For God so Loved the World (not just humans)
The way we interpret the Bible makes a difference. I’ve been reflecting on my past biblical interpretation in light of environmental concerns and animal care.
One of the best loved verses of Scripture — and one many Christians memorized at an early age — is John 3:16. Here is the version I learned as a kid:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”
The Good Life Here and Now
For many years, I’ve been focusing on the final sections of this famous biblical passage. I’ve been telling my students that “eternal life” isn’t primarily about never-ending existence after bodily death. Instead, its primarily about abundant life here and now.
For a number of reasons, I believe the “eternal life” God gives has much more to do with a high quality of life than a long quantity of life. “Believing” in Jesus (which I think has much more to do with following his way of love than affirming correct doctrines) leads to the good life here and now. Believing in Jesus first and foremost means living a life of love.
I still believe in the afterlife. I’m not saying that salvation — the good life — is ONLY about this life here and now. But I think Jesus’ PRIMARY intent was that we seek a high quality of life in our present existence.
God Loves All Creation
Perhaps the context of John 3;16 that prompted me to interpret it as being exclusively about humans. Jesus is speaking with a scholar who asks what it means to be “born again.”
In response to the born-again question, Jesus says God loves THE WORLD. He could have said, “For God so loved humans that he gave…” Instead, Jesus’ talks about the whole cosmos, all creation, the whole kit and kaboodle. That includes not only humans but other animals, birds, fish, insects, dirt, clouds, etc.
It’s amazing when you think about it!
The end of the passage, admittedly, seems to apply only to those creatures capable of “believing in him.” I’m open to many kinds of animals being capable of some measure of belief. But I admit I can’t understand what it would mean for dirt to believe! And that leads me to…
This line of reasoning brings me naturally to an enigmatic passage in St. Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. Romans 8:19 says that “creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.” A bit later in the passage, Paul says that “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.”
Paul seems to make a connection between the hope of creation and human action. In Romans 8:22, he says “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” Humans have also been groaning, but they are “firstfruits of the Spirit.” They have enjoyed some goodness, but we humans “await eagerly… the redemption of our bodies.”
As I interpret it, our redemption seems tied, in some way, to the redemption of all creation. All creation groans. But human creations have some taste of the goodness of the Spirit.
Paul puts it more plainly in his letter to the Church in Colossae. It was God’s good pleasure, through Christ, to “reconcile all things to Himself….whether things on earth or things in heaven” (1:20-21). Paul’s vision here is cosmic, not humans only.
What We Do Affects God’s Redemption Plans
Adding all of this together (and a host of biblical passages I will not address here) leads me to think that…
1) God loves all creation,
2) our believing/living in response to God’s love can lead to good life,
3) God wants the good life for all creation, some of which is groaning in frustration, and
4) what we do — our believing/living — affects God’s work for the good of all.
At least that’s the rationale I’m finding most convincing these days. Now I’m working on the ways I can join with God in loving creation. This includes loving humans but also all other creatures.
I’m not entirely sure what love for all creation should entail. For sure that includes my being kind to animals. It means being environmentally and ecologically wise.
But I’m working on what else it might mean.
[…] Source: For God so Loved the World (not just humans) – For The Love of Wisdom and The Wisdom of Love […]
I am inclined to see Wesley’s world view as much broader than the narrow fundamentalist thinking so prevalent in the Nazarene Church as I experienced it in my teen years. Do you see Wesley addressing these issues in any way?
You don’t need to post this, I just wanted to get the material to you. This is Richard Rohr on why God has to be free to love, as Love Itself, rather than contained/constrained by some cosmic requirement for a violent transaction before He can love. It’s a great summary and your work crossed my mind when i was looking at it. I hope this finds you well and deeply content. Blessings.
“For the sake of simplicity and brevity here, let me say that the common Christian reading of the Bible is that Jesus “died for our sins”— either to pay a debt to the devil (common in the first millennium) or to pay a debt to God the Father (proposed by Anselm of Canterbury [1033– 1109] and has often been called “the most unfortunately successful piece of theology ever written”). Scotus agreed with neither of these readings. He was not guided by the Temple language of debt, atonement, blood sacrifice, or necessary satisfaction, but by the cosmic hymns of Colossians and Ephesians. If Scotus’s understanding of the “how” and meaning of redemption (his “atonement theory”) had been taught, we would have had a much more positive understanding of Jesus, and even more of God the Father. Christian people have paid a huge price for what theologians after Anselm called “substitutionary atonement theory”: the idea that, before God could love his creation, God needed and demanded Jesus to be a blood sacrifice to atone for a sin-drenched humanity. Please think about the impossible, shackled, and even petty God that such a theory implies and presents. Christ is not the first idea in the mind of God, as Scotus taught, but a mere problem solver after the sad fact of our radical unworthiness….
