The Teachings of Jesus: Interlude (Creation as a Means of Grace)

You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth
and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine
and bread to strengthen man’s heart.
(Psalms 104:14-15 ESV)

Like I stated in an earlier, temporary entry, this message is going to be hard to get for those who are coming from an anti-Catholic or a Protestant background.  We are going to talk here about the idea of “sacrament.”

According to Theopedia,

A sacrament is a rite or ceremony instituted by Jesus, and observed by the church as a means of or visible sign of grace. The English word sacrament is from the Latin sacramentum, which means to make holy, or to consecrate.

This specific idea isn’t what we are going to be focusing on here, though.  We are going to look at what it means for something to be “sacramental” or for something to have a “sacramental quality” about it.  This is a slightly different idea.

At this point, I risk redefining a word in a manner that may or may not be accepted.  In light of that, I am going to shift away from using the word “sacrament” and am going to use the phrase “means of grace.”  This is what I mean when I say that something is “sacramental.”  This thing, whatever it may be, is a means whereby God’s grace is distributed to humanity generally speaking, and His elect specifically.  And this brings me to today’s idea.

Creation as a Means of Grace

To quote John Calvin,

Even the natural properties of things suffeciently point out to what purpose and to what extent we are allowed to use them.  Should the Lord have attracted our eyes to the beauty of the flowers, and our sense of smell to pleasant odors, and should it then be sin to drink them in?  Has He not even made the colors so that the one is more wonderful than the other?

…In one word, has He not made many things worthy of our attention that go far beyond our needs (Psalm 104:15)?
(John Calvin. Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1952. 87-88)

Everything that exists around us is a physical sign and a symbol pointing to the spiritual truth that God does indeed care for that which He has created.  But, He doesn’t care for His creation for the reason that we might think.  When reading our Scripture text for today from Psalm 104, one would get the impression that creation exists for man’s good and that God made creation for humankind to dwell.  I believe, though, that God did not make the world for us, but that He made us for the world.  This is clearly seen in Genesis.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27 ESV) 

As you can see, all of creation was completed and then God made humankind as another, although somehow seperate, part of creation.  Creation was not made for man, but man was made for creation.  For whatever reason, God made people to rule the created world rather than coming and doing so directly Himself.  He could have.  And the Biblical narrative does show that He does at times intervene.  But His intention was for creation to be ruled by one of its own.  

Even the second creation account is not suffecient to say that creation was made for man.  We see this scenerio in Genesis 2:

When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up–for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground– then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed…The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. (Genesis 2:5-8, 15 ESV)

Yet again, creation was not made for man, but man was made for creation.

This being the case, why does the Psalmist tell us that grass grows and fruit springs forth and wine is produced and oil is there and food is made for man?   This is a good question with a simple answer.

Creation is a means of God’s grace.  

Let’s jump back one verse from where I originally quoted.

From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work. (Psalms 104:13 ESV) 

Whether humankind was here or not, God would still be glorified in what He has made.  God would still be in control of His creation.  He would still be glorious without us.  He doesn’t need us. 

And yet He chooses for us to be here.  Even from the start of it all, He made us, and chose Earth as where we would live.  Creation doesn’t need us.  God doesn’t need us.  But here we are.  

And we are not some other-worldly creature.  We are not so totally seperate from the rest of creation by being made in God’s image that  what we do to creation doesn’t have direct consequences on who we are and how we live.  Quite the opposite, actually.

Because of our sin, even the planet that we inhabit groans.

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 decay 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. (Romans 8:19-22 ESV) 

And yet we are allowed to live.  The planet is still sustaining us.  We Americans in particular are fat, gluttonous, wasteful, dirty human beings, but we survive.  We are still here.  While nations starve because of our ignorance and abuse of the world, we live.  America is a portrait of God’s grace.

I don’t think it has anything to do with it being a “Christian” nation, though.  Rather, I think it is simply God being who He claims to be.  Unchanging.  Just like He did with Israel, who I believe God still loves as His chosen people, He is being gracious to sinful humanity, wanting “all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4 ESV).

GOD causes the grass to grow for the livestock.  GOD causes plants to grow for people to have food.  He doesn’t have to.  He is not obligated to.  As sinful as we as human beings are, He could smite us in an instant and still be righteous. 

But He doesn’t.  He gives us what we don’t deserve.  He gives us His grace.  And He gives us a living breathing picture of His grace every day. 

Creation is that picture.  Creation is sacramental.  Creation is a means of grace.

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