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Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2008 Christianity Today International
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Chapter OneSESSION 1
RESPECT FOR THE MAKER
Looking up at a dazzling nightscape filled with stars, you pause and consider how vast and amazing God is. Examining the intricate pattern of veins on a leaf, you're reminded of God's artistry and design. Standing on a summit after a hike, you survey the land before you and are struck with wonder-you feel you can sense God's presence. In "The God Who Can't Be Tamed," Philip Yancey challenges us to live as if we believe that God uses his creation to point us to himself. He suggests that if we continue to destroy the world around us, we will take away opportunities for people to see evidence of who God is.
Before You Meet
Read "The God Who Can't Be Tamed" by Philip Yancey from Christianity Today.
THE GOD WHO CAN'T BE TAMED
Could we be losing more than the land when we destroy it?
by Philip Yancey
In what she later called "the most transporting pleasure of my life on the farm," Isak Dinesen went flying across the unspoiled plains of Africa with her friend Denys Finch Hatton. In the film version of Out of Africa, Denys first invited her by saying, "I want to show you the world as Godsees it." Indeed, the next few minutes of cinematography come close to presenting exactly that. As the frail Moth airplane soars beyond the escarpment that marks the beginning of the rift Valley in Kenya, the ground falls abruptly away and the zoom lens captures a glimpse of Eden in the grasslands just below.
Great herds of zebras scatter at the sound of the motor, each group wheeling in unison, as if a single mind controlled the bits of modern art dashing across the plain. Huge giraffes-they seemed so gangly and awkward when standing still-gallop away with exquisite gracefulness. Bounding gazelles, outrunning the larger animals, fill in the edge of the scene.
The world as God sees it-does that phrase merely express some foamy romantic notion, or does it contain truth? The Bible gives intriguing hints. Proverbs tells of the act of creation, when Wisdom "was the craftsman at his [God's] side ... filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world" (NIV). The seraphs in Isaiah's vision who declared "the whole earth is full of his glory" could hardly have been referring to human beings-not if the rest of the Book of Isaiah is to be believed. At least God had the glory of Nature then, during that very dark time when Israel faced extinction and Judah slid toward idolatry.
God makes plain how he feels about the animal kingdom in his longest single speech, a magnificent address found at the end of Job. Look closely and you will notice a common thread in the specimens he holds up for Job's edification:
A lioness hunting her prey
A mountain goat giving birth in the wilds
A rogue donkey roaming the salt flats
An ostrich flapping her useless wings with joy
A stallion leaping high to paw the air
A hawk, an eagle, and a raven building their nests on the rocky crags
That's a mere warm up-Zoology 101 in Job's education. From there God advances to the behemoth, a hippo-like creature no one can tame, and the mighty, dragonish leviathan. "Can you make a pet of him like a bird or put him on a leash for your girls?" God asks with a touch of scorn. "The mere sight of him is overpowering. No one is fierce enough to rouse him. Who then is able to stand against me?" (NIV, paraphrase).
Wildness is God's underlying message to Job, the one trait his menagerie all hold in common. God is celebrating those members of his created world that will never be domesticated by human beings. Wild animals bring us down a notch, reminding us of something we'd prefer to forget: our creatureliness. And they also announce to our senses the splendor of an invisible, untamable God.
Several times a week, I run among such wild animals, unmolested, for I run through Lincoln park Zoo near downtown Chicago. I have gotten to know them well, as charming neighbors, but I always try mentally to project the animals into their natural states.
Three rock-hopper penguins neurotically pace back and forth on a piece of concrete that has been sprayed to look like ice. I envision them free, hopping from ice floe to ice floe in Antarctica among thousands of their comic-faced cousins.
An ancient elephant stands against a wall, keeping time three ways: his body sways from side to side to one beat, his tail marks a different rhythm entirely, and his trunk moves up and down to yet a third. I struggle to imagine this sluggish giant inspiring terror in an African forest.
And the paunchy cheetah lounging on a rock shelf-could this animal belong to the species that can, on a short course, out accelerate a Porsche?
It requires a huge mental leap for me to place the penguin, the elephant, and the cheetah all back where they belong, in "the world as God sees it." Somehow, God's lesson on wildness evaporates among the moats and plastic educational placards of the zoo.
Yet, I am fortunate to live near the zoo. Otherwise, Chicago would offer up only squirrels, pigeons, cockroaches, rats, and a stray songbird. is this what God meant when he granted Adam dominion?
