Reconciliation and the Whole Creation
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 5:11–6:10
Key Idea: Lesson five invites us to expand our understanding of reconciliation, healing, and transformation to a much broader, even cosmological, context as we entertain the concept of “new creation.”
I am quite smitten with creation! I am so glad I share this world with dogs and giraffes and bats and koala bears and maple trees and yes, worms and dandelions, too. So smitten in fact that for ten years I served as volunteer educator at our local zoo where I spent many happy Saturdays and occasional evenings sharing stories of the animals, our world, and the mission of modern zoos: conservation, protection, and education. The “mission statement” of the Louisville Zoo is simple: “To better the bond between people and the planet.” Isn’t that an interesting and succinct mission statement?
My husband recently opened his car door to a stray, hungry dog and brought her to our little house, already bursting with several other of God’s creatures (humans too!). As we searched the lost pup ads, we discovered that this dog is unlike the rest of us in this house; this dog we call Roxy is athletic. Roxy’s need for physical and mental exercise has turned this morning-coffee-drinker-over-a-book into a morning walker/almost jogger. And even though we walk in our neighborhood that is definitely urban–we stroll past a convenience store, a small Methodist church, and ever so many houses almost touching–Roxy and I have encountered some marvelous and unexpected creatures and taken in so many incredible sights and sounds.
My morning routine has been turned upside down and I wouldn’t have it any other way. We have spotted deer, turkeys, rabbits, vultures, wildflowers, and squirrels. We have felt raindrops on our faces. We enjoy birdsongs and the crunch of rustling leaves under our feet. We look forward to greeting new morning friends–other human walkers with other sweet dogs and early arriving employees at the local mechanic shop. In other words, my bond with the planet has been renewed in a way because I no longer just jump into my car and drive distractedly to work after an entirely indoor routine. These days, thanks to Roxy, I experience and re-experience the handiwork of God’s creation in my own backyard.
In the study, Elizabeth writes, “The passage that you will study in this lesson, 2 Corinthians 5:11–6:10, bears two unique features. First, it is one of two times that Paul uses a Greek phrase meaning ‘new creation’ in his letters (see 2 Cor. 5:17 and Gal. 6:15). . . . Second, this is the only time within all of Paul’s letters that he clearly states that the work of reconciliation is to be done by human beings (see 2 Cor. 5:20). God and human beings are understood here as working together, co-groaning, co-travailing, in the process of giving birth to a new creation. ‘New creation’ is being birthed not only within individuals, but within the whole cosmos. In this lesson, you will explore in greater depth Paul’s understanding of new creation, consider the whole creation as an interdependent reality, and begin to think about the work of reconciliation as a partnership between people and the planet earth.” When I read that last phrase, I couldn’t help but connect it with the zoo’s mission statement: “To better the bond between people and the planet”!
As a modern human in a modern society, I could spend most of my days and nights with little thought to my own interdependence on human beings and other creatures, plants, rocks, and fossilized carbon. But ancient people, Paul included, could not live behind glass or stay immersed in a carefully planned and air-conditioned lifestyle. To the ancients, God’s immense world teems with life, all are interconnected, and all rely on God’s provisions. I recall one of my favorite psalms here:
O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
Yonder is the sea, great and wide,
creeping things innumerable are there,
living things both small and great.
There go the ships,
and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.
These all look to you
to give them their food in due season;
when you give to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
In her book, Inhabiting Eden: Christians, the Bible, and the Ecological Crisis, Patricia Tull (who also authored the Horizons Bible study on Esther!), writes, “The psalms remind us that Scripture draws its greatest distinction not between humans and the rest of creation, nor even between living and nonliving beings—in fact, biblical Hebrew had no word for either ‘nature’ or ‘culture’—but between Creator and the rest of us, created ones who owe God service and praise.” Further she writes, “We were intended to draw sustenance from creation’s bounty. With each breath, we take in God’s provision of air; with each drink, the precious water supply; with each bite of bread, the manna for one more day of love and service. We can begin to uphold the world that upholds us by recognizing these gifts with gratitude, especially our place in an ordered world that is full and fundamentally good, and our vocation to preserve the goodness and health of this living, teeming, exuberant world.” Patricia’s next three sentences sum up my newfound call, thanks to my canine friend Roxy, to (literally) stop and smell the roses: “We have all received gifts for which sincere gratitude is difficult, gifts we awkwardly tuck away in drawers, gifts that inspire the verb ‘regifting.’ Perhaps only occasionally, we have received the one thing that took our breath away. The universe itself provides such gifts to those who pay attention.” (Patricia K. Tull, Inhabiting Eden: Christians, the Bible, and the Ecological Crisis, Westminster John Knox Press, 2013, page 31).
The way I see it, when we open our senses to God’s creation our hearts must crack open with love and care as well. Cassandra Carkuff Williams, in her study, A Matter of Stewardship: Eco-Justice in Biblical Perspective, quotes our very own John Calvin: “Let him who possesses a field, so partake of its yearly fruits, that he may not suffer the ground to be injured by his negligence; but let him endeavor to hand it down to posterity as he received it, or even better cultivated. Let him so feed on its fruits that he neither dissipates it by luxury, nor permits it to be marred by neglect. Moreover, let everyone regard himself as the steward of God in all things which he possesses. Then he will neither conduct himself dissolutely, nor corrupt by abuse those things which God requires to be preserved . . . .The creation is quite like a spacious and splendid house, provided and filled with the most exquisite and the most abundant furnishings. Everything in it tells us of God.” (Cassandra Carkuff Williams, A Matter of Stewardship: Eco-Justice in Biblical Perspective, American Baptist Home Mission Societies, page 9. Available as a free download at www.abhms.org/discipleship/resources.cfm)
I like that. “Everything in it tells us of God.”
Thank you for allowing me another opportunity to be with you in this way.