I am a part of a "small group" at the church I attend, Bethany Community Church. We meet every Wed. night for dinner, discussion, and prayer. Lately we've been discussing the pastor's sermon series on The Apostle's Creed. Last night we talked about the section of the creed that presents God as "maker of heaven and earth."
One of the questions we considered had to do with our own approach to God, and whether we relate more to the "spiritual" side of things (considering God's attributes, prayer, listening for the Spirit, contemplation, etc) or the more "earthy" side (seeing God's handiwork in nature, interaction with other people, acts of service, etc). This led to a consideration of the challenge we have as Christians in holding both "heaven" and "earth" together in our faith.
Traditionally, much of Christianity has focused on the spiritual at the expense of the material. The common belief among many Christians is that the natural world is somehow a bad thing, and what Christians need to do is focus on rescuing souls from this sinful world and preparing them for heaven. But, recently (as has happened from time to time), many Christians have recaptured the understanding of creation as good. All that God created is good, and therefore has value, even though it has been corrupted by sin.
Instead of viewing the natural world, and our earthly bodies, as something that doesn't matter, a proper understanding of God's creative and redemptive work takes into account that just as God created everything good, God is also in the process of redeeming everything and making it good again - in fact, making it even better than before! (For a good description of what this restoration might look like, check out N.T. Wright's recent book, Surprised by Hope.)
So, what does this mean for us, as individual Christians, living in Seattle (at least our small group is ;-D) in 2008? There were two themes that stood out to me from our conversation:
1. Holding "heaven" and "earth" together means taking seriously both our responsibility to God and our responsibility to creation (including other people). It is not enough for us to be concerned with "evangelizing the lost"; our lives as followers of Christ should reflect the overall mission of Christ - to be involved in the transformation of all things, through God's power and love.
We do not "accept Jesus" and then relegate him to the "spiritual" section of our lives; Jesus captures us, and transforms us into his likeness, and we become agents of that transformation to the rest of creation. This means re-thinking our responsibility not only to other people, but to the earth as well, because as human beings we are inextricably connected to the natural order.
2. As Christians, although we do have a responsibility to live as agents of transformation, we do not live that way out of guilt or a need to perform, but out of gratitude. Instead of looking at the world as something that "needs fixing", we rejoice because we believe that God is always already in the process of fixing the world, and we get to be a part of that process!
This brings me to a quick point about the nature of stewardship. Often, the word "dominion" (used in Genesis and elsewhere in Scripture) is taken as an opportunity to manipulate creation for our own advantages. But the Hebrew word actually means something more akin to "responsible care for" the creation. If we are to care responsibly for creation, how does this change the way we treat people, animals, land, resources, etc? I don't think it's difficult to see that, in many ways, Christians have not been responsible care-givers to creation. This is something that we must change.
Of course, we will never succeed on our own, without God's involvement. But we do believe God is involved! And we don't need to beat ourselves up when we fail. But we do need to examine our motives, and see where we have neglected our responsibilities as agents of transformation, and then step out in faith, and begin to live in joyful hope as people who believe that God is making all things new.