26 Apr 2007

Heaven (5): God’s Love for his Creation

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Christian hope, Contemporary Ethics, eschatology, Exegesis, Hebrew Bible, Jesus, Kingdom
Creation and Spirituality
Many modern Christians have associated “materiality” with “unspiritual.” We hear talk of “spiritual” blessings, “spiritual” needs, saving “souls” and other lingo that seems to imply the secondary nature of God’s material world. This attitude as we have seen in Heaven (2) and Heaven (3) has far more in common with Platonism and Gnosticism than with historic Christianity.
I reject as utterly unbiblical any definition of “spiritual” that means “non-material” or “non-physical.” Rather I have a working definition for “spiritual” as “Godly.” The ministry of Jesus is the criteria here. Jesus defines his ministry in Luke 4.18-21 in a very “non-spiritual” way if we buy into that modern view of “spiritual.” Jesus declares that his ministry is the Sabbath of Sabbaths. He is the Living Sabbath, the Year of Jubilee. This work of Christ is declared in very concrete and “material” terms in the Gospel of Luke.
He is to preach good news to the poor.
He gives sight to the blind.
He releases the oppressed.
He proclaims the year of the Lord’s favor.

These were not preliminary for the “real” mission of Jesus but part of his entire mission of redemption. Every blind person given sight is a moment of redemption. Every leper healed is redeemed. For example the Centurion’s daughter is “saved” by Jesus (7.3); the sinful woman experiences “salvation” (7.50); the demoniac is “saved” (8.36); the little girl that died is “saved” (8.50) and Zacchaeus experienced the salvation of Jesus (19.9).

Salvation is as broad as the Year of Jubilee. These examples, and many more, are the outworking of the Jubilee mission of Jesus. Jesus’ mission is to reverse the curse that had invaded God’s good creation. The work of Jesus is inherently “spiritual.” Even the healing of limbs, feeding the hungry, touching the leper … these are spiritual, not because they are immaterial but because the are the work of God.
The Belief of Gnostics on Creation
The work of Jesus to reverse the curse is part of the overall love of God for his good creation. The Hebrew Bible proclaims loud and clear that Yahweh is the Creator God and his work is very good. It was this point that Plato denied. It was this point that the Gnostics went ape over. They believed that creation was inherently unspiritul that only a secondary and evil god could be responsible for it (The Gospel of Judas calls him Nebro, a Coptic word that means “rebel.” He is in no way the “father” of Christ! See more on the Gnostic “Gospel” of Judas here). The Platonists and their Gnostic disciples believed that “God” was only interested in a pure spiritual environment free from the physical and material … anything less to them was not “spiritual.” The beliefs of Gnostics relating to creation directly impacted their view on the incarnation of the Word of God, that John is so passionate about. Because they rejected creation they had to rejected any enfleshment of the Word (past or present).

Yahweh’s Passion for His Creation

The Hebrew Bible, however, says not only did God create the world but it is proof of his love and that he lovingly cares for it. If you ask an Israelite “how do we know God loves us?” He/she would respond with two affirmations: God created the world and God rescued us from Egypt. Both of these are declared in Psalm 136 but I will focus only on the creation part,
To him who alone does great wonders
his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who by understanding made the heavens,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who spread out the earth upon the waters,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
to him who made the great lights,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
the sun to rule the day,
for his steadfast love endures forever;
the moon and stars to rule over the night,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
(Psalm 136.4-9)
The physical universe reflects the warmth and love of Yahweh. Indeed God’s own glory is displayed through the created world (Psalm 19.1-4). In terms of biblical theology it is interesting to see that Psalm 24, when answering the question of who may ascend the hill of the Lord it first declares “The earth is the LORD’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it …”

Psalm 104 (worthy of deeper study) explores the purposes of creation. With images that recall God’s creation as a palace/temple (see Heaven #4) we read of beams and chambers. Israel in this Psalm praises God for his loving care of the universe. He protects it from the chaos, he sends the rain for the beasts of the fields and birds of the air …

