a place for it. To forget it is to be half sighted or, in a very literal sense, dim-witted. Full consciousness saves many a stubbed toe.

  7. I’ll admit to reading this series/review with only mild agreement and often disagreement, but today’s words seem to make good sense to me. And even though I’m not sold on the “no fall” idea, I really liked that conclusion statement/testimony.

  8. Except for yesterday I haven’t commented much lately. I do want to say that I enjoy the Mike the Geologist series because it provides another angle to look at about what I currently know. I find Mike G to be a pretty intelligent guy no matter what his faith leaning is. Keep it up Mike.

    I believe everyone on both sides must be pretty worn out from yesterday’s comments so today I will do my best to stay on topic and stay neutral. I actually went out and dug some holes this morning before work, physical labor helps this soul immensely.

    Thelliot – I picked up a book on vacation entitled “The Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England” which focuses on a timespan between 1300 – 1400. As I am a bit of a history geek it is a book that helps me to walk the time period from a people/places/travel/law perspective. One day I may even visit…

    Everyone have a wonderful day.

  9. Iain Lovejoy says

    “…the Christian hope engendered by the resurrection of Christ is the renewal of all things in heaven and earth, not their complete replacement and, still less, a mass evacuation from earth to heaven prior to its annihilation.”
    I think this is the real issue with attitudes to creation, rather than.tussles over whether and to what extent it is affected by sin and the “fall” (however understood). You may believe creation fallen or unfallen, exactly as it should be or in need of repair, whilst still valuing it and nurturing it as God’s good gift. It is when you consider it as doomed and worthless, and for the scrapheap when God comes to take his favoured away that your attitude fundamentally changes.
    As I understand it, Garvey comes from a faith background very much in the “creation is for the scrapheap” mould, a view he calls (I am not entirely sure accurately) the “traditional view”, and his book is a rightful reaction to this. I suspect it goes a little too far in the opposite direction, but that may be understandable given where he is coming from.

    • Perceptive comment.

      –> “I suspect it goes a little too far in the opposite direction, but that may be understandable given where he is coming from.”

      That could be. Which then makes it the case of “in order to get himself to a healthy spiritual spot, he has to see things differently than others do,” which in turn rubs people wrong who don’t see it his way (like me).

      Which is also okay, since I’m sure I see God and Jesus a bit differently than others do in order to maintain my spiritual sanity…LOL.

  10. That quote from Traherne is magnificent! To think it was written in the 1600’s.

  11. I came into this very late because I haven’t lurked here in months. But I saw the animal suffering post and it seemed factually wrong to me. I read a little of his blog and while I will stay away from politics, my impression is that this is a man who believes what he wants to believe.

    So based on that, I don’t think I would find the book helpful.

  12. that facist right wing nut down in Brazil has set the Amazon on fire

    • He’s officially a member of the Roman Catholic Church, but has spent far more time among evangelicals. 70% of Brazilian evangelicals voted for him. Safe to say that a theologically diseased view of creation is deeply embedded in the heads of Bolsonaro and most Brazilian evangelicals. Let’s hope it isn’t irreversibly destroying the lungs of our planet, the Amazon rain forest….though it looks like it is.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        70% of Brazilian evangelicals voted for him.

        Similar to the 81% of American Evangelicals who voted for Trump?
        (Many of whom are still if not more Fanatically Loyal than they were then.)

  13. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Some of us can very well remember when any talk of creation care in conservative and dispensational evangelical circles was frowned upon as “environmentalism” and associated with “liberalism” and a general state of unbelief that Jesus would return at any moment and rapture the RTCs away.

    “Environmentalism” was seen as a liberal plot or wedge to spread the big-government gospel of earth-worship and secular humanism… blah… blah… blah. You know the drill if you came from that sub-culture, and if you don’t know the drill… count yourself fortunate.

    I know both of them, far too well.

    The first was a litmus test of Salvation during my time in-country during the Dispensation of Hal Lindsay.

    I have also encountered the secular version of the second, and with the politicization of Evangelicalism the two have effectively merged.

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