One of the main themes from the first chapter of the Bible is that the natural world is good.
That might sound somewhat obvious, but there are those who disagree. Some branches of the church have argued in the past that it is spirit that matters to God, and the created order is temporary and ultimately insignificant. Or we might think that it’s our souls that matter, and the physical world is less important. But God doesn’t think so.
There’s a recurring refrain all the way through Genesis 1, as ‘God saw that it was good’. “God said ‘let there be light’, and there was light. God saw that the light was good.”
God separates the land and the seas, “and God saw that it was good”. The trees, the movement of day and night, the birds and the fish, the animals, are all singled out in this way. Notice the words here: ‘God saw that it was good.’ This is not God saying ‘behold my works’. It’s God appreciating each thing for what it is. God sees it. God observes it. And God recognises its value.
Each part of creation has its own worth, and then there’s a conclusion to this poetic repetition on the sixth day. “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”
In other words, all the individual parts are good, but it is truly magnificent as a whole. The way it all works together, the systems and cycles, the relationships and interdependence of all life – that’s where the glory lies.
The planet spins around the sun, and the sun causes the water to evaporate, which makes clouds, which make rain, and this feeds the plants, and the plants feed the animals, and the animals come out to bask in the sun, unaware of the incredible way that nature meets their needs – but we can be aware of it. We can stand and observe the orbits of the planets, and the wonder of God’s provision in the water cycle and the carbon cycle and join with the creatures in Revelation as they say: “You are worthy, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”
That raises a question though. If creation is ‘very good’ as a whole, it means that all of it matters. We shouldn’t think that certain elements of it are unnecessary. Every extinction matters, every species pushed to the brink threatens that wholeness. Even more importantly, the systems that run the whole matter. The Planetary Boundaries report identified nine key systems that we destabilise at our peril, including the freshwater cycle, ocean acidification and the ozone layer. Some of those boundaries have already been crossed, climate change being the most egregious transgression.
As Christians, we know we are to be stewards of God’s creation. That includes being stewards of the earth’s systems, ensuring that all of creation, in its wonderful integrity, continues to be ‘very good’.
- Adapted from a sermon on Genesis 1 by Jeremy Williams