My intent in this article is to present to you some of my experiences and thought concerning the natural world within which we live. I define the natural world not only to be the living creatures of this earth, but also that which supports these creatures: the living plants, the soil, the air – without which these creatures cannot live!
This past summer a major portion of a course I took dealt with our attitude and responsibility towards the environment. This was a learning experience for me because at that time I had no clearly defined attitude; I had never seriously thought about concrete issues dealing with the environment! The school at which I studied for six weeks this summer was Au Sable Institute, a Christian environmental stewardship Institute located in the north wood of Michigan. The mission of Au Sable Institute in formal words is “the integration of knowledge of the Creation with the biblical principles for the purpose of bringing the Christian community and the general public to a better understanding of the Creator and the stewardship of God’s Creation.” Simply put, the students study both creation and the Bible in order to better understand God the Creator and the stewardship of His creation.
It was here at Au Sable that I truly experienced the creation of God! Let me briefly describe to you the setting of the Institute. Au Sable Institute is tucked away in an aspen and pine woodland at the edge of a crystal clear lake. Trails lead to the lake shore, a nearby beaver pond and more distant bogs, swamps and marshes. There is plenty of area to explore; the classes take full advantage of this opportunity!
One field trip brought us to a Jack Pine burned area. Earlier this past spring a fire had swept over the area leaving the Jack Pine forest in an array of burnt trees, sooty soil, and fallen, charred branches. Yet, life was industriously struggling to become established! Through the layer of soot covering the ground came the first sprouts of sedge (similar to a grass) and aspen and maple. Through even the worst of conditions God sustains his creation! In Psalm 104:13-17 we read,
“He watereth the hills from his chambers: the earth is satisfied with the fruit of thy works. He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth….The trees of the Lord are full of sap; the cedars of Lebanon, which he hath planted; where the birds make their nests; as for the stork, the fir trees are her house.”
God upholds all things. Sometimes we overlook the fact that God was the reason the sedge was able to grow and establish its roots in the poor soil.
An outing for my Field Botany class took us to the Hartwick Pines State Park in Grayling, Michigan. One of the highlights of this State Park is a foot trail through the Virgin Pines forest. This forest is one of the few that escaped the ax of the lumberjack in the latter 1800’s. During this time Michigan produced more lumber than any other state – the source of wood being the white pine stands that covered some 18 million acres of land in Michigan. As I walked amidst the 200-300 year-old trees I felt very small and insignificant. My eyes were directed upward towards the tops of the trees which were 100-155 feet away!
As the class walked through the forest we discussed our feelings. One thing we agreed we could not ignore was the presence of the Creator God. A walk through the Virgin Pines is quite a spiritual experience! Your attention is focused upward, toward the heavens, toward the Creator. We realized the awesomeness of God’s creation. We realized our dependency on God not only for our existence, but also for our salvation. I thought to myself how pleased God must be of His creation! Many times we read in Genesis 1 that what God created was good. When God declares that His creation is good He is making a statement about its value. Richard T. Wright, in his book Biology Through the Eyes of Faith aptly describes creation’s goodness. He says (p. 23), “Good means having inherent worth; value is intrinsic – it is built into the things God created. In declaring creation good, God was also declaring His pleasure with all of His creative work. Why was He pleased? Possibly because He saw the unfolding of creation as an obedient response to His Word; one worthy of the covenant between God and His creation. Also, He might well have been pleased because what He saw was an expression of His wisdom; God recognized that the creation was majestic enough to show His glory. In other words, the goodness of creation reflected God’s own goodness.”
At the time of the Fall, sin entered the world. Is the creation still good? Scripture gives us a clear answer: Creation’s goodness has persisted and continues to the present. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork. Day after day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.” (Psalm 19:1-3) Other related passages of the Bible are Acts 14:15-17 and Romans 1:20.
Late one evening (back at Au Sable), a few of us who were feeling adventuresome took a walk through the woods, the moon providing us light. We were in search of foxfire, an organism that grows on decaying organic matter and emits a phosphorescent light. One of the instructors had told us that he had seen foxfire on an old stump near the beaver’s pond, and so we headed in that direction. Sure enough we found the foxfire! And yes, it was glowing in the dark! The stump looked quite normal under the light of a flashlight but in the darkness it emitted a soft white glow.
The foxfire was exciting to “discover.” In reflection, I thought that God did not create these things to be seen of men. Even if we had not gone out in the woods that night, the foxfire would have been there. With a little effort though, we had found the foxfire and enjoyed the existence of one of God’s creations. Nature is like that – the wonder and beauty is always there – it is up to each individual to “discover” this goodness of nature.
Although in comparison to the stature of the Hartwick Pines foxfire is very small, it, too, in its own way praises the Creator. “The creation praises God by its very existence and activity. This is the highest purpose of the creation: to bring glory to God. Our responsibility as creatures in His image is not only to praise Him, but also to recognize that the rest of the creation is praising Him” (Wright, p. 25). “Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord” (Psalm 150:6). (Sometimes I think we don’t even see half of how these creatures praise him).
“In spite of the clear testimony of Scripture that the primary purpose of the creation is to bring glory to God, there is a prevailing attitude, even among Christians, that the only purpose of the creation is to satisfy our needs and wants. The flip side of this attitude is to question the value of anything that apparently serves no useful purpose for humanity (what good are slugs, or slime molds, or mosquitoes, or swamps?). This is a potentially destructive attitude, for it allows us to treat nature as if its only purpose was to fuel the engines of progress – a completely utilitarian approach that translates nature into human resources. Not only is this attitude indefensible from a theological point of view, it is clearly part of the network of causes for the environmental problems that are plaguing us” (Wright, p. 26). God is pleased with His creation and declares it good. Do not forget this. The natural world was created for man, but it was not created for man to abuse. Man is responsible to God for his actions.
One last thought to remember: “Only God can make a tree.”
Wright, Richard T. Biology Through the Eyes of Faith Harper and Row, Publishers, San Francisco, 1989.