What is your favorite animal? Mine is possums because paradoxically, they’re “so ugly they’re cute.” Anyway, Jesus-followers speak frequently and enthusiastically about His “finished work.” He came to earth in the flesh, lived a perfect sinless life, died on the cross a substitutionary death for our sins, and in time and space rose from the dead. He did so, they go on to explain, in order to “redeem” humans.
Most of us understand and believe this essential aspect of the gospel, but there’s something else we must understand and believe to fully appreciate the “work” Jesus did. He did it not only to redeem humans but possums as well. How do I know? The Bible, in Romans 8:18-25, tells me so.
Look first of all at the word “creation” in verses 19, 20, 21, and 22. It refers to the universe and everything in it including humans, animals, stars, planets, asteroids, beaches, rivers, oceans, flowers, trees, and everything else material that exists.
The Book of Genesis teaches God made creation utterly good, but then an unspeakable tragedy befell it. As Paul describes it in verse 20, it was “subjected to futility.” He says it differently in verse 21 but the meaning is the same. It was placed in “slavery to corruption.”
Those verses reveal when Adam and Eve “fell” in the garden, so did the rest of creation, also called “nature.” There is a spiritual link between humans and nature so defined that nature’s destiny, from the beginning in Genesis 1:1, was tied up with the destiny of humans, and still is. When humans sinned and were cursed, so was nature. As beautiful and joy producing as nature is, therefore, there’s something wrong with it. It’s futile and corrupt.
This futility and corruption are evident in non-living things and the Second Law of Thermodynamics, that is, the Law of Increased Entropy. Left to itself, our sun, for instance, will eventually “grow cold and die.”
As sociologist Tony Campolo points out though, it’s most evident in animals and two obvious characteristics God never intended but they routinely display. One is their brutality. So, hawks swoop down and rip open the necks of mice and squirrels or adorable lion cubs with bloody faces chew at the carcass of a Zebra their mother killed. The other characteristic is their fear: the rabbit frozen in its tracks, the wildcat hunching its back, the rattlesnake poised to strike, or dogs slinking to the ground. Those are without doubt postures of alarm.
We know it from our own observation that Paul’s description of nature in verses 20-21 isn’t exaggerated. It’s in a fallen state God didn’t intend when He made it. It’s futile and corrupt.
But it won’t always be. At the Second Coming of Jesus, Father God is going to “redeem” it, the word in its noun form Paul uses in verse 23. The Greek word translated “redemption” means to be set free from the control of something, in this case, the futility or corruption sin brought on nature. At the Second Coming, according to verse 21, Father God will set it free from that, transforming it into the ultimate state He intended when He made it. Think of its state before the Fall, when the lion and lamb laid down together. Qualitatively, its redeemed state will be dramatically better than that, which explains why Revelation 21:1 calls it what it does, “a new heaven and a new earth.”
Now, according to verse 23, Jesus-followers wait eagerly for their final redemption. But according to verse 19, so does nature. Personifying it, Paul says it “waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.” Why? It’s because when they’re redeemed, it will be too. Acclaimed commentator Andrew Nygren explains verse 19 this way: “The redemption of mankind is also to be the redemption of creation.”
Please grasp what that implies? God has an eternal destiny for the stars, planets, animals, vegetation, and everything else in the universe, and that eternal destiny is linked with ours. Simply put, nature will be part of the eternal life we live with God in heaven. It will be in two ways.
First, the universe will be our habitation. Heaven will be a material world and that world will be the redeemed universe, the universe made perfect. All the solar systems and galaxies that comprise it will be accessible to us and we’ll be able to act upon and interact with them.
Nature will be part of the eternal life we live in a second way. God will resurrect animals so they will live in heaven with us. Brighter people than I have believed and taught this reality, including John Wesley, C.S. Lewis, and R.C. Sproul. Listen to what Wesley wrote in his book Sermons on Several Occasions. At the Second Coming, animals “will be restored, not only to that measure of understanding which they had in Paradise, but to a degree of it as much higher than that . . . . They will be delivered from all irregular appetites, from all unruly passions, from every disposition that is either evil in itself or has a tendency to evil.”
The bottom line is the eternal destinies of human beings and nature are linked. Through the finished work of Jesus, Father God, according to our text, is going to finally redeem not just humans but nature as well. There will be possums in heaven, in other words – in my part of it at least.
What I’ve just explained has profound implications to us, one of which is this and I quote Denton Lotz, “True evangelists are true ecologists.”
When I say evangelists I’m not referring to preachers who hold revival services. I’m referring to those who want to “save souls,” as we used to say it, and act to do so. They’re those who seek to bring the people they know and meet into a saving relationship with Jesus.
When I say ecologists I’m referring to those who want to save nature and act to do so. “To save nature” means to preserve, nurture, or restore it. Ecologists are those who seek to do that.
When most of us think of evangelists, we think of Bible-believing people like we are because we know God wants each of us to save souls. But when most of us think of ecologists, we think of theological liberals like the National Council of Churches, new agers like Shirley Maclaine, and naturalists like Daniel Janzen. There’s a dichotomy in our minds, in other words, between evangelists and ecologists.
But there shouldn’t be. On the contrary, Bible-believing Christians like us should be the most fervent ecologists of all. That’s because we know and believe about nature what theological liberals, new agers, and naturalists don’t. God has an eternal destiny for it that’s linked to ours. Because He does, it deserves to be saved, that is, preserved, nurtured, and restored. As followers of His, therefore, we want and act to do that.
Denton Lotz, general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, champions this point of view: “There seems to be a conflict between those who emphasize saving souls and those who emphasize saving trees. This is a ridiculous conflict. Let’s not confuse evangelism with ecology, but let’s also show that true evangelists are true ecologists.” He’s absolutely right. True evangelists are true ecologists. God wants us to save souls first of all and nature second of all.
So, let’s save nature. We do so in two ways, both of which I’ll explain in my next blog.