The malevolent ingenuity of Satan and the muggable incredulity of Christians never ceases to amaze. If there is a cockeyed way of thinking then Satan will suggest it and we will embrace it. One that deserves a place in Satan’s Hall of Fame for C21 delusions is the idea that somehow God cares more about plants than people. Or to dress the barmy belief up in more respectable clothes (and let’s face it to be credible it demands all the theological help it can get) the trendy teaching that God’s big concern is the salvation of the Cosmos rather than the Church.
Now if we were simply hearing that God intends to renew creation that would be fine. It would be eminently biblical and have an honourable tradition. Evangelicals have always believed this despite the efforts of some to suggest otherwise. But we are not simply being told that God cares for creation and intends to renew it. We are being told this is God’s main concern. We are being told the gospel that focuses on the salvation of individual sinners is a gross distortion of the gospel. The salvation of individual sinners from sin is a selfish concern, a ‘redemptive myth’, or at best ‘bit part’ in God’s great Cosmic drama of salvation.
Kevin De Young, obviously aware of this trend, has a helpful blog about it here. He well says,
Do not think that salvation comes to sinners because God has a cosmic purpose for the universe and individual sinners happen to be a part of that universe. The movement of salvation is not from everything to individuals, but from individuals to everything. Don’t mistake regeneration, redemption, and adoption as byproducts of the larger work God is doing to restore creation. That logic is backwards. Biblically, it’s the renewal of all things that rides in on the coattails of the salvation of sinners.
Precisely. It is hard to believe that any could read their Bible and think anything else. Read the story of creation. The great drama of creation in Gen 1 does not reach a crescendo in v1 when God creates the heavens and the earth. Nor is it in the creation of light (day one), nor the separating of waters below and above the firmament (day two), nor the separating of land and seas (day three)… the climax and crescendo of creation is day six when God makes man in his own image and likeness and personally breathes into him the breath of life. Man is the focus and prime purpose of creation. He it is, who bearing the divine image, God intended (and intends) to ‘crown with glory and honour’ and give ‘dominion over all the works of his hands’ (Ps 8).
It is not the plants in the garden that God comes to savour in the cool of the day, he comes to have fellowship with Adam. The heavens and the earth, an arena of divine glory, were nonetheless designed for man’s blessing (Gen 1:26-30; 9:1-3).
When sin enters the world and brings destruction, God’s first concern is man. It is man he clothes. Indeed, it is in Man that a serpent-slaying deliverer will be found. God will himself become man (in the final analysis this nutty notion is an assault on the value of Christ himself). God’s love ultimately is not creation, nor even angels, but the seed of Abraham (Hebs 2).
Throughout the OT, while God is concerned about his creation, his chief desire is a relationship with humanity. The rich images of OT relationship underline this. He is a Father to Israel. He is a Husband to his People. He is a Lover to those he has set his love upon. He does not ‘know’ creation, he ‘knows’ his people (Amos 3:2). It is his people he loves ‘with an everlasting love’ (Jer 31).
The NT is exactly the same. Joseph was told in Matthew’s gospel to call the child ‘Jesus’ because he would ‘save his people from their sins’. The gospels, we are told, are concerned with a bigger picture, yet here, right at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, we discover that Jesus has come to ‘save his people from their sins’. Yes Matthew will speak later of the renewal of all things (Matt 19) but his concern even then, as he speaks of the ‘new world’ are those who will share with him in the life of that new world, the sons of the kingdom (Matt 19:23-30).
In new creation, as in old creation, God’s primary concern is not with property and plants but with people. Like any good Father his primary love and chief absorption is not with his capital or chattels but his children, not his real estate but his sons and daughters. They are his heirs, a new heavens and earth is but part of their inheritance. In marvellous, staggering, dumbfounding grace God has made us his kin and bequeathed to us all he has (1 Cor 3:21).
Jesus argues from the self-evidently greater value of people over plants to convince his people not to worry.
Matt 6:25-30 (ESV)
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
De Young points out that in Roms 8 creation’s future is contingent upon Christians and not vice versa.
Rom 8:18-22 (ESV)
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.
We could glance too at the picture of new creation in Rev 21. What is interesting in this chapter is that only the first verse of the chapter mentions the new heavens and earth. The rest of the chapter is taken up with describing, not the glory of the new heavens and earth but of the New Jerusalem, the bride of Christ and it is in her that the glory of God resides. The high point of redemption is not a new heavens and new earth wonderful though that is but as the loud voice from the throne cries in joy and triumph,
Rev 21:3-4 (ESV)
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Just in case the point has evaded us, God’s joy and glory and fulfilment is in his people not plants. That evangelical theologians are prepared to argue otherwise is simply a proof of how wily Satan is and how wacky (though wise in their own conceits) some theologians can be.