Planet In Distress Bible Study – From Creation to Re-Creation

Several weeks ago reader Darrell asked me to provide a Bible study that covered the main assertions I make in my ministry.  I let too much time pass in preparing and posting it and for that I apologize.  Still, I at least got it done and below you can find the first draft of this Bible study.  I would very much appreciate any critique or suggestion for improvement you might have.  This is only a first draft and I intend to work on this and improve it over the coming months.

Scott Christiansen

When God created the earth, He made something special. It was so amazing, so glorious, that we are told in Job 38:7 that the “morning stars sang together and the sons of God shouted for joy”. The “sons of God” are generally understood to mean angels and other beings God created (see Job 1:6), so the earth was so spectacular that it amazed angels and cherubs and other created beings. It had to be pretty good to do that.

When God created the earth, He revealed quite a lot about Himself. In fact, I would argue that our best and deepest knowledge of the Character of God comes from the Biblical account of His creation of the Earth in Genesis 1. Genesis 1 is an amazing chapter. Certainly, it is one of my favorites; it is straightforward while at the same time it is incredibly deep. It is also compactly written: every word has meaning and every verse is worthy of meditation. As an example, let’s look at verses 3-5, which in the NKJV read, Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good. And God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day.

What went on in those verses? Well, superficially, God made light on the first day. So far so good. But let’s go a little deeper. In verse 2 we find that there is nothing before creation, that it was void. Then, if we carefully read verses 3-5 we find out that God made light. And we know from science that light is both energy and mass, and that it moves in wave form. So in creating light God made energy and matter. Matter needs somewhere to exist, so we can conclude that God created space. Finally we are told that the morning and the evening were the first day, so we can conclude that time was created as well. So, in one act God created energy, matter, space and time. Not only did He create them, but He intertwined them. Einstein has a great deal to say about the intertwined nature of energy, matter, space and time. In truth, God created one more thing: if you have energy and matter and space and time and have intertwined them, then, defacto, you also have the laws of physics in operation. So what God did on the first day was create the building blocks of the universe while at the same time creating the physical laws that would govern the universe. Essentially, God laid down the foundation for the rest of His work.

In these few verses we can glimpse a small piece of the character of God. He is efficient. More than that, He is elegant. He is wise. His plans are perfect and so are his works. We know these last are true because time and again in Genesis 1, when God created the natural systems that sustain life on earth (our atmospheric system, our oceanic system, our soil and its sub-systems and plant life) God assessed them and pronounced them “good” (see Genesis 1:10, 1:12, 1:17, 1:21, 1:25). We can take God’s “good” to be equal to our “perfect”. But then, in verse 31, we see something very interesting. Here is the verse: “Then God saw everything He had made, and indeed it was very good.” How did we go from “perfect” to “very perfect”? As I said above, every word in Genesis 1 has meaning and every verse is worthy of contemplation. The key here in verse 31 is the word “everything”.   Let me try to explain what happened using an analogy. Let’s say that God is creating a pocket watch. Whatever material you feel God would work with – gold or silver or ruby or diamond crystal – let’s say He is making the most amazing watch in the universe. First, He makes the case. It is exactly as He intended it, crafted in perfection, and He is pleased with it and calls it “good”. Then He makes the crystal to cover the face. Then he makes the stem and the main spring, then the hundreds of fine gears. After making each component, He calls them each “good”. But it is only when He put all the pieces together and the whole watch functions perfectly – functions as one unit – that he calls it “very good”. So it was with the earth. When God looked at “everything” – all of His amazing and massive systems – saw them functioning perfectly as one enormously complicated but elegantly balanced system, then He proclaimed it to be “very good”.

We see much of the character of God on display here, but there is one attribute – His prime attribute – that is lacking from the express description in Genesis 1. We are told in 1 John 4:8 that “God is love”. We can infer, then, from our understanding of “love”, from the description of the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2, and from the fact that the “sons of God shouted for joy”, that the earth was a nurturing, peaceful place of stunning beauty that was meant to delight us for eternity. We can take it on faith that, given what we know of God, this primary aspect of His character – love – would be reflected in the special work that was the creation of the earth.