It is hard to avoid a sermonic tone when writing about wild animals, for our sins against them are great indeed. The elephant population alone has decreased by eight hundred thousand in the last two decades, mostly due to poachers and rambunctious soldiers with machine guns. And every year, we destroy an area of rain forest-and all its animal residents-equal in size to the state of California.
Most wildlife writing focuses on the vanishing animals themselves, but I find myself wondering about the ultimate impact on us. What else, besides that innate appreciation for wildness, have we lost? Could distaste for authority, even a resistance to the concept of God as Lord, derive in part from an atrophied sense? God's mere mention of the animals struck a chord of awe in Job; what about us, who grow up feeding peanuts across the moat to the behemoths and leviathans?
Naturalist John Muir, who never had a vision for "the world as God sees it," reluctantly concluded, "it is a great comfort ... that vast multitude of creatures, great and small and infinite in number, lived and had a good time of God's love before man was created."
The heavens declare the glory of God, and so do breaching whales and bouncing springboks. Fortunately, in some corners of the world, vast multitudes of creatures can still live and have a time in God's love. The least we can do is make room for them-for our sakes as well as theirs.
Philip Yancey is editor at large of Christianity Today and co-chair of the editorial board for Books and Culture. Yancey's most recent book is Prayer. His other books include Rumors of Another World, Reaching for the Invisible God, What's So Amazing About Grace?, Where Is God When It Hurts?, and many others. "The God Who Can't Be Tamed" was first published in Christianity Today, October 1987.
Select one of these activities to launch your discussion time.
Discuss these icebreaker questions:
If you could be transported to any spot in the world right now to spend some time by yourself in nature, where would you want to go? The beach? The mountains? Open prairies? Why?
Describe a time when nature inspired you to worship God. Where were you? Why did you feel that way? How did you respond to your feelings? How has your life been affected by this experience?
Gather 'round the TV and DVD player to watch a clip from Planet Earth, a ground-breaking documentary series produced by the BBC/ Discovery Channel. Start with the first episode, "Pole to Pole," and watch ten minutes or more together. The footage is so amazing that you may end up watching the entire thing!
(The Planet Earth series is available at most movie-rental stores; you can also watch video highlights of the series online at http://dsc.discovery. com/convergence/planet-earth/video-player/video-player.html)
As you watch, have pen and paper in hand and jot down adjectives or phrases that come to mind about God based on what you see. Don't evaluate what you're writing-just list any words you think of that describe God drawn from what you see in Planet Earth.
Afterward, discuss these questions:
Which image or scene did you like best? Why?
Based on what you wrote down, what does nature reveal to you about who God is or what God is like?
Theologian and author Howard A. Snyder once wrote this in Christianity Today:
Many evangelicals, especially in the United States, seem to feel that ecology is of no deep concern to God. The physical world is of little value compared to the human soul. Some ask: "Shouldn't we just stick to saving souls?" In a word, no. The question is not the motives or politics of others who are concerned about the environment, but where biblically informed and Jesus-motivated compassion leads us. We ought to do a better job of caring for the environment because "the Earth is the Lord's, and everything in it." ... Christians ought to be the most active and effective environmentalists in America.
Do you agree that Christians should be the most "active and effective environmentalists in America?" Explain your point of view.
How have you seen a focus on "saving souls" contribute to a lack of concern for God's physical creation? How might our concept of God be affected by a disregard for God's creation?
Take a moment to read Psalm 19:1-4, John 1:1-4, and Romans 1:20 on your own. Record your observations: Which phrases or words jump out at you? What are the key ideas in these texts? How might these texts relate to environmental issues today?
God's presence and character can be seen in creation.
The fine-tuning of the universe is evident in the precise strengths of four basic forces. Gravity is the best known of these forces, and the weakest, with a relative strength of 1. Next comes the weak nuclear force that holds neutrons together inside an atom. It is 1,034 times stronger than gravity, but works only at subatomic distances. Electromagnetism is 1,000 times stronger than the weak nuclear force. The strong nuclear force-which keeps protons together in the nucleus of an atom-is 100 times stronger yet. If even one of these forces had a slightly different strength, the life-sustaining universe we know would be impossible.
If gravity were slightly stronger, all stars would be large, like the ones that produce iron and other heavier elements, but they would burn out too rapidly for the development of life. On the other hand, if gravity were weaker, the stars would endure, but none would produce the heavier elements necessary to form planets.
