A Creation That Groans

I think it is safe to assume that most of us are familiar with the account of creation found in Genesis 1. I mean, it has become so mainstream that even those that aren’t religious most likely have some idea of the story of God creating the animals alongside Adam and Even in the garden. I’m afraid it has become so familiar, in fact, that it has lost its charm, or beauty.  We read it and don’t embrace all that is happening, or we simply hear it as a literal story and miss the beautiful imagery of creation coming into existence, of a God that works all things together for good. So help us with that, I want to read Genesis 1 right now, but read it from the message version, which as you may know is written to sound more like  a story we’d  read in English rather than a literal translation from the Hebrew. The message’s version of Genesis 1 is rather poetic, so I wonder if reading it now would help us really appreciate all that there is to this story. And let’s try a response together. After I read a section, and motion to you, respond together say, “God saw that it was good.”

1-2 First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don’t see. Earth was a soup of nothingness, a bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness. God’s Spirit brooded like a bird above the watery abyss.

3-5 God spoke: “Light!”
And light appeared.
God saw that light was good
and separated light from dark.
God named the light Day,
he named the dark Night.
It was evening, it was morning—
Day One.

6-8 God spoke: “Sky! In the middle of the waters;
separate water from water!”
God made sky.
He separated the water under sky
from the water above sky.
And there it was:
he named sky the Heavens;
It was evening, it was morning—
Day Two.

9-10 God spoke: “Separate!
Water-beneath-Heaven, gather into one place;
Land, appear!”
And there it was.
God named the land Earth.
He named the pooled water Ocean.
God saw that it was good.

11-13 God spoke: “Earth, green up! Grow all varieties
of seed-bearing plants,
Every sort of fruit-bearing tree.”
And there it was.
Earth produced green seed-bearing plants,
all varieties,
And fruit-bearing trees of all sorts.
God saw that it was good.
It was evening, it was morning—
Day Three.

14-15 God spoke: “Lights! Come out!
Shine in Heaven’s sky!
Separate Day from Night.
Mark seasons and days and years,
Lights in Heaven’s sky to give light to Earth.”
And there it was.

16-19 God made two big lights, the larger
to take charge of Day,
The smaller to be in charge of Night;
and he made the stars.
God placed them in the heavenly sky
to light up Earth
And oversee Day and Night,
to separate light and dark.
God saw that it was good.
It was evening, it was morning—
Day Four.

20-23 God spoke: “Swarm, Ocean, with fish and all sea life!
Birds, fly through the sky over Earth!”
God created the huge whales,
all the swarm of life in the waters,
And every kind and species of flying birds.
God saw that it was good.
God blessed them: “Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Ocean!
Birds, reproduce on Earth!”
It was evening, it was morning—
Day Five.

24-25 God spoke: “Earth, generate life! Every sort and kind:
cattle and reptiles and wild animals—all kinds.”
And there it was:
wild animals of every kind,
Cattle of all kinds, every sort of reptile and bug.
God saw that it was good.

26-28 God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them
reflecting our nature
So they can be responsible for the fish in the sea,
the birds in the air, the cattle,
And, yes, Earth itself,
and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.”
God created human beings;
he created them godlike,
Reflecting God’s nature.
He created them male and female.
God blessed them:
“Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge!
Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air,
for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.”

29-30 Then God said, “I’ve given you
every sort of seed-bearing plant on Earth
And every kind of fruit-bearing tree,
given them to you for food.
To all animals and all birds,
everything that moves and breathes,
I give whatever grows out of the ground for food.”
And there it was.

31 God looked over everything he had made;
it was so good, so very good!
It was evening, it was morning—
Day Six

On this day of celebrating God’s creation, what a wonderful message to be reminded of. Yet, I often feel that such a message seems to be a thing of the past, as I more often than not think that creation is no longer good. I mean, if creation was so good then, why does God’s creation seem to be in chaos now? As far as the earth goes, we’ve got record breaking hurricanes occurring year after year, massive droughts in the west, huge famines in parts of Africa, glaciers melting at an alarming rate, the average temperature globally rising to dangerous levels, earth quakes, volcanoes, floods, yo name it, the world seems to be in chaos. And that’s just the natural world. As far as humans go, war has killed thousands in Ukraine, refugees leaving Afghanistan and many other countries throughout the middle east, civil unrest in Myanmar, Economic collapse and the destruction of health, education and other critical systems in Yemen, the list goes on. What has happened to God’s good creation?

I feel like Paul was feeling the same way when he wrote the passage from Romans that we read earlier. He said that whole creation groans, and labors with birth pangs together until now, and he goes on to say that “Not only that, but we also who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.”

