The green spaces that surround us and the animals that live within them stir something deep within humans. Something about snow-covered, mountainous landscapes moves us to question our place within the world. Serene old-growth redwood forests full of marbled murrelets, carpeted in ferns prompts the human mind to question its impact on the Earth. Even vast deserts move humans in deep and complex ways. Many of us attribute this sensation to something spiritual, something more than we can understand, some greater being. For those of us who do attribute this feeling to God, it is important to frame our understanding of the spaces we hold most dear. Often we use the words ‘nature’ and ‘creation’ interchangeably when speaking about the world around us. The words we choose can play a huge part in shaping our thoughts and beliefs about this planet we call home and the entity we believe to have spoken it into being.
Within the biblical text, the Hebrew people always call the world around their creation or the created order rather than nature. This begins to make sense to us when we think about the meaning of the word ‘nature’ and the ways we use the words that come from it. The word nature brings us other words like ‘naturally’ and ‘natural’. Usually, when we use a word like one of these we mean something that happens on its own, without our interference. Something that occurs naturally does so because of the design of a system or in some other self-sustaining way.
Have you ever spent so much time inside, much as I feel in the midst of this global pandemic, that you have an urge to go outside, put your feet in the dirt, and take a deep, long breath of the air? In some ways, we feel isolated from nature and have a desire to “get back” to it. Humanity sees itself as something separate from the natural world around it. It is almost as if humans see themselves as something that does not belong in the surrounding world at all. Why would we insist on “leaving no trace” if we believed otherwise?
The ancient people of God referred to the world around them as creation for various reasons. These people held that the world was a creation because it was unable to exist on its own and needed a sustainer otherwise known as a Creator. Interestingly, and in some ways, more importantly, the Hebrews saw themselves as creatures inhabiting this creation along with the other creatures which were created. All the creatures of the world were believed to have been created for the pleasure of God.
Maybe a simple change of our language can help us to reshape our outlook on the world around us and the God that created it. By calling the world creation we are acknowledging that all that we know to exist was created by God and is sustained by God. We will also begin to admit and acknowledge that we as humans are a part of this creation. The mountains and trees around us did not create themselves, do not sustain themselves, and humans are not different but part of this created world.
Thinking of ourselves as a part of creation gives us a new outlook on our life atop this floating space rock. The psalmist beautifully depicts creation in the 104th Psalm. Take a little time out of your day, find a quiet place outside, and read these words with a new lens. We are not a natural occurrence on this planet but rather a created being, sustained by the Maker of the heavens and the Earth itself.
If you want to learn more about creation, environmental stewardship, and the biblical perspective for both, check out Redeeming Creation: The Biblical Basis for Environmental Stewardship by Fred Dyke, David Mahan, Joseph Sheldon, and Raymond Brand. I highly recommend it!