The weak nuclear force controls the decay of neutrons. If it were stronger, neutrons would decay more rapidly, and there would be nothing in the universe but hydrogen. However, if this force were weaker, all the hydrogen would turn into helium and other elements.
The electromagnetic force binds atoms to one another to form molecules. If it were either weaker or stronger, no chemical bonds would form, so no life could exist.
Finally, the strong nuclear force overcomes the electromagnetic force and allows the atomic nucleus to exist. Like the weak nuclear force, changing it would produce a universe with only hydrogen or with no hydrogen.
In sum, without planets, hydrogen, and chemical bonds, there would be no life as we know it. Besides these four factors, there are at least twenty-five others that require pinpoint precision to produce a universe that contains life. Getting each of them exactly right suggests the presence of an Intelligent Designer.
What's your response to this information? When you look at nature, what are some other examples of things that point you to a creator God?
Read Romans 1:20 together.
Imagine you didn't have access to Scripture or were unable to attend a church. What characteristics of God could you discover simply by observing nature and learning about the created world?
Yancey highlights several passages that reveal more about how God sees the world and how he interacts with what he created. Glance through God's words to Job in Job 38:4-41:34. Read any selections from the passage that stand out to you.
Which description of an animal or aspect of creation stood out to you most? Why?
Yancey says that wild animals "announce to our senses the splendor of an invisible, untamable God." Think of specific wild animals highlighted in the Job passage or another animal that comes to mind for you. Which traits of God does each animal draw your attention to? Be specific and creative in your answers.
Jesus Christ is also the Creator.
When you plant a seed, its growth is a reminder of the new life Jesus brings. In fact, Jesus used that illustration in the Gospels. He is the Creator and continues to hold all things together.
Read John 1:1-4.
In your opinion, why is it significant that Jesus was part of Creation?
How does creation point to Christ? Can you think of examples from nature that might symbolize or point to truths about the Incarnation, salvation, redemption, grace, or forgiveness? Brainstorm together.
God's glory is declared by his creation
Read Psalm 19:1-4. (If you have time, you might also want to look at Psalm 98:4-9 and Psalm 148.)
In what ways can we observe nature "praising" God? Brainstorm several specific examples together.
As part of God's creation, how do you declare God's glory? In what ways is God worshipped in your everyday life?
Imagine a beautiful work of art is destroyed by vandals. Do we similarly mar representations of God's glory when we damage God's creation? In your opinion, is this metaphor valid? Why or why not?
Yancey concludes his article by saying, "The heavens declare the glory of God, and so do breaching whales and bouncing springboks. Fortunately, in some corners of the world, vast multitudes of creatures can still live and have a time in God's love. The least we can do is make room for them-for our sakes as well as theirs."
How is caring for creation "for our sakes"? What benefit does it have for us spiritually? How can it enrich our relationship with God?
How has your group's discussion impacted your perspective on the natural world? How has your discussion affected your view of God and God's character?
Form pairs to read and discuss the following: There are two sides to Allen Johnson. On the one hand, he is a conservative, evangelical Christian living in the mountains of West Virginia. On the other hand, he is an environmental activist and cofounder of Christians for the Mountains, a group of like-minded stewards that have demonstrated against coal companies and participated in Rainbow Family gatherings. Does Allen see a contradiction between these two sides of his personality? No. In fact, he hopes that environmental stewardship will quickly become a unifying, not a dividing, issue for Christians across the nation. "God has called all of us seriously," he says, "and we should agree on one thing: to take care of his Earth." Allen's passion for environmentalism began in 1993 while visiting Haiti with a Christian Peacemaker Team. It was there that he saw desperate farmers cutting down grapefruit trees in order to make a cash crop of charcoal. "I just started sobbing," he recalls. "It really hit me that impoverishment is so closely tied to environmental destruction."
Since that day, Johnson has been a pioneer in a growing movement called "Eco-Christianity," yet his biggest challenge has been convincing other Christians to join him in the fight instead of labeling him a "New Age wing nut" or a liberal. "My identity is not as an environmentalist," says Johnson. "It's as a Christian. Because I am Christian, I should be involved with social justice-the poor, the needy. Environmentalism is one thing in my circle, but it's not my center."
Excerpted from Creation Care Copyright © 2008 by Christianity Today International. Excerpted by permission.
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