As I reflected on the title I have given for today’s message I began to wonder if it was correct. Did God bring order out of chaos? As we read Genesis 1 the statement that is being made is certainly that God brought order, but as Christians we believe that God created ex nihilo – out of nothing. God spoke and the world came into being. The statement at the very beginning makes it clear that only God is eternal: ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’ Gen 1:1 From there God brings into being the order of creation.
Why is this important? Outside of God nothing has its existence. There were not the materials from which to bring creation into being: matter is not eternal, but God is. This does not mean material things and creatures of God’s creation do not matter so we can just write them off and wait for salvation. We have seriously misread the Bible if we are professing what is basically Greek philosophy and are still stuck in the ‘Left behind’ theology of the ‘70s. Anyway, let’s not get too heavy for a Sunday morning! The point is that God brings order, that creation matters and this is what we are exploring over the coming weeks.
Certainly the reverse of the title is true: we have brought chaos out of order. This is what the first eleven chapters of Genesis tell us. We have long known this. Early on in the 20th Century scientists realised that if we carried on as we were we would hit a crisis, precisely because we were and are releasing too much CO2 into the atmosphere.
At the moment on Facebook there are a number of people sharing the music albums that influenced them most. I am a child of the 60s, and didn’t really get into music until early 70s. I listened to Aladdin Sane, Deep Purple, Quadrophenia, Simon and Garfunkel, Wings. Albums that stand out: Moody Blues ‘A Question of Balance’. The title speaks for itself, but one of the tracks asks the question, ‘How is it we are here?’ as the song explores the way we treat the environment and others. The other album is Supertramp ‘Crime of the Century’. The title track explores the same theme with the words:
And they rape the universe
How they’ve gone from bad to worse
Who are these men of lust, greed, and glory?
These people are you and me. As Christian people surely that shouldn’t be the case – but it is.
However, you may say, the bigger concern is COVID 19 and how we are going to cope and survive. That is certainly the immediate problem, but is COVID 19 not a result of our lifestyles and has it not caused us to stop and reflect and consider how we live and treat the planet? The protests in London and elsewhere last year raised the profile; the current crisis has made us stop.
At Joyce’s mum’s funeral on Wednesday I was talking with the funeral director as we walked through the cemetery. He said that he thought the situation we are in was basically Mother Earth telling us enough is enough. We don’t believe in Mother Earth, but if someone who is not a believer can see a bigger cause, why can’t we hear God saying to the world, ‘Enough. Stop, think, repent and turn to me. Change your ways and look at the responsibility I gave with creation.’
God is not chaotic. At the beginning of the Bible we learn straight away that God is God of order and structure and design. Speaking into the lives of the children of Israel, the author of Genesis is saying, ‘This is the God we worship. Your lives may be chaotic and your hopes dashed, because of how you were living; but here is the God who will bring order and restoration if we look to him, listen to him and trust in him.’
I like order and structure and to know where I am going. I have to work hard at that for myself. I am messy and untidy; work in piles of books and paper and my computer desktop is just the same. I have to work hard at bringing structure to my week and at personal discipline. People often kick against order and regulation, but I firmly believe that it is within the order and structure that we then have the security and space to be creative, to be messy, to experiment. Even the most chaotic people who would claim they don’t need order and structure and just go with the flow, are finding the current situation difficult to handle, because of the uncertainty. They cannot operate in their supposedly chaotic way because the framework has been removed. A jazz musician can play music that seems spontaneous, because they have learned the structure and form and this gives them freedom to express their music. The artist who breaks all the norms can do so because they have learned the structure that gives them the security from which to express their art.
When God created, he created order within which Adam and Eve were given responsibility and freedom. The one prohibition given was for their good not constraint. They had everything they needed but they wanted to go beyond. In doing so chaos enters. We don’t celebrate and worship a chaotic God, but one of structure and order. Look at the words we use: you are my rock; my refuge; my tower of strength. Overwhelmingly, when the psalmist describes God hiding his face it brings insecurity, uncertainty and he can’t cope with it.
God is not chaotic. We bring the chaos and uncertainty and that has certainly happened in the way we have treated the planet and the way our theology of 20th Century saw the planet. I was reading a book called ‘Planetwise’ by David Bookless and he described our climate crisis as symptomatic of a bigger problem, which goes back to Genesis and our understanding of stewardship and responsibility. He asks the question,
‘Imagine science discovered a cure for climate change: a magical solution in which all the greenhouse gasses would be absorbed. Imagine the clock was turned back 200 years to the pre-industrial age and all the pollution was sucked out: would that solve the environmental issues?’