Now, to honest to the context, Paul isn’t really speaking on issues of creation care, but rather the “not yet” that is God’s kingdom, and how it encompasses all of creation, but still, I think it is a message worth noting on this day of celebrating God’s creation. Because on days like today, I’m not sure what to feel, and maybe you’re there too. I am thankful for God’s creation, but I’m also ashamed at how we’ve treated it, and I’m a little uneasy about the direction we are going in terms of correcting. When I think about creation, maybe you’re like me, as I’m often led to one of two schools of thought.

On one side, you have the orthodox view of Christianity, that God is in control, so if God is in control, why should we care how we treat the Earth, I mean, God is in control, could we really do harm? The world is so big and we are so small. Could we really cause irreparable harm? And God gave us these resources. Shouldn’t we be able to use as much as we want, as fast as want, without any consequences?

I’m afraid many Christians feels this way, and I’m afraid this rhetoric is not only doing harm to our environment, but harm to our cause of Christ followers to share God’s love to others. I think this is a big concern for our young people as well and it’s why they often feel that their concerns aren’t shared by their older leaders. I mean, we wonder why young people today seem to be more cynical, and have higher levels of anxiety: it’s because they see their planet exhibiting symptoms of damage, and so often the adults in charge don’t seem to be doing anything.

And this can be where people end up on the other side of the spectrum.  They’ve tried and tried to get others to feel the same way they do about the environment but it feels like there is no longer any point, so they stop caring, they stop working towards a cleaner and greener tomorrow, and they succumb to the ways of the world and only maintain hope that humans will eventually kill themselves off with their overconsumption to leave a prospering Earth for the plants and animals left behind.

But is there not another way, because both of these perspectives seem to be hopeless. How do we care for God’s creation that seems to be crumbling while still maintaining hope that what we are doing matters and that we can save our planet from the negative effects we’ve had on it for the past couple of centuries?  It’s a challenge, but one that I think we need to wrestle with.  I think it is a question that humans have been asking for quite some time, especially as we’ve realized our capabilities of doing harm to the world.

Did you ever see that movie, “The Day The Earth Stood Still? There was one that came out in 2008, but I’m talking about the one from 1951. Don’t get me wrong, the one from 2008 is good, but I don’t think it compares to the one from 1951. In fact, I think the difference in the two movies may highlight how we have come to view creation and the negative ways of thinking that have evolved since the original movie came out in 1951.

In both movies, an alien named Klaatu, who inhabits a body that looks human, and actually is human in the new one, comes to Earth, alongside a large robot named Gort. Gort in the original inhabits a large silver suit that looks robotic, with ridged arms and a robotic type walk characteristic of most sci-fi movies in the 50s. In the 2008 film, Gort gets an upgrade with CGI and is much, much larger.

In the 1951 version, Klaatu says that he comes with an important message that he needs to communicate to the various world leaders, but as you can imagine, this proves to be difficult. To awaken the Earth to the severity of Klaatu’s message, Gort causes all of the electricity to stop working for thirty minutes. Shots from London, Paris, New York, Moscow, are seen alongside images of factories at a standstill, a woman taking wet laundry out of her dryer, a worker trying to make a milkshake at a soda fountain lifting the cup onto a stationary mixer, even the poor dairy farmer can’t use the pumps to milk his cows. Hence, the title of the movie, the day the earth stood still.

After such a display of power, the military was set on capturing Klaatu at all costs, and they do catch him, and end up killing him in the process. But, his new friend Helen, who has become a vital character in the story, manages to get Gort, remember the big silver robot, to go retrieve Klaatu’s corpse. Those of you that have seen it, do you remember the line that Helen has to tell Gort? Klaatu barada nikto

Gort temporarily revives Klaatu so he can communicate his message, which he does, before the spaceship is seen departing Earth. His message was that humans must learn to live in peace or face certain annihilation.  The movie ends there, leaving viewers to wonder: Do we have what it takes?

The 2008 version, unsurprisingly, is much different. In that version, Klaatu is here to check up on the Earth, and quickly decides that humans are too destructive to be allowed to continue ruining Earth, only one of a few planets in the cosmos capable of sustaining complex life he says. So, we then see futuristic arks harvesting animals in to them before Gort, who can now apparently turn himself into microscopic flying insects that eat everything in their path, begins wiping out the human race. As we see this occurring, Klaatu tells one of the main characters of the reasoning for such a cruel act: if the earth dies, you die. If you die, the earth lives.

But as the events unfold, Klaatu begins to have a change of heart. We see Klaatu speaking with another alien who has been living among humans for several decades. This alien decides to stay on Earth and die with the humans because he has come to love them.  Even among our destructive tendencies, this alien considers himself lucky to have lived life among humans.