We can also understand that God did and does love us and all of His creation. We know this from the most memorized verse in the entire Christian world – John 3:16. “For God so loved the ________.” Oddly, we fill in that blank with “humans” even though that is not what the verse says. The verse says that God loved the world, which means all of creation. We can correlate this verse with Revelation 11:18 which says, in part, (God will) “destroy those who destroy the earth”. Humans, who were created in the image of God, when they create something, have a special bond with that thing. It reflects them. So too with God and the world. But I am getting ahead of myself with this study. Let me backtrack a little.

So the earth was created in perfection and was a reflection of God’s character. But all we have to do it look around to understand the world is now not the reflection of God’s character that it was. It is a place filled with disease, decay, suffering, conflict, and death. The Bible tells us in Malachi 3:6 and James 1:17 that God is unchanging, so we know the change in the earth does not stem from a change in God. To understand what happened to the earth, we have to understand the battle for control of the universe between good and evil. We have to understand the war between Christ and Satan and how the earth fits into it. Let’s start by looking at who Satan was and is.

Satan was a very high-ranking angel. In fact, we are told in that he was the “Covering Cherub” and walked on the mountain of God (Ezekiel 28:14-16). But then he became proud and exalted himself, and was filled with pride and violence (Ezekiel 28:16,17). Satan did not aspire to be equal with God, he aspired to be above God, supreme ruler of the universe (Isaiah 14:12-15). Sin was found in Satan and he rebelled, eventually convincing a third of the angels to side with him in rebellion, and there was war in Heaven as a result (Revelation 12:4-9). Satan lost the war in Heaven but did not cease his rebellion. He and his followers were cast from heaven onto the earth (Revelation 12:9 and Hebrews 28:17). It was on earth that Satan tempted mankind into sinning (Genesis 3:13).

When Satan conquered mankind, he took the dominion of the earth that God gave man and became the “god” of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4). Satan has laid claim to the earth, legitimized by his conquer of man, and he has some power oven the earth, but not complete power (see the exchange between God and Satan in Job 1:6-12). When Satan conquered man, both man and earth were infected by sin and both fell under the curse of sin. We are told in Romans 5:12 and 6:23 that the consequence of sin is death. And we find in Romans 8:21, 22 that all of creation is suffering under the “bondage of corruption” because of sin (we also find in these same verses that all of creation will be delivered from bondage – more on that in a bit).

Christians are well acquainted with the idea that sin causes suffering and decay in man. But the idea that sin causes the earth itself to decay and decline and suffer from corruption is far less familiar. So, too, is the idea that the earth itself, being under the curse of sin, is therefore “dying”. This being the case, let’s hold this concept to a high threshold of proof. Let’s say that, in addition to the above texts, the Bible needs to specifically say that the earth is decaying and being corrupted by sin. Perhaps the most descriptive such text is Isaiah 51:6, which says that the earth will grow old like a garment. There is also Isaiah 24:20, which talks about the earth “reeling” and says that “its transgression shall be heavy upon it”. Then there is Jeremiah 12:4, which draws a direct causative link between sin and the blight or oppression of both plants and animals. Finally, and perhaps most compellingly, there is Hosea 4:1-3, which draws a direct causative link between sin and the health of the land, the people, and the animals (even the fish). Contemplating all these verses, it seems there is a good case for understanding that the earth not only suffers under the curse of sin, but that curse is also cumulative, and the effects of sin on the earth are mounting continuously.

There is the question of why sin results in death. The answer is quite straightforward: Sin separates creation from Creator. Take a look at Isaiah 59:1-3, which talks about separation from God as a result of sin.

As a result of sin, and with Satan the “god” of this world, what we are seeing is a world that initially reflected the character of God but is now coming to more and more reflect the character of Satan. The world is a place of strife, conflict, disease, decay, corruption, suffering and death. It is a place where power rules. Yes, it is still beautiful because, after all, God created it in perfection. But the effects of sin and Satan’s dominion have taken their toll and the earth is in steep and accelerating decline – decline that is being seen and measured the world over.

