Alister McGrath’s Creation is a great little book that encourages Christians to think more deeply about their theology of creation and how God’s creation might impact their lives. It is well worth reading for stimulating thinking about the world God made and our role in it. (Just a quick heads-up: It contains prints of artwork from some of the world’s great masters. In one scene Adam and Eve are portrayed without the usual strategically-placed bushes to hide certain parts of their bodies. It is perhaps good to be aware that not every era in human history has applied a nudity taboo to art.)
In the second chapter McGrath likens an understanding of God’s desire and purpose in creation to the “philosopher’s stone” described in the George Herbert poem “The Elixir.” As the philosopher’s stone transforms base metals to gold, so does an understanding of God’s creative love transform our valuation of the created order that He has made.
In the art world, the value of a painting in the eyes of the beholder may change dramatically if the signature of a renowned artist is found on it. In like manner, seeing clearly the signature of God in the creatures of the world helps us to see much greater value in them. The world is the good creation of a God who poured unimaginable creativity and love into everything He made on earth, up to and including each fellow human being. He loves the world He made. He loves humanity.
That being the case, we probably should, too.
The fact that God loves His creation should also change the way we behave toward the world.
John’s note: This probably should not be a surprise, given that humanity’s creation in the very image and likeness of God is directly tied to a mission of being stewards over the entire created order on earth. A further clue that God loves both creatures and human beings comes in the form of the covenant God makes as Noah and his family step off the ark. If you are paying attention to Genesis 9, you will notice that the covenant is made with both the remnant of humanity (Noah’s family and descendants) and all the creatures that came off the ark. This covenant even includes instructions for how humans and animals interact.
In Genesis 1, God commands the land, sky and ocean to teem with life. He also commands the human beings to “be fruitful and multiply” in order to fill the earth. The intent seems to be that the earth be shared by an abundance of both humans and animals.
Getting back to Dr. McGrath, he notes that this has four major implications:
- 1) “The natural order, including humanity, is the result of God’s act of creation and is affirmed to be God’s possession.”
2) “Humanity is distinguished from the remainder of creation by being created ‘in the image of God’. This distinction is about the delegation of responsibility rather than the conferral of privilege. It does not encourage or legitimize environmental exploitation or degradation.”
3) “Humanity is charged with the tending of creation (as Adam was entrusted with the care of Eden – Genesis 2.15), in the knowledge that this creation is the cherished possession of God.
4) Finally, we can love the creation for the hope of creation’s final restoration at the final consummation.
The “new heavens and new earth” of Revelation 21-22 is described in terms that remind the reader of Eden. Many prophets in the Old Testament make similar statements, such as in Hosea 2:18; Joel 3:18; Micah 4:4; Ezekiel 38-40; and Isaiah 11 and 65.
He ends the chapter with a very appropriate prayer for God to help us care for His creation and look forward to its renewal.
The book has much more to say about the creation and humankind’s place in it. It is a very worthwhile read to stimulate good thinking about loving God’s creation and living in harmony with it.
Mcgrath, Alister. Creation. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2005.