We have had enough trouble helping people to love, trust, and like God to begin with, without creating even further obstacles. Except for striking fear in the hearts of those we sought to convert, substitutionary atonement theories did not help our evangelization of the world. It made Christianity seem mercantile and mythological to many sincere people. The Eternal God was presented as driving a very hard bargain, as though he were just like many people we don’t like. As if God could need payment, and even a very violent transaction, to be able to love and forgive his own children— a message that those with an angry, distant, absent, or abusive father were already far too programmed to believe….
Scotus, however, insisted on the absolute and perfect freedom of God to love and forgive as God chooses, which is the core meaning of grace. Such a God could not be bound by some supposedly offended justice. For Scotus, the incarnation of God and the redemption of the world could not be a mere reaction to human sinfulness, but in fact the exact, free, and proactive work of God from the very beginning. We were “chosen in Christ before the world was made,” as Paul says in Ephesians (1: 4). Sin or problems could not be the motive for divine incarnation, but only perfect love! The Christ Mystery was the very blueprint of reality from the very start (John 1: 1)….
It is no wonder that Christianity did not produce more mystics and saints over the centuries. Unconsciously, and often consciously, many people did not trust or even like this Father God, much less want to be in union with him. He had to be paid in blood to love us and to care for his own creation, which seems rather petty and punitive, and we ended up with both an incoherent message and universe. Paul told us that “love takes no offense” (1 Corinthians 13: 5), but apparently God was the big exception to this rule. Jesus tells us to love unconditionally, but God apparently does not. This just will not work for the soul or mature spirituality. Basically when you lose the understanding of God’s perfect and absolute freedom and eagerness to love, which Scotus insisted on, humanity is relegated to the world of counting! Everything has to be measured, accounted for, doled out, earned, and paid back. That is the effect on the psyche of any notion of heroic sacrifice or necessary atonement. 9 It is also why Jesus said Temple religion had to go, including all of its attempts at the “buying and selling” of divine favor (John 2: 13– 22). In that scenario, God has to be placated and defused; and reparation has to be paid to a moody, angry, and very distant deity. This is no longer the message Jesus came to bring.
This wrongheaded worldview has tragically influenced much of our entire spirituality for the last millennium, and is still implied in most of the Catholic Eucharistic prayers. It gave lay Catholics and most clergy an impossible and utterly false notion of grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness— which are, in fact, at the heart of our message. The best short summary I can give of how Scotus tried to change the equation is this: Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity (it did not need changing)! Jesus came to change the mind of humanity about God. Christ was Plan A for Scotus, the hologram of the whole, the Alpha— and therefore also the Omega— Point of cosmic history.”
Rohr, Richard (2014-07-27). Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (pp. 183-187). Franciscan Media. Kindle Edition.
Thanks for posting this!
I don’t think Wesley would approve of the current Fundamentalists beliefs about the Bible (what I call “strict inerracy’). And I don’t think he would approve of the harsh us vs. them attitude the Fundamentalists typically have toward all of those outside their fold. Wesley was a man of learning. As I see it, Fundamentalism is a tradition that fears learning.
On the subject of your actual post, recall Wesley’s comments on Romans 8, where he is responding to people of his day who assumed the entire planet and its animals would be destroyed by God. Wesley says creation, like a pregnant woman, is groaning to be delivered – but a pregnant woman doesn’t desire to be destroyed, rather to give new life. What is delivered, is not destroyed. So, what part of the creation will be destroyed? he asks. It won’t be, he argues, it will be delivered. I suspect a lot of yesteryear’s evangelical downplaying of nature’s importance is due to really bad readings of Revelation and Peter.
Why I believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. Jesus puts its inerrancy in perspective in Matthew [4:4] when quoting Deuteronomy [8:3]. He defends Himself before the tempter when being tempted in the wilderness. Satan challenged Jesus, by demanding if He was the Son of God to turn stones into bread and Jesus said; “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” In quoting Deuteronomy [8:3] man is not sustained by physical foods alone which can only satisfy the body, but must have spiritual food to satisfy the soul that is the greater of the two.
If God requires humankind to live by His Word as Jesus declares, and because we will be judged according to it, then He must obligate Himself to protect His Word from error. Only God through His divine foresight and involvement can intervene in the affairs of men to accomplish this. As many having read the Bible through from Genesis to Revelations, at no time has the Holy Spirit whispered to me “do not believe this passage because it is in error.” Those who reject the inerrancy of the Bible offer no proof or text supporting their suspicion of error. This leads me to conclude they are only mimicking others.
