Sunday, June 2nd, 2013 – God Created the World Good, Not Perfect – A Sermon Series on Natural Disasters

Today is the beginning of our sermon series on God, the Bible, and natural disasters. It’s timely in light of last week and this weekend. But not just this past weekend, the past many years as well. From fires in California to Hurricane Katrina and Sandy, to earthquakes in China and Haiti, to tsunamis in the Southeast Asia, and flooding and tornados in the Midwest, many of us are familiar with the devastating affects that nature can have on all of creation, not just humanity.

Natural disasters are not a recent development in the earth’s history. They have been around for a long time. Natural disasters are present even in our scriptures. There is the flood story, many famines and plagues, and much of Job’s suffering was caused by natural disasters.

In light of this, it seems like an appropriate time to wrestle with the difficult questions that so many are asking: how is God involved in all of this? Is God involved in any of this? Is God controlling the winds and the rains to intentionally cause destruction? Or is God sitting back watching it all happen? Why didn’t God create a world without natural disasters?

Now, every once in a while, I’ll come across a bumper sticker that says “God is in control.” Now, I think it is important to ask what it means to say that? What kind of control? Absolute control? Can I let go of the steering wheel? After a natural disaster, it is not uncommon for someone to proclaim that this was God’s punishment on that community. After Katrina hit New Orleans, Pat Robertson declared that Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment on America for its abortion policies. Is this what is going on in natural disasters? Is that the kind of control God is in – is God punishing us? If so, what does that say about God? Or are natural disasters not so much sent down by God, but can they be the results of human behavior? Is the severity of the recent storms part of global warming?

One thing I think we can say, and have to say, for certain is this: God cannot be let off the hook. In the least, God created this world with the potential and possibility for natural disasters, and with that, God has a role and responsibility to play. God cannot be 100% innocent. But now we have to explore what kind of role does God have in this? Is God sending down natural disasters as punishment, or is God’s involvement different than that?

I don’t presume to have any answers when it comes to this, but I think we can reflect on this topic together in a way that will be helpful in thinking it through.

As a way of beginning, since natural disasters are directly related to creation, let’s take a look at the creation stories to see if any insight or guidance can be found there. As you hear portions of the creation stories, listen for a word or a phrase that stands out or catches your interest. Take note of any question that comes to mind as you hear portions of the creation stories.

Genesis 1:24-28; 2:4-7,18-21
24And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. 25God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.

26Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” 27So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

Chapter 2
4These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created. In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, 5when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; 6but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— 7then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.

18Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” 19So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner.

21So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.”

As we begin to think about creation and the creation process, I want to lift out a couple of things for us to think about.

The first thing I want to lift out is that according to Genesis, God’s creation is GOOD! Every creature, every creature is declared good by God. Isn’t it interesting that God evaluates God’s own work? God creates and then steps back and says, “That’s good!” Why wouldn’t God know it was good before God created… unless the creation process was a little uncertain and a little messy. So, one could say that “God is not done with creatures once they are brought into being.” (Fretheim, p. 12) God creates and then God evaluates God’s own creation. Adjustments and improvements are considered within the creation process! And in case we think God creates good every time, take a look at 2:18 – “It is not good that the man should be alone.”

18Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” 19So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner.

Not only does God evaluate creation, but the man evaluates as well. According to this reading, the human is invited into the evaluation process. All of these animals were brought before the man and none of them suited as a partner.

Creation is a messy process. It takes time. It takes evaluating. According to Genesis, at the end of the creation stories, the world is still not a finished product. It is a long-term project. The world still needs work from God’s perspective. We can see this in 1:28 where God commands humanity to subdue and have dominion over the earth. The earth needs to be cared for by humanity; it’s not fully developed. It’s not a finished project; it’s needs to be tended to.

So that’s the first point I want us to take home – God created the world good, not perfect. The creation process wasn’t finished after the seventh day; creation is still happening.

Now, why would God create like this? If God is God, then God didn’t have to create like this? What do we learn about who this God is based on these creation stories?

Take a look at 1:24. And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” Who is doing the creating in this verse?

The earth is creating, right? The earth is bringing forth living creatures of every kind! So, is God the only one with creative powers? No! We learn that God choose to share creative power. In creation, God says, “Let the earth bring forth. Let the earth create!” God says to humankind, “Be fruitful. You! You create!” God shares God’s creative power.

I’ve brought this up before, but when you think about a relationship between two people – what kind of relationship is it when only one person holds the power? You have got the powerful and the powerless – and that becomes an abusive relationship, doesn’t it? So God chooses not to be the only one with power. “God’s approach to creation is communal, relational.” (Ibid., 18). It is a communal creating, rather than a top-down creating. And that should reflect the value that creation has in the eyes of God – to invite creation into the creating process. God values the on-going relationship with creation and the sharing of power more than God values a perfectly controlled creation. Relationship is more important to God than absolute control and power.

Now, if God’s creation takes time and evaluating, then so does creation’s creating. And think of how much more messiness that adds to the creation process. Creation is messy. It takes time. False starts and failures are bound to happen.

What does this have to do with natural disasters? Well, it should invite us to reflect on whether God is in complete control over all of creation. The creation stories in Genesis would suggest that God is not in complete control, but instead has chosen to limit God’s own power for the sake of sharing that power with creation to be a co-creator as well.

Creation is not a finished product. It was made good, not perfect. Creation is an on-going process. And the God of creation chooses to be in relationship with creation through the sharing of power. God chooses not to be the only one with power. Therefore, God created creation to be creative. And as a result, God let’s creation be what it was created to be – that is…creative! Which will inevitably lead to disorder and messiness. Here is the good news, folks – you are part of God’s deep, wide, and messy creativity. But here is the bad news – when it comes to natural disasters, might it be possible that we as humans can get in the way of creation’s creative process and, as a result, be hurt by it? (Ibid., pg. 27).

This is just the beginning of our exploration into the difficult and complicated conversation around God and natural disasters. With regards to what has been said so far, I pray that if there is anything of God in the words that have been said, may they settle and take root in our life. AMEN

Note: Much of the sermon is based on the first chapter of Terence Fretheim’s book Creation Untamed: The Bible, God, and Natural Disasters.

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