He makes grass grow for the cattle,
and plants for man to cultivate—
bringing forth food from the earth …
The trees of the LORD are well watered …
These {animals} look to you to give
them food at their proper time.
When you give it to them,
they gather it up;
when you open your hand they are satisfied
with good things
(Psalm 104.14, 16, 27-28)
God lovingly cares for his good creation … a task that humanity was commissioned to do and failed and continues to fail. Even though sin has pervaded this world and it suffers from the curse … it is still God’s. The Hebrew Bible declares
for every animal of the forest is mine,
and the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know every bird in the mountains,
and the creatures of the field are mine
(Psalm 50.10-12)
God so loves and sustains his creation that he even builds provision for the non-human in his gracious Torah. Animals themselves are to be blessed with a Sabbath rest according to Exodus 20.10 and Deut 5.14, “On it you shall do no work … nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals.” God explained to Jonah that one reason he did not want to destroy Nineveh was not only the people but because of the “cattle” (Jonah 4.11). Interestingly enough though folks will go to war because of the evil that pervades this fallen creation he limits its impact on the environment. “Are the trees of the field people, that you should besiege them” (Deut 20.19, this passage has always intrigued me).

Jeremiah when speaking of God’s covenantal promise to house of David he assures Israel they can believe it because it is like God’s covenant with the created order,
“If you break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night will not come at their appointed time, then also my covenant with David my servant may be broken” (Jer 33.20-21) The reliability of creation is rooted in the faithfulness of God.

Final Thoughts

This post has grown long and we have not even begun to touch the tip of the iceberg. We have said nothing of creational praise of Yahweh, we have spoken nothing of how the Exodus ties into the creational narratives in Genesis (remember the Bible is an integrated six act drama/play). We may come back to those in the future.

One thing is for sure, we will never have a true understanding of the biblical longing for the New Heavens and New Earth as long as we have a sub-biblical view of God’s good creation and his incredible love for it. Like any art is an expression of the artist so God’s creation is an expression of himself and for us to think it is “unspiritual” is to view it in a totally different light than what Scripture does.

God is redeeming humanity as part of his goal to redeem his entire creation. Jesus is doing in his ministry what God has done all along. He is the embodiment of the Year of Jubilee that brought rest to God’s suffering people … and his creation.

It was the Gnostics who rejected the goodness of God’s creation and its “spiritual nature” not the Bible. It was the Gnostics who denied that God aims to redeem his creation. It was the Gnostics who sought salvation as a means to escape God’s creation. In light of the testimony of the Hebrew Bible is is no surprise that the Gnostics who rejected creation ultimately rejected the One who created it. I think these facts should give us cause for pause …

Humans were created to be God’s co-regent in ruling his good creation. We failed … but God has not given up on his dream.

More later,
Bobby Valentine

14 Responses to “Heaven (5): God’s Love for his Creation”

  1. Messianic Gentile Says:

    I grew up thinking that environmentalism had nothing to do with faith in Jesus. I now know differently. Environmentalist need Jesus or their program is not only incomplete, it is likely idolatrous. Jesus, on the otherhand, is vital to good environmental agenda.

    Also, I remember my first class in college at ACU was PE. The instructor strung a few verses together to go with his openning remarks on the first day of class. (It was the only day he did this and I am still not convinced that he really knew what he was doing, but) I thought at the time that he was mixing Bible stuff with physical stuff. It seemed pointless.

    Now I am quite sure he did not go far enough (thus I say I don’t think he knew what he was doing because) if he did, the whole curriculum would have been immersed in Bible.

    But at the time I was a quasi-neo gnostic who thought he was shamefully trying to bring together things that did not belong together. It seemed like a dumb stunt a PE instructor at a Bible college might try. (And it probably was.) But it had potential I was not appreciating because I thought that all of creation was going to burn up in a huge judgment fire one day and be done with (including my physical body).