The Church needs to be careful whom they mimic or believe as true without solid evidence. Could the problem be for some as described in 1Corinthians [2:14} where Paul states; “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” That being true, Romans [8:5] defines the boundary separating those that (are skeptical) who desire the physical food to feast on so to speak opposed to those who goes beyond the physical and desires the spiritual word as God commands. “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.”
My two thoughts; inerrancy and the bible is a commentary into itself. For inerrancy I take a view of Ken Ham in that if we question the earth as we know it be created in 6 days then is is possible that the Red Sea did not part, David never killed a giant, never was there a virgin birth, and the resurrection is fake.
I spend a number of years addressing the issues of the Nazarene church based on Wesley and other theologians/commentators regarding how we “did things”. Too many times it was either Wesley or the Manual. Too many preachers could preach manual better than the scriptures. So when I think fundamentalist I consider how the focus was on whether or not you held every position in the church in order to preach to how do we better promote the “tither of the month” program so more people will be pressured to give. And grace? What’s grace? If you are sanctified there is no need for grace. Maybe that is where Merv is coming from. And grace only came if you gave up all the sinful stuff first and adhered to the manual.
I had some spirited discussions with a dutch PCA preacher and every time he was raise a statement about salvation and the elect and how we define the world I would have a strong argument against his point of view stating Wesley. He would then say, “let’s see what the Bible has to say about that.” Every time I would be going back to questions I had early in my prep for the ministry as to why would the Bible be so strong about this topic or that and the response would be what Wesley would interpret that or how the manual defined such. After about 6 weeks of these meetings that really worked on me did he explain his background in the Wesley-Armenian theology. And Lige makes some strong points with scripture. And this goes with some discussion of Rev 13 & 14 as Lige addresses 1Cor 2.14 that the mark may not be a physical mark but the mark of whether we are of the world or of the Father.
Seeing this blog via a post on the Nazarenes for Integrity.. facebook post for The Uncontrolling Love for God book.
I do believe that God is interested and concerned about a world that entail much more than humanity but that God’s interest in eternal life certainly has humanity in mind. A few years ago I took a class on Christian Stewardship that focused on the seven Ts, one of which was terrain and used Scripture to supported a more responsible view of stewardship over the environment and focused on ways to help our world by helping in that way. I never thought how I approached the environment could in fact be another way of Christian witness.
In considering the blog topic and how it might impact ministry to youth and families, I think of the movie title or earnest question (Do) “All Dogs Go to Heaven.” I am reminded that young people and their families go through a multitude of experiences that may never be mentioned in the Bible but are a source of great concern for the family and a potential opportunity to have an encounter with the divine. The Parish associated with my son’s school has a blessing of the pets service each October, where people can bring their pets or their friends or neighbors pets for a blessing, which certainly reminds people that God is interested in more than just humans. In considering that particular service, I would be inclined to think that a church who promotes a God interested in my animal will certainly be concerned about me. Being open minded to the type of things that concern others, whether we have clear direction about it how to handle it, can open the doors to other types of conversations that can lead to Christ and God’s love.
Dr. Oord really made some intriguing points and the interpretation of the Scriptures really challenged my limited view of those scriptures. The reconciliation of all things and the fact that God created all of the universes provides me with a better understanding of just how much our dogs are part of God’s plan. I believe that it is very easy today to neglect the fact that God has created human beings but so did He create the animals, birds, land etc. I know we can easily fall into a trap of worshipping God’s creation, like so many advocate today however I believe that it is imperative for our children to learn and understand the balance of all of life and how we need to be good stewards of all that Christ has entrusted to us. Pope Francis in an address to the European Union and stated that “We are stewards, not masters of the earth”. This call for responsible stewardship demonstrates that the Church has a responsibility to be an advocate for sustainable living and to be good stewards of what has been entrusted to us. Many in my life space love to use the parable of the talents to demonstrate the importance of progress and reaching our human potential but have we ever stopped to reflect on how that parable might imply that we have a responsibility as Christians to be responsible stewards of the Earth.
