The Grandeur-Charged World
We live in a world that was created by God.
That’s a controversial claim in our day and age, but for the sake of brevity, we’ll assume that it’s true. We as Christians, after all, believe that Scripture is the word of God, and Scripture teaches us that the world was crafted by God with great power and care. God cares about his creation (Psalm 104:24-30). In fact, when we read the story of creation in the book of Genesis, we’re told that God surveyed what he had done at the end of each day, and he deemed it good (Genesis 1).
Of course, it unfortunately didn’t stay good. Adam and Eve, the two people whom God charged to cultivate creation as his agents, did exactly the opposite: they plunged the entire cosmos into ruin through their disobedience. As a result, not only were they cursed with painful toil and hard labor, but the whole of nature itself was subjected to bondage and decay (Romans 8:20).
The Stop at the Curse
Sadly, that’s where many Christians in the West tend to stop with the story of creation: the curse. “The earth is cursed and it’s all going to burn one day anyway, so why should we care about what happens to it? And besides that, we’re going to spend eternity in heaven after we die!”
If that were actually what the Scriptures taught, I might be inclined to agree: if the end of all our work in gardens and forests and cities is going to be eaten up by tongues of fire in the last day, then why bother with breaking our backs in an effort to cultivate any of it? If everything in the material world as we know it is destined for the annihilating furnace, then the sweat of our brow is simply an exercise in futility.
The problem, of course, is that the Scriptures do not teach that. What they actually teach is far more glorious and beautiful than a mere rapture-escape from this world into a cloudy, ethereal heaven.
What the Scriptures actually teach is nothing less than the renewal of the entire cosmos. As the apostle Paul himself once wrote, all things will be united in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth (Ephesians 1:10) -- which means that not only will we be saved, but so will the whole created order. Not only will we be set free from the cords of death and rot, but so will the earth.
The Renewal of All Things
To riff off a line that T.S. Eliot once wrote, in the beginning is the end -- in other words, we see a clear picture of God’s ultimate design and end for creation in the beginning. In the beginning, God charged mankind to act as his viceroys -- to exercise authority and dominion over the earth, to ennoble the beasts, to care for the world that he had made and allowed them to live in. Through Adam and Eve, we see that part of what it means to be fully human is to tend the ground, to be mindful of the world we dwell in, to properly and appropriately love the “stuff” of creation -- and the fact that this was true before the fall tells us something of the ultimate end that God has in mind for his creation.
When Christ returns to judge sin and deliver his people, life will be as it was before the fall -- fully material, a world ready to be cultivated and worked and played in. Our prayers for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven will be answered with a resounding Yes and Amen. The once-savage wolf will come alongside the gentle lamb and eat grass; the vineyards which once caused such frustration will bear clusters of grapes for the picking; the wintry reminders of the curse and the rancid smell of roadkill will no longer be remembered or come into mind (Isaiah 65:17-25).
The Grandeur of God
Of course, the earth as we experience today seems to be millions of years away from such glory. But as the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins once wrote, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” Even in its currently wretched state, all of creation is singing the praise of the King: the starry hosts shine like crystals in his crown; the trees wave their hands like banners in his throne room; the sun and the moon twirl in a dance as if in his royal ballroom. Every time we cast our eyes outside our windows, we witness an endless symphony that is being played to the honor of God.
To paraphrase the psalmist, the whole world is telling of the glory of God -- and if nature’s voice goes out through all the earth, then why not join it (Psalm 19)? Why not come alongside the wondrously made and grandeur-charged world, and declare the glories of him who created all things? What if, rather than treating the earth as a used-up paper plate to be thrown into the garbage, we treated the earth as a fellow witness of the one true God?
It may very well be that, as we sing along with the mountains and hills, we will find ourselves led in joy and peace -- and find that the broken and cursed pieces of our humanity are being repaired in the process, just as surely as the broken and cursed pieces of the earth (Isaiah 55:12).