    This meant that I did not take my physical life and environment seriously. It meant that as a Christian voter, I did not care what oil companies in rain forests do. But coming to value creation as God does changes a lot of things I believe and do. And the Church needs to make these changes too.

    Thanks for the series. I am really happy to see all the interest you have generated (especially among CoC people who I NEVER saw talk about these things before outside of academia).

    Jesus is Lord!!

  2. Bob Bliss Says:

    Bobby, good definition of spirituality. I agree wholeheartedly that the usual definition of spirituality as non-material is not a biblical definition.

    I wonder whether or not this thinking about spiritual being non-material is what is driving the “spirituality” fad in our society today. Most have rejected the modern approach to a worldview which sees only the material and perhaps this new “spirituality” is more of a post modern view point that robs spirituality of its true meaning. Do you understand my thinking and do you agree?

  3. Falantedios Says:

    The more we learn of physics, the more the intangible, creationless eschatology crumbles.

    Did anyone in 1st century Palestine besides Jesus know that wind is moving matter? No, but it doesn’t change the fact that the Spirit / Wind wordplay in John 3 by no means suggests immateriality.

    The Spirit is as material as the wind is. We can’t always see it, but we can always see what it is doing, if we would only look.

    in HIS love,

  4. Alan Says:

    In general I agree with the premises but not with the implied conclusions. The fact that creation is good and that it shows the glory of God does not prove that God will not destroy it and make another.

    The arguments about what the Gnostics believed are ad hominem arguments. I suppose they believed that the sun rises every day also.

    Jesus left earth so he could go and prepare a place for us. (John 14:2-3). He said “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36) but that it is “from another place.” He said his followers are “not of the world any more than I am of the world.” We are told not to love the world or the things in the world, because the world is passing away. Jesus said that God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and truth. He said “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ Paul spoke of the same thing when he said “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” These and other scriptures make it clear that the kingdom of God is not of this world, and its subjects are spirit, not flesh.

    Rev 21:1 states that there will be a new heaven and a new earth, and that the first heaven and the first earth will pass away. I believe that is exactly what will happen. And that belief is firmly founded in the scriptures.

  5. Laymond Says:

    The sub title of your post is “The mission of Jesus” Let us look at what Jesus said his mission was.

    Mat 15:24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

    Did Jesus not know what his mission was or was he lying to this poor woman?

  6. Laymond Says:

    Bobby you seem (to me) to say the spiritual and material rank as equal in God’s eye when you said “Many modern Christians have associated “materiality” with “unspiritual.” We hear talk of “spiritual” blessings, “spiritual” needs, saving “souls” and other lingo that seems to imply the secondary nature of God’s material world.”

    I wonder where we get the unmitigated gall to even think such a thing much less say such a blasphemous thing.
    Mat 10:28 And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.
    Mat 16:26 For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
    Mat 6:19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
    Mat 6:20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

    If I got anything from the book of Job it was that material things are secondary to spiritual things ( but that could be only me). I could go on but don’t want to use up your space. I will stop commenting on this subject any farther if I was being influenced by you or thought you were influenced by me I would continue but that is not evident so I will cease and desist but I want you to know what I believe comes from the bible not Plato. May God Bless

  7. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Mike thanks for sharing with us. There are certainly many implications from a biblical understanding of creation. One is not even an implication … we are tasked with caring for God’s good creation.

    Bob I think that the cleavage between material and “spiritual” dates prior to Postmodernism. The contemporary manifestation is squarely rooted in the Englightenment agenda. Christians “retreated” (if you will) from the “world” to what they believed was safe ground … the “spiritual.”

    Postmodern thinkers in fact have reacted quite strongly against this cleavage and have a sort of restoration mentality–a return to a wholistic stance of body and soul together.