In my fairly young time as a pastor, and throughout my schooling, I have had a very eschatological focus in just about everything I teach or prepare, whether or not that is the actual topic. I have learned that what we believe about the end greatly influences the decisions we make today, and today’s article points to that very notion. A cursory look at previous generations, particularly the ones growing up in the 60s and 70s, shows us a very human-centric view of the end times. The second coming, the antichrist, the flawed theology of rapture, and others like them created a theology that saw Christians waiting for the destruction of the world. What they didn’t realize is that mode of thinking created a culture of Christianity that failed to consider our duty to creation (why care if its going to burn?) and even created a culture of ‘castle’ theology, where Christians became focused on self (church) preservation. The reality that God love the WHOLE world is a new and much needed paradigm than affects everything. Again, what we believe about the end dictates what we do now. If we believe that the whole world is loved, that all of creation is valued and to be saved, it recreates the duty we as Christians have to the whole world, human and nature combined. Questions about pollution, fossil fuels, energy consumption, etc can no longer be hid under the mat because of the expected destruction of all, and they come to the forefront into our missional theology. Ministry then becomes not just about people, but about all creation, and the teaching of our role in the world to the next generation of youth and their families.
God bless everyone!
After reading Dr. Oord’s essay, For God so Loved the World (not just humans), I thought about the separation of God with man due to sin. I wondered how it must have been to walk with God and speak with Him. Perfect harmony was what existed between God and His creations. When I see God’s masterpiece in nature, it reminds me of His loving grace. I can see God’s harmony in the animals as they live among their own species in obedience to God. They are definitely in perfect harmony with their creator. Where there is harmony there must be peace and love. When there is peace and love, it is easier to recognize God’s presence so one can believe in his existence. I would say that it is possible for even “dirt” to believe in God just by it doing what it was meant to do in obedience to his creator. Humans, animals, and nature were all part of a perfect plan. But, humans have strayed away from God. I believe as Dr. Oord does, that there is eternal life after death. However, it does not take away from the fact that God has always had a special purpose for every single person that is born.
There is a perfect will of God for all mankind, animals, and nature. His perfect plan was to be in perfect harmony with His perfect creations. But sin has interrupted the flow of God’s perfect harmony for all. According to John 3:16, there is a way of getting back in track with God’s perfect harmony. As we live our life, we can live it to the best of our abilities because of Jesus Christ. This means living life to the fullest in its purest form without sin. Greed and pride would be reasons for shame and sadness. But, If all people would desire to live by loving God above all things, then all people would be able to live a true life of quality. As a result, one would be able to do no harm. In this we would glorify Him in all that we do.
[Word Count: 356]
God bless everyone!
After reading Dr. Oord’s essay, For God so Loved the World (not just humans), I thought about the separation of God with man due to sin. I wondered how it must have been to walk with God and speak with Him. Perfect harmony was what existed between God and His creations. When I see God’s masterpiece in nature, it reminds me of His loving grace. I can see God’s harmony in the animals as they live among their own species in obedience to God. They are definitely in perfect harmony with their creator. But, humans have strayed away from God. I believe that there is eternal life after death. However, it does not take away from the fact that God has always had a special purpose for every single person on earth. If all people would desire to live by loving God above all things, then all people would be able to live a true life of quality. In this we would glorify God in all that we do.
As ministers, we should emphasize to the youth on how important it is to take care of our planet. Teachings about how to conserve the planet should be part of the church’s curriculum. Families can create activities to feel part of the solution of taking care of the planet. It’s important that Christian families reflect God’s concern for creation because He came to take care of our sins but He also came to restore all creation. A year ago, I remember seeing a huge spider in my kitchen floor that I was ready to kill. However, my husband was so fascinated by it. With tender loving care he saved the spider by picking it up in a jar and letting it go free onto the back yard. Later, I reflected on my husband’s character and apologized because of how I reacted. I realized that the spider did no harm. It was just trying to pass by. People can learn many things just by watching how insects and animals live their life. Sometimes people forget to be kind and thoughtful in everyday life. It’s necessary to be more in tune with God’s nature and understand the importance of being sensitive to all creation. [Word Count: 374]
As I read Dr. Oord’s thoughts I was reminded of just how costly the sin of humankind truly is, not only for humankind, but for the rest of the natural world as well. I once heard a professor of theology say that he believed that all of God’s creation was suffering a lingering illness due to the entrance of sin into the world. It was his assessment that harsh weather patterns and other natural disasters and devastating diseases were the direct result of sins influence upon the natural world, and it all began with the disobedience of the natural world’s human caretaker.
While I am not entirely convinced that the professor was correct in all that he explained, it has given me much to pray and think about over the years. Dr. Oord too added to this contemplation as I read this essay. Oord writes, “As I interpret it, our redemption seems tied, in some way, to the redemption of all creation. All creation groans. But human creations have some taste of the goodness of the Spirit” (Oord, NP). After years of thought I have come to the same conclusion. It is my belief that when we get to Glory, not only will we ourselves find lasting transformation, but the natural environment that surrounds us as well. In a sense we will see the entirety of Creation in all of its fullness, just as God intended it to be. As CS. Lewis noted in his book, “The Last Battle,” we will have the opportunity to move “further in and further up” in order to experience all that God’s creature was meant to be. What a wonderful motivation to be good stewards of our current environment and to share with the children and families that we minister to all the wonderful things God has in store for those whom he loves (human and non-human alike).
