By Dean Ohlman
[Ed. note: This article is part of our series of weekly reflections, called Deep Down Things, published on Wednesdays. It was originally published at Wonder of Creation.]
The creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God (Romans 8:20-21).
C. S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer have both helped me form my view of the meaning of the natural world. And it was Lewis who introduced me to the literary and spiritual mentor who helped him form his view of the creation, among many other views: George MacDonald.
I have used MacDonald’s and Schaeffer’s thoughts extensively in my writing, but have somewhat ignored Lewis. So today I am going to let “Jack” have a say.
First, a little background: I used to be a member of the Audubon Society—in large part in order to receive the always enjoyable Audubon magazine. My membership, of course, also gave me access to the local Society meetings, which I attended for a while. To tell the truth, however, I always left those meetings with a feeling of sadness. I didn’t attend long enough to really develop any significant personal relationships with other members, but the impression I received was that few, if any, were followers of Christ.
All of them seemed to be thoroughgoing naturalists in the philosophical meaning of that word. Nature provided them with their highest source of joy and practically functioned as their god. And when speakers would come and talk of the decline of this or that bird species, or the continuing degradation of the natural world created by careless people, gloom settled on everyone.
If nature is the highest good and you believe that nature is all there is, it’s easy to understand why general depression presses
down on you. If there is no hope beyond the material world we live in, the degradation of the earth leads to the degradation of hope.
Here’s how Lewis explained it at the conclusion of chapter nine in his book Miracles:
Only Supernaturalists really see Nature. You must go a little away from her, and then turn around and look back. Then at last the true landscape will become visible. You must have tasted, however briefly, the pure water from beyond the world before you can be distinctly conscious of the hot, salty tang of Nature’s current. To treat her as God, or as Everything, is to lose the whole pith and pleasure of her.
Come out, look back, and then you will see: this astonishing cataract of bears, babies, and bananas [and birds]; this immoderate deluge of atoms, orchids, oranges, cancers, fleas, gases, tornadoes and toads. How could you ever have thought this was the ultimate reality? How could you ever have thought that it was merely a stage-set for the moral drama of men and women? She is herself. Offer her neither worship nor contempt. Meet her and know her. If we are immortal, and if she is doomed (as scientists tell us) to run down and die, we shallmiss this half-shy and half-flamboyant creature, this ogress, this [saucy girl], this incorrigible fairy, this dumb witch.
But the theologians tell us that she, like ourselves, is to be redeemed. The ‘vanity’ to which she was subjected was her disease, not her essence … We shall still be able to recognize our old enemy, friend, playfellow and foster mother, so perfected as to be not less, but more, herself. And that will be a merry meeting.
That is the joy of hope that resides in the heart of those who serve and love the true and living God. So we are indeed saddened to see the creation degraded and abused and species formed by the design and power of the Creator driven into extinction by our carelessness, greed, and over-consumption. But because we know the Creator and we know the hope that even nature has for its redemption and renewal in the coming Kingdom (Romans 8:18ff), that sadness ought to act as a motivation for us to once again become the stewards of creation we were intended to be.
Francis Schaeffer believed that it should compel us to be involved, even before the consummation, in a “substantial healing” of all the rifts created by the Fall. It was this truth about the natural world that was in part the motivation for Lewis to write the Chronicles of Narnia, where a perfected natural world, in tandem with the lovers of Aslan, cooperated to defeat evil. The same understanding also works its way through Lewis’s less popular “Space Trilogy“—his three science fiction novels: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength.
As I write these words, I am sitting at my sister-in-law Shirley’s dining room table, looking out on a frozen Manitowaning Bay from her home on Ontario’s Manitoulin Island at the top of Lake Huron. The sun is shining, but is filtered through a haze of snow dust sparkling in the air.
Nature is in the deep freeze now, but we have God’s promise: spring will come; warmth will return; butterflies and bees will grace our days again. While we wait, though, I’d like to recommend that you read some Lewis books or MacDonald novels to help lift your spirits and remind you of the coming eternal spring. If you haven’t read Lewis’ science fiction series, give it a try—reading them in the order I’ve given above. Lewis again:
Say your prayers in a garden early, ignoring steadfastly the dew, the birds, and the flowers, and you will come away overwhelmed by its freshness and joy; go there in order to be overwhelmed and, after a certain age, nine times out of ten, nothing will happen to you. (The Four Loves, ch. 2, para. 28)
Dean Ohlman founded and directed the Christian Nature Federation, a sort of Christian Audubon Society/Sierra Club that existed from 1989-92. During that time he was involved in the startup of the Evangelical Environmental Network, a contributing editor to Creation Care Magazine, and on the board of Restoring Eden. Dean is now the host of the RBC Ministries website dedicated to creation care and to celebrating the wonder of creation: http://www.wonderofcreation.org/. Dean and his wife, Marge, live in Grand Rapids, Michigan.