    Alan, John 14 nor more discounts a renewed earth than 1 Corinthians 15 or Phil 3 that was appealed to by someone the other day. Paul’s entire point in 1 Cor 15 is in contrast with prevailing Greek view of immortality of the soul. Yes the Corinthians were not secular humanists. They DID believe in “life” after death. What they did not believe was “resurrection of the body.” Paul affirms emphatically that our resurrection is real because Christ’s body really did come out of the grave. Corruption will not enter the new heavens and new earth but that is why God will REDEEM the body.

    The material about Gnosticism is not an ad hominem argument. Jesus Christ and his apostles knew of an alternative view of Yahweh’s creation. It pervaded the Greco-Roman world. Jesus entered into a debate regarding the resurrection and sided with those who affirmed the resurrection of the body. Paul spoke of the resurrection of the body not the immortality of the soul. Knowing the historical context of Jesus and Paul is not ad hominem but extremely important. You and I need to know that info … there IS a difference between Christianity and Gnosticism. They BOTH claimed to honor the deity of Christ. They BOTH claimed to be his real disciples. What differentiated them, and clearly so, was the doctrine of CREATION. Resurrection of the flesh affirms creation just as the Incarnation of the Word in flesh does. But Christ remains, as John so argues, flesh. Gnostics have no wiggle room.

    Laymond I don’t want to believe what comes from Plato either. That is why I believe in resurrection of the flesh. Jesus saying about “hell” affirms both body and soul by the way if read it. It is not simply a person’s “spirit” that is tormented in “hell” but BODY and spirit because a WHOLE person will be there.

    Bobby Valentine

  8. Alan Says:


    I am reading many unfounded assertions about why various passages were written. In my post I merely pointed out what those passages say. Before we start speculating about what was going on in the writer’s mind, what motivated his statements, we first need to listen to what he said. Flesh and blood will not inherit the kingdom of God. Whether or not the Gnostics believed that, we know that Paul believed it.

    The fact that someone mentioned some of these passages a few days ago making the same point certainly isn’t evidence against the validity of those points.

    I think you are blind to the ad hominem arguments you are making. The same thing happened in the first article of the series. Attributing certain beliefs to the Gnostics is not evidence for or against those beliefs. That is irrelevant to determining whether or not the beliefs are correct. Worse, it creates a sort of guilt by association for those who hold any of those beliefs. It has a feel of intimidating people from daring to support that belief because someone is associating the belief with gnosticism. All of that interferes with an intelligent and rational discussion of real evidence.

    In your first post you mentioned that you have friends who freak out when you talk about these things. Maybe you should listen to those friends.

    I don’t want to quarrel about any topic, especially one that is not essential to salvation. So I think I will follow Laymond’s example and stop posting on this topic.

  9. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Alan you are welcome to dialogue and I hope you do. I maintain that historical context is essential to properly reading scripture. The fact that Platonism was around before Jesus, that it pervaded the Greek and Roman world is, I think, an important fact. Tacitus comments on Jewish belief as do other contemporaries and note how out of sync it is with civilized belief.

    I believe that when Jesus spoke of the resurrection he did not mean the same thing the Platonists did by immortality of the soul. The evidence of Jewish belief is not hard to come by. The question then becomes does Jesus fit into the Hebraic worldview? Does Paul and John? There are not limitless options here.

    The purpose in bringing up Plato and his Gnostic disciples is not to create guilt by association. It is to place the biblical view of creation and resurrection in bold relief. That will cause, I hope, us to go back and think these things through from a wholistic biblical perspective.

    These things are all tied together in a ball … a tight ball: Creation, Incarnation of the Word, the Present ministry of Jesus as High Priest, redemption, reconciliation, regeneration … and the Christian hope.

    Alan I pray to God that I have not insulted you or been arrogant in any way. My intention is to present my understanding of renewed eschatology. I have read many works pro and con and reflected for several years now. I did not come to this conclusion overnight. It was a process that took time and recognizing and reading scripture in its own historical context, seeing my own neo-gnostic and platonic leanings … and coming to realize what the historic teaching of the “great teachers” of the church has been … my heritage played a role in my failure to see these things but I do not blame them–only myself. I speak for myself and for no one else.

