We're having a series on sustainability at the moment, called Now the Green Blade Riseth. That's the first line of an Easter hymn, whose mournful tune belies the optimism of its words, so I thought it was a good match for a series which address the mess we've made of the world, but the optimistic thought that God hasn't finished with us yet, and there's still much that we can do.
So this is what I said as I kicked off the series, looking at the Creation Story from Genesis Chapter 1.
Today I am going to be talking about 4 C's.
ChaosGenesis says that in the beginning the earth was formless & empty. I didn’t get to learn much Hebrew at theological college, but I did learn this. Our Hebrew teacher just began at the beginning, with Genesis 1 verse 1, and she worked her way through from there. So I know that the Hebrew phrase that’s translated formless & empty is actually tohu va vohu. She described that as being like her son’s bedroom. He was a teenager at the time, and I leave the rest to your imagination.
The point being – it wasn’t that there was nothing there, but what was there, was chaos. The creation story is all about God bringing order out of chaos. So the first C is chaos.
Ian as a physicist will be pleased to hear this, because it’s all about the 2nd law of thermodynamics. It’s all about entropy. If you don’t really know what I’m talking about, please ask Ian afterwards, and he’ll be delighted to explain. Any excuse to talk about physics is always welcome, isn’t that right, Ian? God was reversing entropy in creation, he was putting order in place instead of chaos.
This is a theme that runs all through the Bible. The Jewish people had a fear, a loathing of chaos, and a love of order. Chaos would be represented to them by lawlessness, or, in meteorological terms, by a storm. So watch out for a story that’s coming later in this series that involves a storm. A storm represents chaos, and God was bringing order out of chaos.
People who suffer from anxiety fear chaos. We can see this in something like the condition called OCD – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. People develop a fear about forgetting to lock the doors or turn the gas off, and have to devise a ritual of checking tat everything is safe. People can develop a fear that their actions or inactions will lead to harm, and need to find ways to keep a tight grip on their behaviour to avoid the danger of things sliding into chaos. Chaos is the ancient enemy that many of us fear more than anything else.
But God has brought order out of chaos.
The second thing I want to say about creation is that it runs in cycles. There is a beautiful perfect symmetry about the way that the raw materials of creation travel round in cycles. It’s self-renewing, self-correcting, it’s balanced, it’s healthy.
I’ll give you an example that I remember learning about at school: the water cycle. If you imagine any drop of water anywhere on earth, and imagine following it wherever it goes. Let’s imagine a drop of water in a river. It travels down the river into the sea, spends quite a bit of time in the sea until one day it finds itself near the surface, heated by the sun, where it evaporates, and goes into the atmosphere. It buzzes about in the atmosphere for a while, and as it cools it begins to condense, forms into a cloud, and drops to ground as rain. Then it’s back to a river, back to the sea, and the whole cycle begins again. Sometimes it might get swallowed by an animal, or sucked up by a plant, or spend some time in a puddle. But eventually it will find its way out again, back into the cycle. There are all sorts of cycles, there’s the carbon cycle, the oxygen cycle, the phosphorus cycle, and so on. Nothing ever gets used up in the natural world. What goes around, comes around.
Contrast that were the way that humans work. We consume things, we exploit things, we use them up, spit them out and throw them away. And the raw materials of creation, instead of being recycled, moving on to the next stage of the cycle, get stuck, as plastics in the oceans or toxins in landfill.
So we interfere with these beautiful, self-renewing cycles, and throw the system out of balance. And we’re making our planet ill – it’s running a fever, because we’ve distorted the carbon cycle. The planet is getting thirsty, because we’ve disrupted the water cycle.
The third C in creation is community. God didn’t create a whole bunch of creatures that live in isolation without reference to each other – he created a living community of beings that interact with each other in all sorts of exciting ways. Some eat others! That seems pretty destructive, but many plants rely on the fact that they get eaten in order to spread their seeds. So God created a community that may look destructive but actually is harmonious. Species rise and fall, they morph into different shapes, taking better advantage of their surroundings, finding new ecological niches to populate. Life (and we’re discovering this more and more) is absolutely everywhere on our planet.
Jesus said to people who were anxious – look! Look at creation. Look at the way the species fit together, look at the beauty of the flowers, look at the way the birds find what they need. Creation, when it works, works beautifully. Don’t strain against it, don’t panic about what you’re going to do. Relax. Fit in to your niche. Do the role you were intended for.
That leads me neatly into my fourth C. What is the role that God gave us humans beings to do? The role is caretaking. When God had finished creating the world, he turned to the human beings who were his final act of creation and said “It’s all yours. It’s all yours. Use it. Enjoy it. Eat the edible bits – that’s fine, that’s what you’re meant to do. Look after it, take care of it.
I used that phrase this week, to Michael my son. His uncle, who has moved to Denmark, decided very kindly to give his car to Michael, because he doesn’t need a right hand drive car any more. So he stopped off here on his way back to Denmark after Christmas, left his car on my drive and I took him to Stansted to get his flight to Copenhagen. The car was a little tohu va vohu on the inside, because Michael's uncle is even untidier than I am, so my wife cleaned it up a bit, I checked it over, took it to the garage to get it serviced, and then at Easter when Michael came I gave him the keys and said, “It’s all yours.”
Use it. Enjoy it. Get into the driving seat and direct it. It won’t fulfil its purpose unless you do. And that’s exactly what God has said to us. Get into the driving seat of creation. Steer it. Look after it.
ConclusionChaos, cycles, community and caretaking.
That’s how God set up the world. We don’t need to fear chaos, because our beautiful, self-renewing community of creation is ready to use. And we’re meant to take control. Not to exploit it or abuse it. Not to squander its riches. But to fulfil it. In the weeks to come, we will be thinking about how we can do this, on the small scale as well as the large, how those healthy cycles and communities are still there, waiting to spring back into shape as soon as we stop mistreating them, and learn to work with the grain of what God has made.