A theology of love is grossly incomplete if it is simply anthropocentric and does not include all of creation. Whether the call to being environmentally and ecologically wise is a result of liberationist postmodernism or simply a call to live according to the original design of humankind in relationship to God and to creation, it is a call to be answered.
This post resonated with me and gave voice to some thoughts that I have held, but could never put together, especially with regard to the Romans 8 passage mentioned in this essay. Growing up, the eschatology that I was taught included the idea that all that exists now will pass away, burning up. Only those things that we did for Christ would last, and in the end all would dissolve away giving way to the new heaven and new earth. This did not really seem to fit well with the hopeful tone of redemption that Romans 8 sets. The four tenets that Dr. Oord presents to us sets up a good (and hope filled) framework upon which believers may offer a proper response to the love and redemption that God offers to all creation.
This essay helps to show that we, as Christians, need to be aware of how we, as humans, interact with all of creation. When I think that God loves creation, I do not merely think of people as creation. I believe he loves each and every thing about his creation (the world, the universe, everything that exists). God gave humans the command to fill the earth and subdue it but I do not think he meant to abuse it and pollute it. I think that was more of a command to take care of it, in a way saying “I am making you the stewards/guardians/caretakers of this world that I have created. Keep it safe and keep it healthy.” Some see it as an excuse or permission to do whatever we want with the earth, its plants and animals, and its natural resources. I do understand that with some advancement and with an ever increasing population that there are going to be things that are going to happen. However, we can do our best to minimize adverse effects and try to restore what we can. In ministry we need to teach that we are to be good stewards of not just money but of the earth and creation. The younger generations are becoming acutely aware of the gross negligence that we as humans have had when it comes to taking care of God’s creation. We need to make sure that they understand why we need to take better care of creation. We need to teach them that it’s not just because it’s wrong or that one day the planet may be uninhabitable. We need to teach them that this is God’s creation and he has let us use it and has tasked us with taking care of it. I believe we can make a difference in how our planet is if we can teach responsible, biblical environmentalism.
I must say that I have never thought about or heard the verse John 3:16, presented in the manner Dr. Oord has done so in his blog post. I have always heard the term “world” in the context of the people of the world. God is the creator and when he was done on the sixth day, He stood back and “saw all that He had made, and it very good” (Gen. 1:31). God loved what He created in the beginning, so it makes sense that God would continue that love throughout time. If God sees that all of His creation as being good, why should we humans not treat all of creation with respect and love that God does. I would say it is because of our selfishness, greed, and the entitlement we humans have.
The love and protection of the environment can lead to high quality of life in our present existence. Many times we worry about the future and forget what it means to live in the moment. Dr. Oord states, “what we do — our believing/living — affects God’s work for the good of all”. When it comes to family and youth ministry, what the parents do, their believing/living – affects the lives of youth. Parents can give a higher quality of lives to their kids if they can love all of creation now and model the concept as well.
There were many thoughts that came up as I was reading through this post. First of all, I greatly appreciate your emphasis on the goodness that we can bring now. A part of the conversation with this steps into the ways that we talk about atonement theories, which goes to another conversation, but it’s helpful when our atonement theories also acknowledge a part of Christ’s significance is his life, as well as Christ’s death and resurrection.
Recently when I was doing my own study of Genesis, I noticed something about the order of things in Genesis 1, particularly verses 24-31, with the creation of humanity. Within that, I often missed the fact that God stated that creation was “very good” after humanity was given instruction to care for creation, and then they lived out caring for creation. The CEB describes the charge to humanity and then says, “And that’s what happened” (Genesis 1:30). It was only after the “that’s what happened” that humanity and it’s interaction with creation was named “very good”. In some ways, we are not only living the only “good life” or have the ability to do so, but we are able to live the “very good life,” when we interact with creation, self, others, and God in ways we were created to interact with creation.
Understanding that God created all and that God loves all should lead us to believe that we should love and care for creation. John 3:16 is a powerful message that I have never considered to be applied to all of creation, but I believe Dr. Oord’s assessment is correct; we are called to love and care for ALL of creation. We are called to love humanity but we are also called to love the Earth and all of its creatures.
I agree that we need to be wise when it comes to caring for the Earth, God’s creation. This means we should care about what we put into the ozone layer, the way we use fuel, recycling as well as other ecological issues. This passage also means we should take care of our bodies. We should take care of our bodies holistically, we should care for our physical bodies, our spiritual beings and those of others.
