By Paul Koch –
As you grow older and look back on your life, if you’re like me, you find that there are a lot of things for which you are thankful. But sometimes, you haven’t actually said, “Thank you” to those who imparted such blessings. So, I would like to take a moment to thank my dad today. Now there are a lot of things for which I could and should thank him, but I’m pretty sure I’ve never thanked him for taking me hiking as a child. From a young age he had me out in the wilderness with my older brother’s Boy Scout troop, backpacking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I still remember that first trip to Davis Lake; the weight of the pack the desire to quit and to just sit down on the side of the trail. I remember getting sick from the altitude and exhaustion. But above all, I remember waking up that first morning, at the side of the lake in the High Sierras, absolutely overwhelmed by the beauty of it all.
That trip and many more that followed throughout the years filled me with wonder and awe at the majesty of this creation. During our honeymoon, my wife and I backpacked out of Aspen into the Rocky Mountains. We saw stunning sunsets, open fields of wild flowers, and running streams that few people on this earth have seen with their own eyes. Isn’t it amazing that such places even exist? Or think of the fact that out there in the ocean beyond the Channel Islands there are fish and sea creatures that bubble along living and thriving, without any thought of you or me or the concerns of mankind. This creation is magnificent; it inspires poets, artists, philosophers and theologians alike. It can be gentle and peaceful or brutal and rugged; and it never fails to surprise us.
In Genesis 1:1 through 2:3, we read the whole account of how this creation was brought into being. In six days God speaks all these things into being. Six days to create the stunning sunsets, the beautiful flowers and the strange sea creature we may never see. Yes, I said six days. I was having a conversation recently with an acquaintance of mine who happens to be an unbeliever and he asked if I really believed that; that, of course, is absurd in our scientifically astute society. My answer wasn’t all that well thought out, but I said something along the lines of, “If my God couldn’t make the world in a week then he would be an awfully small god, and perhaps not worthy of my time.”
As Moses gives us an accounting of the creation of all things we are caught up in the simple refrain; “And God said.” And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. This creation, this place of wonder and awe is a place that is spoken into being by our God. His word establishes the heavens; the sun, moon and stars. His word creates the dry land and brings forth every living thing we have seen or have yet to discover. Beneath the towering waterfalls of Yosemite Valley, hidden in the depths of the oceans, present in the weeds that grow in cracks of your driveway are the effects of the living Word of God. Luther, in his lectures on Genesis, says that when we see a hen lay an egg and then keep it warm we are witnessing the Word of God at work.
And then comes the creation of man, the pinnacle of his work. God is there in the beginning. His Spirit hovers over the forming of the world we call home and His Word speaks it into being. Then this one God in three persons says, “Let us make man in our image.” Bearing that image mankind is given lordship over his creation to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over it.” And then God steps back and looks at his handiwork.
The master craftsman, the ultimate and pure artist, sees what he has made and declares that it is very good.
But we know the rest of the story. Though we can enjoy the sunset and marvel at the vast diversity of His creation, we know that the goodness was torn by sin. In fact the God who rests on the seventh day in admiration of His work will see it becomes something ugly and distorted by chapter 6 of Genesis. There we are told that God looks down and seeing the wickedness of man, He is sorry that He made man on the earth; it grieved Him to His heart.
John Milton in his epic poem Paradise Lost imagines a scene where the archangel Michael takes Adam aside after the fall and he is shown what is to come. He sees his wife weeping over the death of their son, after he is murdered by Cain. He sees the great multiplying of his children, only to see them drowned and die in the great flood. He sees one terror after another, from idol worship to slavery to war and back again. He is crushed as the full weight of his betrayal comes crashing down on him and the beauty of creation fades from eyes. But Michael doesn’t leave him in such despair for he continues to reveal to him the greater story of his Creator. Adam hears the promises made to Abraham, he rejoices in the Word of hope given to David, and he marvels as the Son of God enters our story of sin and brokenness to give the hope of paradise again.
In Milton’s poetry we are reminded of something that I think we tend to forget. In our sin and trials in this life we forget that this world was once very good. In fact it was very good because it was the physical extension of the Word of God itself. And though creation weeps and wails under the strain of sin the Word has not left us alone. The Word that formed the ground beneath your feet is the same Word that provides the air you breathe and the voice in your throats. The Word of God is a mighty active and living thing. And with the same authority that it demanded that sun govern the day and the moon the night so it has spoken concerning each and every one of you.
In Paradise Lost, after Adam sees this vision of the unfolding of time he returns to his bride, embraces her in hope and joy, and calls her the mother of all the living. It was not death and destruction that lingered but the Word of promise that triumphed. Because of the Word his wife who had once been viewed as the vehicle through which sin and condemnation entered the world now is viewed as the vehicle through which God would bring new life to His creation. The creative and living Word of God changes everything. In fact, it changes you as well.
The Word has never quit. From the first spark of light and life on this planet to the cross and empty tomb, the Word has been at work. The Word created the creatures of the deep and the snowcapped mountain peaks Also, the Word has said that you are His. In fact, He has declared that your sins are His and His righteousness is yours. Your filthy rags He has made His own, so that He might clothe you with His holiness.
In the end, the story of creation reminds us that the Word is all there is. We cannot escape it; it is our world, our life, and our hope. And in the midst of your failing, in the midst of your brokenness, the Word says, “I forgive you, I love you, and in Christ alone you are very good indeed.”