The news cycle is loud, but we need to hear those who can’t shout
Media reporting on the recent devastating flooding—in places as distant as Mozambique and as close as the Missouri River Valley—brought a new reminder: The doctrine of creation matters.
The problem is that so few Christians really believe that anymore. They just can’t express that idea with any gumption. For a couple of generations now, evangelicals have increasingly swallowed the line that what we believe about origins is really just about the same as what everyone else believes—except that we think God controlled the process. Leading evangelical colleges quietly but efficiently persuade thousands of students that theistic evolution is a more sophisticated and less embarrassing explanation of origins than that which we learned as beginners in Sunday school. Those who still hold to the quaint idea that God made everything in six 24-hour days are regularly made to feel as if they should also be speaking Elizabethan English.
I still remember the exchange I had standing in line at my bank some 25 years ago. The woman in front of me and I were both glued to another exchange just outside the window, where a cat was crouched beneath a bush watching a bird above him as only a feline can.
“I have two cats,” the woman told me. “But I don’t let them play with birds. Mice, voles, shrews—OK. They can gobble them up to their hearts’ content. But no birds. Can you believe some people actually get a thrill out of watching a cat catch and eat a bird?”
We ‘religious’ people have too often forfeited the whole idea that God is intimately involved in His creation.
Well, no, I can’t—unless maybe it’s a lion in Kenya on the prowl for a buzzard. But I was puzzled, and still am, at the source of our double standard. “Do you suppose,” I asked the woman at the bank, “that God might have built that into His creation—that He planned that we would put a higher value on canaries than we do on mice? Or is that something that we came up with on our own?” The woman’s silent, blank stare suggested I was speaking a dialect I had picked up in Tibet.
I had, of course, broken a profound social taboo. Analysts at CNN and Fox News, along with most other public news sources, may be a zillion miles apart in their political views. But they’re joined at the hip when it comes to talking about “nature.”
Writers of our nation’s earliest documents got a lot closer to the truth when they talked discreetly about “Nature” and “Nature’s God.” But even that, of course, is way too invasive in this secular era. Which is why it’s not unusual now to hear commentators, like one on NPR radio recently, tell us that “Mother Nature may just be getting angry at all the abuse and pollution human beings have piled on her in recent years.”
But nary a word about God’s role in all this—which may not be so bad in any case, given the theological illiteracy of our age.
The problem is not, however, some superficial difference between “religious” people like us and “nonreligious” people like most TV analysts. The problem is that we “religious” people have too often forfeited the whole idea that God is intimately involved in His creation. We may claim to believe it theoretically, but those theoretical convictions only rarely find their way into our everyday conversation.
Yes, it bothers people to think—and especially to talk—about God’s involvement in the cyclone in Mozambique or the floods in the Midwest. But we’ve been blackmailed. By conceding the story of creation the way most of us learned it as little children, we’ve forfeited the stage where we might talk about the very God who set it all in motion. If we’re squeamish and embarrassed to talk about God the Creator, we’ll naturally shrink from a discussion about a God who orders the details of that creation.
The big reason we’re disturbing to such folks is that most of them have never joined with Job as he sat and marveled at the Creator of all that is. Maybe if we were a bit bolder on that front, we’d challenge a newscaster here and there to take God seriously. Or maybe even a woman in your line at the bank.