Well … there was that line from Startrek NG: “We no longer enslave animals for food purposes.”
And where does this leave clones, cyborgs, replicants, synthetics, and … Cylons? Even Cylons believe God loves everyone.
Some of the more advanced prosthetics certainly push into the cyborg realm. We are on the edge of cloning humans. When we do, are they God’s creatures? Or do we keep them hanging in a cryologic meat locker, waiting to have this or that bit or piece lopped off for transplant to some deserving real human?
What about synthetic humans?
God loves Cylons too. Leoben Conoy tells us so; he sounds more like a Wesleyan preacher than some real ones I’ve heard.
Back to our so far fictional neighbors, the Cylons. What motivates them to seek to eradicate the human species? In at least one speech, a skinjob goes on about how God created this wonderful universe, and how humans have really screwed it up. The Cylon mission seems to be to eradicate the cause of all the damage and destruction to God’s universe(s).
Another thing. God created … creation. Miles and miles and light years and light years of it. Do we suppose that there are other species Out There? Sentient species? Did God send a carnate self among them, too?
What intriguing thoughts. Certainly God created all of creation and cares for the whole world, but what can salvation look like for living objects with no known soul or consciousness? I never thought of the possibility of the dirt believing in God. How can it? Or maybe the truer statement is, “How can it not?” Did God give every living thing the same free will that humans did which allows us to choose to follow God or not? Perhaps things of nature have no choice in the matter. Doesn’t the Bible say that if humans were to stop praising God the rocks and the trees would cry out in worship? If that’s true it doesn’t sound like nature has a lot of choice in the matter, but praises God because God must be praised. I would also like to know, how creation is saved by its belief in God. What is God’s salvation plan for nature? If Jesus was the salvation plan for humans, is he also the salvation plan for the world? Did Jesus’ death and resurrection do anything to save the world eternally or here and now? I am assuming that the answer has to do with humans. I have often heard it said, “The church is plan A, there is no plan B.” Perhaps this applies to creation care. God, after all, did give us dominion over the world. So is it up to us to make sure that it experiences salvation presently and eternally? What role does God play in all of this?
Regardless, I agree wholeheartedly that Christians must be good stewards of the earth, and I am of the belief that having dominion over creation is less about ruling over it and has more to do with serving it and helping it thrive. Some of this starts to sound new-agey, but we really do have a responsibility to care for things that cannot care for themselves, and that take such good care of us. We are threatened often with what we will lose if we don’t take better care of our earth, but we shouldn’t only be motivated by fear, but of love for God and the world God has created.
A friend of mine, who is both passionate about sustainability and about Christ, spoke with me and some peers about her thoughts on taking care of creation. She made the point of God making this beautiful world for us to live in, and He gives us the freewill to do what we will of it. In this freewill, God also gives us the option to choose to follow Him and love like He does. When we accept Jesus into our lives and choose to live like Christ, we are declaring that we are going to love God and love others. Through loving God, we should also be loving the gift of His creation as well. Concretely, loving creation looks like recycling old plastics, composting leftover scrap foods, or turning the lights off when you’re not in the room. These are ways that we can love God by loving His creation.
Being gifted with the ability to think deeply, humans play a unique role in creation. Lions and tigers and bears may not be hard pressed to be conscious of their carbon footprint, but humankind is. We have a unique role in the sense that we are able to consciously think about our decisions. We understand that what we do today affects generations to come. So with this deep responsibility, humankind should act justly in caring for those whose opinions aren’t being heard- animals, dirt, clouds, etc. Though their voices are not being heard, their role in creation is not any more or less significant than the role of humankind.
I greatly enjoyed this article and the ideas it presents! Never before did I interpret John 3:16 and eternal life as ‘the good life’ here and now. But it makes sense. With God in my life, everything is so much greater. Because I choose to love and follow Him, the joy in my life exceeds anything I can accomplish on my own.
The idea that God loves all of creation seems obvious to me when I think about the story of creation and God’s charge to Adam to care for it. I believe that as Christians, whether you believe the creation story is an exact account of how the world was created or something else, that this passage calls us to be faithful stewards of the world which we live in. This means that we need to be environmentally conscious and not be wasteful of resources, abusive towards animals, or unnecessarily destructive.
The one issue I have with where this tract of thinking can lead is that there are some who start to value animals and nonhuman creation more than human life, which I believe that at the least they are equal (and if I’m truly being honest with myself I believe human life is more valuable than the rest of creation because I believe we are created in the image of God in a way that no other nonhuman being can relate to). One example I have seen this played out was an activist for dogs in my town told an individual that if he left his dog outside in the cold for too long she was going to come take his dog and beat him up. Another example of this is the people who go out and kill scientists who have been known to test harmful products on animals. As soon as we are willing to intentionally harm another human for the sake of an animal we have skewed our values and have interpreted this passage poorly.
