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What’s Natural?

Category Articles
Date June 12, 2009

Many today assume that things are best when nature rules. Examples we see are such things as a market for ‘natural (organic) foods’, ‘natural (alternative) medicine,’ and for the preservation of ‘natural (unmanaged) resources.’

There are not a few Christians who readily accept this outlook – that nature is best when left alone and allowed to have its way as much as possible and when humans go along with and trust nature.

But is this true? I think not. Here is why:

(1) Nature always needed a ‘manager.’

It has never been that nature ‘should be allowed to take its course.’ When God decided to make mankind he said, ‘Let us make man in our image and after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over all the earth and over every creeping thing on the earth’ (Genesis 1:26). He then made human, male and female to exercise this rule over creation. When God made Adam ‘he took the man and put him in the garden to work it and keep it’ (Genesis 2:15). There was never a time when man was supposed just to watch the creation takes its course. Man, under God, is the manager of all that God made.

(2) Both man and the creation are fallen.

Man’s sin has put him under God’s curse and brought him misery and frustration. But the creation also was cursed because of man’s sin and is now ‘subjected to futility,’ in ‘bondage to decay,’ and ‘groaning together in the pains of childbirth’ (Romans 8:20-22). Man is not what he once was, but neither is creation. Man in rebellion cannot be trusted to rule well over creation which God committed to his care. He is apt to be selfish, greedy, short-sighted, and foolish in the use of his authority and power. But creation is no angel either. It is in rebellion against man. Creation does not willingly and readily give herself to cooperation with man’s rule. There are ‘thorns and thistles’ so that man is able to provide for himself only ‘in pain’ and with ‘the sweat of (his) brow’ until at last creation conquers man and he returns to the ground out of which he was taken, ‘for you are dust and to dust you shall return’ (Genesis 3:17-19).

(3) Man and creation have changed, but man’s relationship to creation hasn’t.

Man is fallen and sinful, but he still has dominion over the creation. Sinful man rules over creation which resists him at every turn, but still, mankind rules. After the flood, God promised:

I will put the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground, and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. Every moving thing that lives on the land shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything”¦And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man (Genesis 6:2,3,5).

Man and the creation are fallen, but man remains the creation’s manager. Psalm 8, written long after the Fall and the Flood, still celebrates man’s dominion:

You have given him dominion
over the works of your hands,
You have put all things under his feet . . .(6)

(4) The day will come when all redeemed mankind and all the renewed creation will dwell in perfect harmony.

The writer of Hebrews applies part of Psalm 8 to Christ: ‘you have crowned him with glory and honour, putting everything in subjection under his feet’ (Hebrews 2:8; cf. Psalm 8:6), and goes on to comment: ‘Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not see everything in subjection to him’ (2:8). The incarnate, now risen Christ has all authority and rules over all. He is the second Adam, the perfect Man, who now possesses the dignity and authority with which man was created to which redeemed man will be restored. But, for the present we do not see the full manifestation of his reign. As Paul explains, ‘For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For God has put all things in subjection under his feet’ (1 Corinthians 15:25-27). The present reign of Christ is real, but it will not be fully manifest till he comes again, raises us from the dead, and restores to us all we have lost as a result of our sin and creation’s curse. The creation itself is anxiously waiting for our resurrection, for that will mean its liberation. ‘. . . the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God (Romans 8:22). The creation groans for this, and we ‘groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for the adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies’ (Romans 8:23).

To sum up: (1) Mankind was created to rule the creation. (2) The Fall has ruined man and spoiled creation, so that man is now capable at best of relative and partial righteous rule. (3) The Fall has had a negative impact on but has not changed the relationship of mankind and creation, with man exercising dominion over the rest of creation. (4) In incarnate glorified Christ, mankind’s glory and dominion are restored; but we, who are redeemed, must wait for his coming and our resurrections for the restoration of ourselves and the creation to their God-planned relationship.

With these things in mind, we can make a few observations:

(1) It is often forgotten that man (humankind), even fallen man, is a part of nature. Man is no less ‘natural’ than the plants and the animals. He follows his instincts, just as do other animals. Even, or perhaps especially, the evolutionists have to admit this. According to them man is simply the highest form of life evolved. So why should man have any less right to do as he pleases than, say, a beaver, who dams up water that otherwise would flow freely? Or the whales who prey on the baby seals? Or the seals who eat penguins? Is death by clubbing by one animal worse than being eaten alive by another species? This is the dilemma evolutionists set up for themselves by the assumption that man is simply another form of animal life, a product of blind evolution. At every other level, the animal is expected to make use of whatever skills he may develop to cope with the rest of the natural world. Why, if man is an evolved animal, are not his rights to do with the natural world as great as that of any other part of the evolved order?

(2) For now the ‘natural’ state of both man and creation is fallen. Man tends to abuse nature. The creation tends to kill man. The ‘natural’ is not necessarily better. Man needs to be born all over again in order to begin to be what he should be. And, the world around man is not to be blindly trusted. Is it better to let animals breed promiscuously or to harvest a certain number by hunting and fishing? Are so-called ‘organic foods’ really better for us than foods that are produced by the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides? Is ‘natural healing’ better than ‘physician-aided’ healing? How do we find out? Would man and the world be better off if there were no ‘fossil’ fuels or are their discovery and use in balance a boon to both? We use the gift of science, which God has given to man as part of his dominion. What does the science say? What produces the greatest (not perfect) benefits for mankind and his environment? Take this example: While millions of westerners shop the ‘organic’ section of their food stores, the poor of the world have access to more and healthier food than in the history of the world because of ‘artificial’ agriculture and animal husbandry.

(3) As with so many aspects of our present life, it is necessary to remember that while in one sense ‘the kingdom is now’, in another ‘the kingdom is not yet’. There is no perfection in people or the world as they are now. We can only do the best we can as fallen (and, for believers, redeemed but not glorified) mankind exercising dominion over a fallen world, as we wait the ‘yet more glorious day’ when we and all things shall be made new.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus.

William H Smith is Pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Mississippi.

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