In another scene, Klaatu sees two characters at a tombstone, crying over the loss of a loved one, and this sight moves him enough to sacrifice his own life to stop the destruction of the world, and as the spaceship leaves, the earth is left standing still reflecting on the events that occurred and their meaning for the future.

Now I can already feel your judgement: oh Justin, stop being so critical. That message is still good. Humanity is flawed, but still worth saving. Can’t you see the value that Klaatu sees in humans.

And yes, sure. I think there’s a point to it, that even among the hardships of life, love is worth saving. But in comparison to the 1951 version, I feel that the 2008 dodges the underlining question of the original. The 2008 version implies that Klaatu was the one who needed to change.  He was the one who needed to learn from humans, where the 1951 implies that humans are the ones in need a change of perspective.

Yes, the 1951 version of Klaatu, changes his mind too, but he does so with a warning: the choice is up to us. We can live peacefully together, or face our end, because as he states, “There must be security for all, or no one is secure.”

Do you see my critique now? The 1951 didn’t make excuses for humanity but gave us a warning, as the film ends without the viewer knowing if humans were capable of changing or not, yet the 2008 version just assumes we should be saved without the tension of questioning if humanity is capable of actually living in peace with the rest of creation.

As dark as it may seem, I prefer the warning, because I think it’s rooted in our calling to live in the struggle of life without succumbing to apathy.

Because I think there is a third perspective to creation that we can hold, besides the two I mentioned earlier that lead to apathy, and it’s one I think was what Paul was getting at in our gospel reading today. He said,

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. 19 For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.

Did you catch that? Creation itself is eagerly waiting for the sons of God, us, to be revealed.  Just like us, Paul says that the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of [f]corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

I think this is what Jim was referencing last week when he spoke of the resurrection of the body at the end of time. Do you remember what he said? To God, there is no time, so this time of not yet and the time of redemption are both at hand. To God (slap) there is no time and both are at hand. But for us experiencing linear time, we are not at a place where we can fully know all there is to God’s kingdom, so we must die, and our bodies lay lifeless until God’s final redemption is made known. Until then, creation, and us, eagerly wait for God’s kingdom to be made known.  So, we work to bring in God’s kingdom as we maneuver this life where it hasn’t yet fully materialized, maintaining hope that we are moving towards a time when all things will be made perfect.

But this time of waiting isn’t meant to be wasted. We are called to embrace the “not yet of this world” where, as Paul states in verses 26-27, we are to embody the tension of bringing the new creation into the old. Christians must be at the forefront of bringing in this new creation, for it is a foretaste of God’s eventual perfect kingdom of full healing and redemption. We can’t put off this work until some other time in the future. The time is now. God’s kingdom is at hand.

Yet, instead of bringing in new creation, we seem to want to hold onto the old.  We want to make salvation merely about individual piety rather than bringing other people into God’s love.  We decide that certain people can be included in God’s kingdom and others can’t. We think it’s okay to make jokes or look down upon about others that dress differently than us, live differently than us, love differently than us, and even worship differently than us. We prioritize the desires of the wealthy over the needs of the poor. We prioritize our own convenience over the needs of the world. We prioritize affordable goods at the expense of low-paid workers and environmental devastation. We shed blood to maintain power.
We have decided that not all of God’s creation is good, so we ignore call to address wider issues of corruption, injustice, oppression, division, and war, all things that prevent God’s creation from fully prospering into what it was originally intended. But do you remember our Genesis reading? God created humans in God’s image, and found them to be very good.

That’s the thing about creation care. It is just as much about how we treat our neighbors as it is about how we treat our environment, because everything is a part of God’s creation.

I think the 1951 Klaatu was an inspiration, not just for his message, but also because of his sacrifice, and I wonder if we too would be willing to give up our own biases and prejudices and desires, to truly embrace the new kingdom that is coming, would we too be willing to make the sacrifices to help make this world look more like heaven.

After Gort brough   Klaatu back to life, Helen spoke with Klaatu. She said:

Helen: “I thought you were…”
Klaatu: “I was.”
Helen: “You mean he [Gort] has the power of life and death?”
Klaatu: “No. That power is reserved to the Almighty Spirit. This technique, in some cases, can restore life for a limited period.”
Helen: “But how long?”
Klaatu: “You mean how long will I live? That, no one can tell.”

Even with the uncertainty of life, do we have what it takes to truly see God’s creation as good, to repair it when it has been harmed, and to sacrifice in order to help others experience this good creation? It is difficult,  but as Paul said, in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose. Friends, we have our purpose.  Let’s care for God’s good creation together.