All that to say, in working with youth and families we need to take care to teach and model the importance of care for all humanity AND all of creation. This means that we teach what it means to be good stewards of the world and not waste the resources. We also need to lead by example and show them how to do things like recycle, reduce our use of non-renewable resources, and not abuse animals or kill them for sport (I don’t think we need to go as far as to say we shouldn’t kill for food and resources). And while we are teaching this to them we also need to teach that humans are valuable, and we need to treat all people with love and respect no matter if we like them, agree with them, or even know them. God so loved the world, and now so must we.
I believe when creation does what it was created to do it is existing in obedience and obedience brings blessings (the good life). For humankind the order is discipline brings about obedience and obedience brings about blessings. For creation such as my dog it is him, my dog, doing what God created him to do, bark for instance. When he barks, he is worshiping. Not worshiping with intention, the way humankind does but worshiping the way he was created to worship. When he worships, he is living in response to God’s love and will experience blessings. The blessings may come now, or they may come later.
The good life God wants for all creation will come. It may come in the hear and now or in the not yet. We are living in an in-between place. We exist in the hear and now which is filled with struggle but can also be filled with blessings. We also exist in the not yet. This is the eternity we are promised, for humankind that eternity may be with God or without Him. For creation outside humankind, the not yet is eternity with God.
Creation too exists in the hear and now and in the not yet. Creation, however, does not have the choice to make as to worship, which believes in Christ as Savior, but it does live in response to God’s love. Creation in the hear and now exists with the stain of fallen humankind’s sin. In the not yet creation exists without the stain, this will be the redemption of all creation.
Provocative, indeed! The more I think about it, the more new thoughts arise. I’ll respond using each of the four points in the post, though I’m bound to continue reflecting on this important topic.
1) God loves all creation. I agree. We know He was pleased with all He had made; He pronounced it all “very good.” We can assume that if Adam and Eve had remained obedient they would have remained happily in Eden, and creation would have been happy, too. On the other hand, when Jesus died, it was for the sins of humanity—the rest of creation doesn’t sin (at least not in a theological sense). If God is holding the rest of creation to account, He hasn’t shared that fact with humankind. He gave us Scripture; if He gave creation something else, we know nothing of it. When my dog does something “wrong,” generally he’s just doing what dogs do.
2) Our believing/living in response to God’s love can lead to good life. Proverbs and other scriptures repeatedly tell us this. We should reflect God’s love toward other humans, certainly. We are made in His image, according to Scripture, and not even the angels can claim this distinction. Image and likeness encompass many of God’s attributes—we can be loving, merciful, and righteous, because our Maker is. Unlike God, though, we are mortal; we have therefore learned to fear and distrust. If we are to love creation (including other humans), we must set aside both past experiences and “common sense.” Love doesn’t mean putting yourself in dangerous situations, but rather acting in the other’s best interests. Like God, we expect to control our world; unlike God, our efforts generally fail. Unlike even the higher mammals, we can (not that we do) exercise self-control and not hunt other species to extinction, for example.
3) God wants the good life for all creation, some of which is groaning in frustration. The responsibility that humans have for creation comes straight from Genesis 2:15, which tells us that “The Lord God placed man in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” As an animal lover, the idea resonates with me. But as with nearly all good intentions, it’s easy to see that our desire to care for creation ends up falling short. It’s easy to respect the dignity of birds and mammals, even amphibians, even trees and flowers. But how to live this out? Does every living thing have the same right to life that a human being does? Should I stop killing spiders in my house? Maybe. Should I stop pulling weeds or mowing my lawn? Maybe. Should doctors refuse to kill germs and viruses? Oh, now that’s going too far. But where is the line? Perhaps those mosquitos and crocodiles are tired of the bad rap they’ve got from humans. I don’t blame them, but in the meantime, I don’t want them to enjoy the good life at my expense.
4) What we do — our believing/living — affects God’s work for the good of all. This postulate seems to return to the belief that humankind is supreme over the rest of creation and is responsible for it. If that isn’t so, the houseflies are really falling down on their share of the responsibility! But we need to be mindful of the consequences—intended and unintended—of our actions. Our overuse of antibiotics renders many of them ineffective for others. Our refuse dumps attract gulls and crows, which are then considered pests. Our failure to neuter our pets leads to unwanted puppies and kittens. We must be stewards of creation, as God ordained.
These are just preliminary thoughts. Thanks for your post, Dr. Oord!