His answer is no, because of the broken relationship we have with the earth, with each other and with God. We would still chop down the forests for beef farming because it makes money. We would still over exploit the resources of the world; we would still have the problems of waste disposal and exploitation of the poor for the rich. The problem is our relationship with the earth and each other and our energy hungry lifestyle.
Just this week the major oil companies have been having their AGMs companies like Shell and BP intend to increase oil and gas production by 38% and 20% respectively between 2018 and 2030, when global carbon emissions must fall by 55% by 2030 in order to limit the global average temperature rise to 1.5°C, according to the 2019 UN Emissions Gap report. We can and should be shocked by this, but then we have to look at our lifestyles that drive this investment. I did a carbon footprint check on what I considered to be my fairly straight forward lifestyle, to see how many worlds would be needed if everyone lived as Wendy and I do. For everyone on the planet to live as Wendy and I do, we would need just over 3 worlds. That was a bit of a shock.
However, why should I care?
• It is a moral issue. If all of humankind is made in the likeness of God and are creatures loved by God, we cannot treat them as people who are just there to meet my needs and not be concerned for their needs. It is the age old problem of poverty and inequality. It won’t help for me to impoverish myself, but I can use my wealth and limited influence to improve life for others.
• It is a justice issue. Who are the people most impacted by the change in climate? Those who live in the poorer areas of the world. Rising sea levels will affect us all, but it is the poorer nations most impacted.
• It is a creation issue. God created the world and all that is in it. The pronouncement God made on creation was that it was good. Humankind was given the responsibility of working and keeping the garden (Genesis 2:15).Christians have often been accused of being careless about creation because they are going to heaven and the earth is destined for destruction. We will be exploring this when we reach ‘God so loved the world. What is its’ destiny?’ in the preaching programme. However, we are being forced to think again about what God says concerning creation and our responsibility within it.
David Bookless says we need a radical shift in understanding in the church compared with that surrounding Copernicus when he discovered the earth revolved around the sun and not the other way round. He says,
‘We urgently need to realise that the earth and the creatures with which we share it are not merely the stage on which we act out our relationship with God.They are characters in the story themselves.’
• It’s a theological issue. If we believe that God created the world that
The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it on the seas
and established it on the waters. Psalm 24
Then dare we just trash it? Coming back to the funeral director I was talking with the other day: he said, ‘Of course we are just renters of the earth.’ This series is entitled ‘Tenants of the King’, because we are tenants and the landlord expects us to be handing the house on in an habitable condition.
All these themes will recur as we go through this series.
Ok. I’m beginning to sound like the converted smoker telling all his smoking friends they should give up. I am just as late to this issue as many other Christians and do far too little to change things. But what can I do to help restore the order God put in place.?
Well that’s where we begin as Christians – with God our creator and our Father.
1. We come to him in repentance, prayer and seeking him. Repentance means we are wanting to change and follow his ways.
2. As a church we take seriously the need to reduce our carbon footprint. Perhaps someone could go to the A Rocha Eco Church website and see what we need to do to get the ball rolling.
3. We have large areas of roof space. Why don’t we investigate and invest in becoming a solar farm, with the aim of reducing our gas use and even feeding into the grid?
4. As a church we insist that everyone who uses our building takes waste recycling seriously and tackle persistent offenders – both within and outside the church.
5. Turn the church garden into an allotment area with raised beds and flowers around the borders as now. Raised beds can be made from reclaimed materials.
6. Personally take the carbon footprint test.
7. Change our home fuel suppliers to those providing green energy.
8. Think carefully about how we travel for both work, routine tasks and leisure.
9. Eat further down the food chain. Remember it is cattle ranchers who are driving deforestation of the Amazon. Methane produced by sheep and cattle adds to the greenhouse gasses.
10. Support efforts made in Parliament to bring environmental changes, so that our legislators know this is what people want to see.
It can all be overwhelming, can’t it. What difference can my little contribution make? I often think that when I see the rubbish that gets dumped in the streets of Gravesend by people who seemingly don’t care. That doesn’t excuse us, not least because
‘According to the witness of our Scriptures, everything that we have, life and the
means of life, comes to us as gift.
I’m going to sign post resources you can follow up on our website. I am really looking for you all to engage with this and the future shape of the church, so please make use of them. We are tenants of the King. He has blessed us in so many ways. Let’s not take his blessing for granted.