    I find it reassuring and indicative that the view I have now is the “truth” because it is in harmony with the following things: the teaching of the Hebrew Bible; the prevailing Jewish tradition of the Second Temple; it is clearly held by the earliest post-Apostolic Fathers like the Epistle of Barnabus, Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin, Irenaeus and it is the belief of the universal church as exhibited in the creeds and confessions. I find solace in this.

    Bobby Valentine

  10. Matt Says:

    Have you ever read Bernard Anderson’s Creation to New Creation?

  11. Falantedios Says:

    For purposes of this discussion, shouldn’t any reference to 1 Jn 2:15-17 deal with Jn 3:16 as well?

    Passages about the kingdom and the disciples not being “of the world” do not bear on eschatology. Jesus’ authority, and the disciples’ life and identity, did not derive from this world, but from the Father. “Of the world” and “for the world” are two different things. Jesus’ kingdom was not OF this world, but it is emphatically for this world (Matt 6:10).

    If what Jesus means with “Flesh gives birth to flesh and spirit gives birth to spirit” is a hard and fast dichotomy between the two, then it is impossible for anyone to be born from above before they die. Why would Jesus tell Nicodemus “You MUST [dei, of moral necessity] be born from above,” if having human flesh would somehow prevent it?

    One must let context define phrases, not dictionaries and modern usages in a society that long ago rejected God. Jesus says to Peter, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.” How did the Father reveal it? Through Jesus, who whatever else one may say of him, is definitely incarnate at the time of the revelation.

    Spirit does not mean intangible.
    Invisible does not mean immaterial.

    Paul does not say that we will hand in this perishable body and receive another one that is imperishable. He says, “THIS perishable body must PUT ON imperishability, THIS mortal body must put on immortality” just as he calls us to PUT ON the full armor of God. Whatever else happens, it still happens to THIS body. The pronoun Paul uses to refer back to body suggests transformation, not abandonment. The dead who are raised will be raised into the same state as those who live will be changed.

    If all death does is release an immortal ghost from a corrupt body into an eternal ghostly existence that was always God’s final destiny for us, then why is death an enemy that needs to be defeated? What did Jesus defeat when he left the tomb, if not the parting of body from soul that marks DEATH?

    Bobby has a GREAT point that no one has answered: how will body and soul be in hell if the resurrection is not bodily?

    What was promised to the faithful “cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews that they had not yet received, that made them incomplete (Heb 11:40)? Could it be their bodies (Jn 5:28-29)?

    in HIS love,

  12. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    I have been out of town Friday and Saturday speaking at a men’s retreat.

    Matt I am not sure if the question about Anderson is aimed at me but yes I have read From Creation to New Creation. Anderson has been a pivotal scholar in getting the concept of creation to be taken seriously in “OT Theologies” or as a serious OT concept. But the concept of mighty acts has eclipsed creation in many “classic” OT theologies. But creation is the context for the “mighty acts.”

    It seems to me that the very best book around in the English tongue on the importance of creation in the Hebrew Bible is Terence Fretheim’s GOD AND WORLD IN THE OLD TESTAMENT (Abingdon 2005). This is a treasure.

    Nick, your comments are productive of much thought as usual. I thank you for participating in this discussion in such a positive way.

    I am WORN OUT so I am going to bed.

    Bobby Valentine

  13. Alan Says:

    Perhaps some of the readers of this series will find the contrary position expressed in the recent article on the Christian Courier site enlightening.

  14. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:


    Thank you for encouraging readers to read Wayne Jackson’s piece. I have already encouraged them to do so but … I think the article is very inadequate as a response to renewed earth eschatology but that should be evident by now.

    Bobby Valentine

Leave a Reply