Friday, April 5, 2013

Scriptural Lessons from the Natural World: Nothing Material Is Permanent

Photo by Andrew Stark
I know from experience the value of time spent in the natural world. My kids grew up running around the neighbourhood and in the nearby bush, and their childhoods were better for it. Every morning I walk the dog in the Yukon wild, no matter how cold it gets. (I just shorten the walk when it's very cold.) I have a large yard and garden, and in the late spring, summer, and early fall, I work in it daily. The natural world that surrounds me is a reminder of God's providential care. Even in this harsh climate, veggies grow in the garden, berries ripen in the forest, and all the wild animals are fed. 

As I anticipate the warmer weather of the coming seasons, I've been thinking about what we can learn from the natural world, and more specifically, about what scripture teaches us using what we know—or should know—from the natural world. It seemed like a suitable subject for a blog post until I began a list; then it became a suitable subject for several blog posts. So this post begins a series of posts on scriptural lessons from the natural world.

Lesson One: Nothing Material Is Permanent
All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the Lord blows on it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:6b-8, ESV)
Right now, everything is dead outside my window. It's not yet spring, but it might be where you live. Whenever it comes, spring brings life, but the life it brings is temporary.

The first flower of spring here is the pasque flower. It will bloom in late April or early May, and be gone by the first of June. Pasque flowers start a cycle of wildflowers, blooming and then fading, until mid-August, when they will all have faded. By then the wild grasses that sprouted up in spring will all be withered, too.

Trees live longer than flowers, but they die eventually, too. The dead trees standing or lying in the forest demonstrate this. And you don't have to be outdoors long before you'll see a dead creature of some kind, perhaps just an insect, but as for the insect, so for the rest of the creatures. They all live for a while and then they die.

James 1:9-11 alludes to the quoted passage from Isaiah to teach that material wealth and human lives are temporary. Whatever we own, whatever we build, can be taken from us at any time, and it will surely all be taken from us when we die. Everything material, everything created, perishes.

It's bad news, but it's bad news that sets us up for good news. Everything in the material world dies, but not God's word. "The word of our God will stand forever"—unfading, unwithering, undying. And better than undying: imperishable. By it's very nature, God's word cannot die.

Peter quotes the Isaiah passage to assure believers and spur them on to good works. have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for
“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord remains forever.”
And this word is the good news that was preached to you. (1 Peter 1:23-25, ESV)
Believers have been born again by the word of God, and God's word is unlike anything we experience in the natural world. The good news that birthed us spiritually cannot die. Peter likens it to an imperishable seed—a seed that cannot die and so produces life that cannot die. Our new life, like the gospel that birthed it, is eternal.

The natural world reminds us that nothing material is permanent, but scripture teaches us that spiritual life, new life birthed by the gospel, is different because God and his word, unlike anything in the natural world, remain forever. 

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