It seems like talking too much about God’s creation, and how God is present in creation gets many Christians all riled up about these discussions being too “New Agey.” What is a healthy understanding of God’s relationship to creation, humanity’s relationship to creation, and how to reconcile them? God created everything, and declared it good. If God says it is good, then it must be. However, there are also stern warnings in the Bible about worshiping the Creator, not the created. So where is the plumb line for a Christian’s relationship with creation? What role does creation play in the overarching narrative of the Bible?
The story of the Fall in Genesis has always made me wonder if there were consequences for the natural world, if perhaps weeds didn’t choke out plants, or the food chain didn’t involve animals eating other animals. If there was no death prior to the Fall, did that apply to animals and plants also?
In Revelation 21 there is a new heaven and a new earth. It makes me wonder if this is just creation restored to it’s originally intended state before sin entered the world, or if this speaks of something completely different.
Thinking about what God loving all of the world means, including all of creation, does make one look more carefully at how we treat the natural world, how much notice we take of it, how much respect we give it, and how we speak of it to others. We also should take into account what this means for the inherent worth of all humanity, even, or maybe especially, the humanity that is disturbing to us.
I am married to a veterinarian so, as you can imagine, our family loves animals. (We have too many if truth be told.) But I have always just accepted that there would not be animals in Heaven because they could not make the choice to follow Jesus. That is not to say that I don’t believe that God loves all of his creating. I think we first see that in the Garden of Eden when God had Adam name each animal one by one. If he did not love them I do not believe He would have had Adam take the time to name each creation individually if He did not love them.
I also see the evidence of His love in the symbosis of all creation. The way that every tiny part make the whole work and that even a small piece missing affects so many other things. I think when we look at this issue in the way that Professor Oord describes, it could most certainly affect how we talk to children and youth about it. There are many things that the young can’t comprehend but they can be greatly affected by adults telling them that there will be no animals in Heaven. I think that when we talk about this issue with the younger generations we can be honest and say that God loves all of creation. We know that animals don’t have a soul so they can’t make a choice to follow Jesus but that doesn’t mean they won’t be in Heaven. We simply don’t know and can’t fathom the plan God has for all of His creation.
John 3:16 is also one of the first Bible verses I had to memorize in Sunday School and one I need to practice with my daughter. I have never heard anyone interpret John 3:16 the way Dr. Oord interpreted the verse. I am so familiar with the interpretation that we will someday live eternally with our maker in heaven, but I am liking the idea that God is also speaking about our current life. How can we receive eternal life? I truly believe that we can receive that by asking for forgiveness, receiving Christ as your personal Savior, and also honouring the things that God created. The focus in John 3:16 is “For God so loved the world.” God loves everyone and everything in it; therefore, we should also be able to love the whole world. After all, “He’s got the whole world in his hands.” I am a believer is conserving and being mindful of resources. What do we have to lose by loving? I think we gain so much when we love the world and not just humans. I am not saying to go to the extreme and become a “tree hugger” (I’m not trying to offend anyone who loves nature), but to take care of what God has blessed us with. Adam and Eve were given the duties to care for everything they see and I think that something that has passed on the generations. Everything we do, do it for the glory of God.
I always believed that part of being Christian involves looking after the world. I remember growing up with John 3: 16 and many times it has focuses on life after we die. However, it makes sense that God wants us to live fully right where we are. Part of living fully involves living in a way that best speaks to who Jesus is. Born again speaks to not only loving humans but loving everything God has created. I can think of several occasions where I would go into nature and feel how much God loves me through nature. I believe God uses all creation to speak about who God is. It is, for this reason, we should understand the “whole world” is not to be limited to humans but all creation including the skies, animals and the ocean. I can see how God redemption plan is tied to all creation as creation speaks to who God is. It has to be true that God loves all creation and as we strive to be more like Jesus so should we!
I have never considered this scripture in this context. As I read it I was reading with some confusion simply because I have never considered the text “God so loved the WORLD” as the literal world. I have always relationed it to people. The more I thought on this the more I considered my own feelings to all of the world. I believe that when we truly love Jesus and we truly walk with him allowing him to be the Lord of of our life we resemble him. With that being said, since my relationship started with Jesus I found a new respect for all of the earth. I then began to care if I littered, if I did something with repercussions to the earth, I considered the care of animals and rethought if my actions encouraged the death of animals for unnecessary things (such as fashion).
So, after reading the article, some thinking, some consideration, and some reflection- I’m amazed I never had the this thought!
As a Christian, this would imply we care about all of the earth, and we have a sense of preservation of our earth. This is something I’m not sure I see a lot of, sadly.