We’re in a sermon series on the ‘Seven Truths that Changed the Word: Christianity’s Most Dangerous Ideas.’ This weekend’s theme is Creation Ex Nihilo. I seldom reflect too much on creation theology, mostly, I think, because creation theology tends to be abstracted from the particularity of Christ.
But that doesn’t mean creation isn’t an integral part of our faith. It isn’t to say that creation isn’t a part of the Good News. There’s plenty of grist for reflection.
This week I’ve been thinking about those people I encountered on doorsteps and how impoverished their faith-view was because if there’s one thing the Genesis story makes clear about creation: It Really Is Good.
Yes, creation is fallen. Yes, the present world as its splayed across the front pages of the Washington Post is far from what God intended with the opening salvo of the Genesis story. Yes, creation is, as Paul writes in Romans 8, groaning while it awaits Christ’s final redemption. And it’s true we’ve turned what God’s given as gift into an object to be used and abused at our pleasure.
Traditionally, Christians- no, Protestants- have been very faithful when it comes to affirming creation’s broken-ness.
So good, in fact, I don’t think we need to dwell on it anymore.
Traditionally, Christians- no, Protestants- have been sinfully terrible at affirming the goodness of God’s creation.
Christians have even neglected the goodness of creation in the name of faithfulness. Far too often Christians have emphasized the ‘spiritual’ at the expense of the material, thinking that true fidelity required a miserly disposition towards the pleasures of this world.
Misreading St. Paul, Christians have regrettably thought faithfulness required a distinction between the spiritual and the material, between the body and the soul, between the spirit and the flesh. Mistakenly looking towards the pie in the sky, Christians just as often have stressed the goodness of the next life at the expense of this life.
The variety and frequency of error notwithstanding, a Christian confession of God as Creator can abide by no division between flesh and spirit, material and soul. When we say God created the heavens and the earth, we remember that God declared our surroundings ‘good.’ God looked upon our earth, our bodies, our felt experience and called it ‘very good.’
Good food is very good. Love for another is very good. A beautiful vista, a deep friendship, a worthwhile endeavor- they’re all very, very good because that’s how God made them.
Christianity isn’t about practicing a sort of split personality syndrome when it comes to our religious versus everyday lives. Christian selflessness doesn’t mean we regard creation with a miserly disdain. An authentic Christianity sees every moment and every object in our lives as graced. Failure to enjoy life and creation is in a very real sense a theological failure.
Christians are so often so focused on the Cross they forget that God deemed our earthly, fleshly lives good enough to take flesh himself in Christ.
The temptation to divide existence into spiritual and material distinctions is a fourth century heresy called Manicheanism, which in St. Augustine’s day saw the created world as inherently corrupt, broken and even evil. The spiritual, heavenly, world precisely because it was not finite was desirable. Thus the goal of the spiritual life was to escape our earthly lives to the spiritual realm.
St. Augustine devoted a large number of years to debating and defeating the Manichees. Even though modern believers still exhibit a propensity to divide the spiritual from the material, Augustine believed the Trinity warned against any such inclination. If God is Trinity and if Creation is the result of God’s gracious, unnecessary self-giving, then to question Creation’s goodness is, in effect, to question the goodness of God.