Imagine your pastor taking the pulpit with a Bible in one hand and a lighter in the other. He or she tears a page from the Scriptures, and, with a flick of the thumb, ignites a small flame and sets the page on fire, watching as the words crumble and dissolve to ash on the pulpit.
The pastor burns another page, then another. People start whispering; a disapproving murmur spreads throughout the sanctuary.
Now imagine that this copy of the Bible was the only one left in existence. How would the congregation react? Would the pastor even have time to light a second page before a mob of angry Christians did something to rescue their precious book?
Believe it or not, this is happening. What’s almost more concerning is that God’s people are hardly stirring in the pews.
The Belgic Confession, a vibrant statement of Reformed faith written in 1561, states clearly,
We know God . . . first, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God: God’s eternal power and divinity (Art. 2).
According to this, creation is a kind of holy book. Just as God’s Word reveals God to humanity, God’s world too is actively pointing to him.
But sadly, creation is in danger. The book is burning.
Just last week I hiked along the shore of a river named after the passenger pigeon, a once plentiful species that is now entirely extinct. Along the riverbank I read on a plaque the words of a young Potawatomi leader describing his encounter with a flock of passenger pigeons: “I beheld moving toward me in an unbroken front millions of pigeons, the first I had seen that season. . . . I have stood by the grandest waterfall of America, yet never have my astonishment, wonder, and admiration been so stirred as when I have witnessed these birds drop from their course like meteors from heaven.”
As I read, I imagined how my hiking prayers might have been different, infused with wonder and surprise, had I come across a flight of passenger pigeons along the way. How might the sights and sounds have directed my heart like the lines of a psalm, offering a new vocabulary of praise? The reality is that we will never know just what it is these birds have to show us about God. And if the trend continues, how much less of the beautiful book of creation will our children be able to read? What aspects of God’s grandeur will forever be stunted in our understanding because of a marred revelation?
While I do not pretend to have the educational background needed to debate the validity of important environmental issues such as climate change, I do know that Christians are called to care about creation, regardless of political affiliation. For me, it’s enough to know that though the heavens declare the glory of God, the declaration is muffled in many cities because of smog. I know enough of my own harmful habits to say that we have walked the pages of this book irreverently, drilling into verses and leveling entire chapters, taking what we want and throwing away the rest. We’ve grown accustomed to using this book for our own purposes, a most terrible hermeneutic.
And yet Reformed Christians have an incredible opportunity. Believing that God’s creation is a vital source of revelation, we have a chance to lead the ecological movement by committing ourselves to the service and protection of the planet. As people devoted to the message of God, let us not forget that creation has been preaching ever since God called it good. The Belgic Confession says it simply and clearly: this is how “we know God.” It’s time we rose from our pews to protect God’s endangered revelation.
- In what ways do you see the “book” of creation as a holy revelation of God?
- The author uses the image of tearing out pages from the Bible for our destruction of the creation. How does that strike you?
- On an average day of moving through God’s creation, what might be some examples of what has been lost in God’s revelation there?
- One thing that ecological destruction does reveal is the reality of human sin. How might working to save the creation be a way of participating in God’s saving work?