Hi, welcome to Redeem the Commute. I’m Ryan your host of the Daily Challenges. Here we are in nature. And that’s because this week we’re studying how following Jesus resets our views of nature, the natural world around us.
And what did Jesus say directly about nature? Well not a lot. There’s a time where he kind of admired the lilies of the field and the birds. Other times he calmed nature like calming a storm. He clearly had control over nature.
Jesus also withdrew to natural places when he needed a quiet moment of prayer. He clearly enjoyed the opportunity to have undistracted time with His Father. And nature was the place to do that.
It doesn’t seem Jesus had anything against nature. There was a time He cursed a fig tree. But that was very much a symbolic act, showing how the people of Israel, the tree that they represented and the temple that was their connection to God were starting to wither away. And that their time was coming to an end. That was what he was showing with cursing the fig tree. It wasn’t that he hated trees and thought they had no place in the natural world that He’d created.
So to really get a good sense of what Christian faith has to say about nature, we have to look to one of Jesus’ first followers, one of the first church leaders, who was named Paul. When he wrote a letter to the church that was meeting in Rome, called the Letter to the Romans, here’s what he had to say that’s really instructive about the importance of the natural world and how it fits into the big story that we keep studying here at Redeem the Commute.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 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 corruption 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. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
Well there’s a tendency in our modern world and in some world religions to really think of nature as being perfect. To think that nature is this perfect and uncorrupted, innocent reality. And that we humans are a bit of a virus or a parasite within it. I think what Paul makes clear, though, in this Letter to the Romans is that there is something wrong with the natural world around us. It’s not as it should be. And that’s not just a functional thing where we have simply abused it and done nothing else wrong. He says it’s very much connected to human corruption and rebellion against God. That our human corruption and rebellion against God has led to the corruption of nature and that this wasn’t the fault of nature itself. He uses a lot of really passive language there, to say that nature was subjected to something. And it became futile. He’s using some very submissive language there to say this happened to nature.
And it happened to nature because of the human rebellion against God, but it started with a man named Adam. The first man, Adam, rebelled against God. And this had an impact, not just on his own life, but on all of humanity to follow and then on all of creation around him. There’s something wrong with us and now there’s something wrong with the world too.
But Paul also makes clear that creation is waiting for something and so is humanity. We’re waiting for redemption. Redemption is a great word. That’s why we named ourselves Redeem the Commute. We love the word redeem. Because redeem suggests that there’s great value in something that’s not being realized right now. I like to think of a gift card. It’s a piece of plastic that holds within it some great value. You could have a $200 gift card contained within a piece of plastic. And what you have to do is you have to go to the store in order to redeem its value, in order to release all that value. In order to release all that value, in order to turn it into a DVD player or a computer, or whatever it is. You have to release all that pent up potential.
In the same way we humans were created for something amazing and wonderful, as part of an amazing and wonderful creation. God had great plans for us. God created us for a relationship with Him, created us for a relationship with one another and with the natural world around us. There is huge and wonderful potential in the human race. And yet because of our rebellion against God, our sin, a lot of that potential is not being realized right now. It’s all locked up and needs to be redeemed. And that’s why Paul says we humans and the natural world with us are waiting to be redeemed. When humans are redeemed, he says we’ll be the sons of God. It’ll be clear that we were created to be the children of God. And even though we’ve rebelled against God and pushed ourselves out of His life, He still wants to adopt us back into His family.
Creation itself, the natural world around us, the animals, the plants, the structure of the world itself, Paul says is also waiting for our redemption so it too can be redeemed.
We humans got ourselves into this mess by rebelling against God using our free will to push Him out of our lives. And so this is our problem to fix. And that’s why since a first Adam, a first man, broke the world, a second Adam, a second man, who represents all of humanity, needs to fix it. And that’s what God has done in coming to earth as Jesus Christ. What Adam broke, Jesus fixed.
There’s great hope in this, and it’s not just a spiritual kind of idea about what might happen in the future somewhere else. What Paul is doing is very much rooting the reality of our sin and our redemption that needs to follow in this physical world. This isn’t just a spiritual thing that, oh, someday our hearts are going to change and that’s it. No, he says our hearts will change and our whole body will change and the world around us will change when we are redeemed by Jesus Christ.
This is very much connected: the physical world, the spiritual world. There is no disconnect. The Kingdom of Heaven isn’t some place far off in the clouds disconnected from the natural world here. The natural world isn’t something to be hated or thrown away or disposed. It’s very much connected to God’s plan for the world, for God’s plan called the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of Heaven. And followers of Jesus, having been reset by Jesus Christ, are invited to start practicing that now, to start practicing the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth. As Jesus said, “as it is in heaven.” So we’re supposed to practice a little bit of heaven right here in the physical world. What does that look like? Well, we’ll see later this week what that might look like in practice.
And in the meantime I’ve got a question for you to think about and hopefully discuss with others who you know are also watching these videos every day. Or maybe you can invite some friends to do that as well, to start watching the videos on the same days as you. And when you do come together and have a spare moment, you can discuss what you’ve been learning.
Question: What about this passage gives you hope? Have you ever seen the natural world groaning? Does this give you hope that someday that groaning ends?
Have a great discussion. I’ll see you tomorrow.