Harvest: Our Role & Responsibility for Creation (Psalm 8)

Last week, the Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, issued an unprecedented warning that climate change poses a huge risk to global stability. At a gathering of leading insurers at Lloyd’s of London, Mr Carney pointed out the rapid increase in weather-related catastrophes and the jump in both the physical and financial costs. He said the challenges currently posed by climate change “pale in significance compared with what might come”. He said this generation had little incentive to avert future problems. He avoided spelling out what was causing this apparent change, but said evidence was mounting of man’s role in climate change. Insurers are among those with the biggest interest in climate change as the syndicates operating at Lloyd’s, the world’s oldest insurance market, are the most exposed to disasters such as hurricanes and floods. Mr Carney said the after-effects of such disasters were likely to grow worse: IMG_0352“The challenges currently posed by climate change pale in significance compared with what might come. “The far-sighted amongst you are anticipating broader global impacts on property, migration and political stability, as well as food and water security.”

And this week the World Energy Council, which brings together energy companies, academics and public sector agencies around the world, also published a report claiming the world’s energy infrastructure is at risk from the extreme weather such as flooding, severe storms and sea level rises, caused by climate change. The WEC warned that the number of extreme weather events globally has risen by a factor of more than four in the past three decades, from about 38 major storms, heat waves and flooding in 1984 – to 174 events in 2014. We tend to associate NASA with space exploration but if you visit their website you will discover an increasing emphasis on preserving this planet rather than looking for another one. http://climate.nasa.gov NASA point out with simple clarity that world temperatures have increased by 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1980; Arctic ice minimums are reducing by 13% per decade; land ice is melting at a rate of 287 million metric tons per year; sea levels are rising by 3.22 mm per year and forest cover is reducing by 1.5 million square kilometers per year. At the UN climate summit in Paris later this year developed and developing countries are expected to agree a deal on how to mitigate and adapt to global warming’s impacts. Adaptation to the effects of global warming will be a key theme of the conference.

IMG_0353It seems we have moved from Climate Change prevention to adaptation in order to avoid planet Earth becoming another Mars. The science of climate change leaves no room for complacency or naïve optimism does it? As Al Gore put it, this is indeed, “An Inconvenient Truth”. What can we do about it? Anne Martin wrote in an excellent article in Connection recently. She says, “Changing the light bulbs, getting out your bike and switching off the standby are just the first steps on a long and fruitful journey alongside many fellow Christians, who are responding to the unfolding tragedy in many of the poorest communities already affected by climate change. Ignoring the issue or clinging to a passing way of life gives way to acceptance that we can make do with less energy and we reduce our demand now. If we won’t make that choice, it may be that nature, already close to breaking point, will make it for us.” It will indeed. And yet climate change will not be averted solely by the appliance of science or technology. World hunger and poverty will not be resolved by developing better GM seeds and giving more IMF loans. Civil strife and war will not be resolved by bombing religious extremists, imposing Western democracy or by recruiting more Chinese UN peace keepers. The reason is because the problem lies much deeper, deep in the human heart.

The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human… In our evening series in the Psalms, Psalm 8 explains both the cause and the solution. And the good news is – you and I must be part of it. There are three parts to this beautiful psalm – what C.S. Lewis described as “This short exquisite lyric”, begins and ends with the same refrain, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth” (Psalm 8:1, 9). This psalm spans time and space. It looks back to creation in Genesis (8:1-3) and looks forward to the recreation of a new heaven and earth (8:6-9). And in the middle stands humanity and an enigmatic prophecy of the Lord Jesus Christ (8:4-6).

  1. The Glory of God: Revealed in Creation

“LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,” (Psalm 8:1-3)

There is something awesome about the heavens at night, with millions of stars and galaxies twinkling silently their message. Here is, as John Stott observes, “a recognition of the majesty of God’s name, or nature, which his works reveal in both earth and heaven.

The enemies of God, blinded by their proud rebellion, do not see his glory; but they are confounded by children and infants.” Indeed, Jesus quotes from this psalm to rebuke the arrogance of the religious leaders of his day. They had objected to children shouting “Hosanna” as Jesus entered the Temple on Palm Sunday (Matthew 21:15, 16). Things have not changed. Stott says, “God is still glorified in the simple faith of children and in the childlike humility of Christian believers”. The Glory of God: Revealed in Creation.

  1. The Grace of God: Found in Christ

“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet:” (Psalm 8:3-6)

What particularly evokes David to burst into praise as he ponders the vastness of the night sky? God’s condescension to care at all for you and me. On many occasions as a young shepherd, David must have laid on his back at night and pondered the vastness of the universe from one horizon to the other.