Let us now turn to the concluding part of this study – the link between the effect of sin on the earth and the fulfillment of prophecy. In Matthew 24 (and Mark 13 and Luke 21 – they are parallel chapters), Christ sat down with His disciples and addressed a question they had put to Him. They asked Him “What will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus answered their question extensively, and to get the fullest sense of his response it is necessary to read all three parallel chapters, since each one adds a detail not found elsewhere. Early in His response, Jesus said that in the last days there would be wars, rumors of wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. Since these things have always happened in a sin-filled world, these verses are taken to mean that there would be a dramatic increase in these things. This is consistent with Luke 21:11, which adds “fearful sights” but especially with Mark 13:8, which adds “troubles” to the list and says that seeing these things come to fruition is the “beginning of sorrows”. Taken together, the impression of Christ’s prophecy is of an age where disasters are growing more and more frequent and deadly.

Christ made a fairly precise description of what we could expect to see. Then, later in His discourse to His disciples (and therefore His discourse to us) He told us again and again and again to “watch”. See Mark 13:33-37. Christ Himself told us what to watch for and then again and again told us to watch. Immediately after telling us to watch, Christ transitioned into the story of the ten virgins in Matthew 25:1-12. Then, in verse 13, He came to the capstone of that story and the capstone of a chapter and a half of discourse: “Watch, therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.”

So, watching for the signs of His coming is a solemn duty of every Christian, as per the specific and adamant instructions of Christ Himself. And we can understand that the early signs of Christ’s coming would not be crystal clear and obvious. If they were, we would not need to watch so closely.

With all that context, we now have two questions to address: One, are the signs of Christ’s coming being fulfilled? And, two, what are we doing about it? This second question is critically important, since in the second half of Matthew 25 (and still continuing with his discourse and theme which started in Matthew 24) Christ gives the parable of the talents, explicitly telling us that everyone is required to produce a return for the Lord by using the gifts – talents – they have been given (Matthew 25:14-46). Back to the first question: Are the signs of Christ’s coming being fulfilled? My answer is “yes”.

Looking at the Bible, we know what to expect for Christ told us. Interestingly, today we can trace the effects of a natural world in accelerating decline. In fact, there is a super-abundance of science available for just how quickly our oceanic system is dying, just how rapidly our atmospheric system is decaying, how rapidly our fresh water system, food production system, and climate system are declining. We live in an age when the state of all these systems are studied extensively and, the more we learn, the more we edge closer to panic over what we understand to be coming on the earth (as Christ predicted – see Luke 21:26). We live in an age when disasters (“troubles”) have increased 300% in the last 30 years. And we are beginning to understand that as the natural world becomes severely disrupted, human society, which is built directly on the natural world and which is wholly reliant on it, becomes rapidly and dramatically unstable.

We increasingly understand that the human response to resource shortages is to engage in conflict in order to gain more resources. Whether it is food or water or some other basic need, states (“nation against nation”) and people groups (“kingdom against kingdom”) will rapidly resort to both threats and actual conflict to gain the resources they think they need. Further, when there are shortages of food or, especially, shortages of water, disease (pestilence) rapidly breaks out. Conflict (and especially conflict combined with drought) rapidly results in a shortage of food, which leads to famine.

As the world’s natural systems that God created continue to unravel due to the effects of sin, we are seeing exactly what Christ said we would – dramatic increases in conflict, disease and famine. We are also seeing significant increases in earthquakes over 5.0 on the Richter scale[1]. I have extensively tracked and commented on the global trend that we are seeing in my book Planet In Distress and on my Planet In Distress blog, so I won’t belabor the point here other than to say that we are seeing what Christ said to watch for fully manifested in over 10% of the countries in the world, complete with civil society breakdown. Further, this failing-society trend appears to only be accelerating. So let me return to the second question above: If the signs of Christ’s soon coming are in fact being manifested, what are we doing about it? Are we using our talents? I leave you with this thought, from Luke 21:28. After telling His disciples what was coming and what to watch for, Christ said, “Now when you see these things begin to happen, look up, lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.”

Christ’s words are being fulfilled right in front of us.

[1] Swarms of earthquakes from fracking have clouded the data so it is hard to cite a natural trend when looking at smaller earthquakes.