Looking up at the night sky and seeing millions and millions of stars twinkling in the dark makes you feel very small and very insignificant doesn’t it? So David asks the rhetorical question that sooner or later we all ask, “Given the vastness of the universe, of space and time, and our relative insignificance, who am I? I think my favourite actor of all time was Peter Sellers, (then John Cleese and then Rowan Atkinson). A few years ago, Time Magazine featured a story about Peter Sellers. He was appearing on the Muppet Show and was being interviewed by Kermit The Frog. Kermit began by reassuring Peter Sellers, “Now, just relax and be yourself.” Sellers responded, “I can’t be myself because I don’t know who I am. The real me doesn’t exist.” I suppose Peter Sellers was trying to be funny –maybe a dig at Kermit the frog. Sellers was a professional comedian, most widely known as Inspector Clouseau in the 1970s Pink Panther films. But on this particular occasion his words were anything but funny. In fact, they were rather sad. One of his long-time friends, commenting said, “The real Peter disappeared a long time ago. What he is, is simply an amalgamation of all the stage and screen characters he has ever played, and now he is frantically trying to unsnarl that mess and find out who he really is.”

I don’t know if Peter Sellers was ever able to unsnarl the mess or not, for six months later he was dead. But whether or not he did, he wasn’t alone in his feelings. I’m convinced that the majority of us go through life insecure about who we are, whether we have any value or significance, what we’re supposed to be doing and where we’re going.[1] Do you know who you are? Do you know God’s plan for your life? Do you realise your destiny is to live as a child of God, crowned with glory and honour. We were created to share and steward God’s creation on his behalf.

“As we consider the orbiting planets of our solar system, so infinitesimally small in comparison with countless galaxies millions of light years distant, it may seem to us incredible that the great God of the universe should take any note of us at all, let alone care for us. Yet he does; and Jesus assured us that even the hairs of our head are numbered.” (John Stott)

The Psalm moves from the vastness of the universe, to the littleness of human beings, then to the greatness of God’s redemptive plan for all people on earth. God has invested human beings with royal sovereignty, crowning us with glory and honour, delegating responsibility for ruling creation (Psalm 8:5). But things are not as they should be. While our divinely ordained status is only slightly inferior to angels, sin has marred God’s image in us.

It has corrupted God’s purposes for us. As a consequence, creation has been cursed (Genesis 3:17). Everything in creation is not as God intends. Mankind has rebelled against God and treated the world as something to be plundered and exploited and fought over as if it were ours by might and right. Humanity is not “lord of creation”, with everything under our feet. The New Testament explains why. Quoting these verses from Psalm 8, the writer to Hebrews points to God’s rescue plan to redeem mankind and restore the harmony and order of creation.

“In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” (Hebrews 2:8-9)

Humanity has indeed “sinned and fallen short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:23) in the way we have treated His world. Consequently, we have “lost some of the dominion which God has given us; but in Jesus… this dominion has been restored. It is in Him rather than in us that humankind’s dominion is exhibited. Jesus has now been crowned and exalted to God’s right hand.

So in these verses, David is describing God’s original purpose for mankind, “you made him ruler over the works of your hands” (Psalm 8:5-6) but also points to the One who would come to earth to redeem and achieve it. The Lord Jesus Christ.

The Glory of God: Revealed in Creation.
The Grace of God: Demonstrated in Christ.

  1. The Purposes of God: Fulfilled in the Church

“You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8:6-9)

So the dominion described here is first and foremost referring to the Lord Jesus Christ. However, if we acknowledge him, we will demonstrate that and serve him as stewards of his creation . The apostle Paul quotes this psalm to describe how we only regain our purpose in Jesus Christ.

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works,

so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:4-10)

Here we find both our purpose and motivation to serve him now. This earth is not ours to claim or plunder as we wish.
Every human being, including the boat people, the refugees, the asylum seekers, the homeless, the widows, the orphans, the vulnerable, the elderly, are all created in the image and likeness of God. Christ died for each one of them. Our rights are not superior just because we are more powerful or more wealthy or speak English. Our rights are not absolute. We are not independent. The earth belongs to God. He has entrusted it to us to be shared, equally. Our responsibility is therefore related to our status. Only when we know who we are, we will know what we are called to be.

“You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet:” (Psalm 8:5-6)

Only when we understand what Christ has done for us, only when we are in a right relationship with God, only when we understand our destiny, our calling, our responsibility, only then will we become part of the solution instead of the perpetuating the problem.

The Glory of God: Revealed in Creation.
The Grace of God: Demonstrated in Christ.
The Purposes of God: Fulfilled in the Church.
He creates (8:1-3); He cares (8:4-5); He calls (8:6-9).

Lets heed His call, preserve this beautiful planet for our children’s children and fulfil our destiny. Lets pray.

I am deeply grateful to John Stott, Favourite Psalms (Word, 1988) and Charles Swindoll, Living Beyond the Daily Grind (Guideposts, 1988)

[1] Illustration from Melvin Newland, Central Christian Church, Brownsville, Texas.