Let’s face it. This is a wonderful world. After all, why shouldn't it be? God made it!
Not that this world is perfect. Far from it. But its imperfections are not God's fault. Man messed it up. Still, there are an awful lot of wonderful things in this world that are beautiful and useful. These are the things we want to talk about.
What should be the "temple" attitude toward this wonderful world? Should he enjoy it? Should he ignore it? Should he use it? Should he improve it? Here are some thoughts on each of these questions.
1. He should enjoy it.
They say that the best things in life are free. You don't have to own this wonderful world to enjoy it. I enjoy my neighbor's trees and shrubbery. I drive by a graveyard on my way to the office. It is full of oaks and maples. You ought to see it in October! It is magnificent... with every shade of green, red and gold. I don't own it, but I sure enjoy it.
I enjoy physical beauty. I've always said that a woman does something for a dress. I don't think hats look beautiful on women. I think women look beautiful in hats! I remember a pessimistic ditty we used to quote that speaks to the need to appreciate beauty before it fades:
"Beauty is only skin deep ... homeliness to the bone. While beauty fadeth away, homeliness holdeth her own!"
I think the believer should train himself to appreciate this wonderful world. It is so easy to go through life with blinders on ... to never take time to marvel. We need to look beyond the world's negatives and see it's glorious positives.
The one caution I would have, is that we keep in mind that nature is not God. It is God's creation. We dare not take the pantheistic viewpoint that says we are closer to God when we are close to nature. You hear expressions like, "I walk through the forest and feel His presence." It's a little like one of the songs we sing ... "I can feel His presence in this place." Now, I'm not saying His presence cannot be felt in a forest or in a sanctuary. What I am saying is that we feel His presence because He is in our hearts, and not because He is in the forest or in the sanctuary. Worship is in spirit and in truth.
That's why Paul could feel God's presence in a prison cell. That's why a housewife can sense His nearness doing dishes. So let's appreciate God's wonderful world, but let's not forget the location of His temple!
I'm finding it a bit hard to enjoy the wonderful world of scientific technology. Computers leave me cold. Not only that... electronics can get kind of scary. When I take my eight-year-old grandson to play putt-putt, I can hardly get him to walk by the video games on the way out without stopping. I look at the intensity of old and young playing the machines, and it is almost like an obsession. I guess what I'm saying is that it is one thing to enjoy the world's wonders, but when our happiness is dependent upon them, then we must look within ourselves and ask the question, "What is the source of my joy?"
2. He should not ignore it.
Do you remember the time when the disciples tried to get Jesus to appreciate the architecture of the temple? He knew they were unaware of the nature of the true temple, and had a misconception of God's place of worship. He seemed totally indifferent to the temple's beauty. Could it be that our Lord does not appreciate sculpture and art? Not at all. It is my opinion that we are better equipped to appreciate the aesthetic when we know the Truth and the Life.
The danger is in worshipping the creation more than the Creator. When we do that, we are guilty of idolatry.
When Pilgrim (in Pilgrim's Progress) was walking through "Vanity Fair," the merchants were incensed because he ignored their wares. But he ignored them with reason. They sought to divert his attention and prevent him from gaining the celestial city. This would apply to us as well. If we allow ourselves to be so enamored with this wonderful world that we lose our desire for the world to come, than it is time to turn our backs on the things on the earth and to set our affections on things above.
Esau had an appreciation of the finer things in life. He liked his hunting and he liked his pottage. Now there is nothing wrong with hunting and there is nothing wrong with good food ... but when you get to the place where you are ready to sell your birthright for a mess of this world's pottage ... then it is time to ignore the wonders of this world.
The more you know about this wonderful world, the better able you are to relate to the people in it. This is one of the great advantages that missionaries and missionary kids have. They get to visit so many places and see so many things. It broadens ones perspective, and it helps in understanding where men of other cultures are coming from.
There is a wonderful world of knowledge, too, to be found in books. You don't have to travel to have an appreciation of places ... though if you can see them firsthand, do it. Better "secondhand" than not at all.
When I say that we should not ignore the world, I'm not advocating that we try everything "under the sun" like Solomon did. He gave himself to works, to wisdom, to wine, to wealth, and to women ... and ended every experiment with the words, "Vanity of vanities all is vanity!"
Not that everything that Solomon tried was bad. Not at all! But it was empty because he had left God out of the picture. Which is a point we must make. We should enjoy God's wonderful world. We should not ignore it. But we will end up dissatisfied if God is not the source of our joy rather than His wonderful world. On the other hand, to know the Creator is to appreciate His creation.
3. He should use it.
Here comes the question of conservation and ecology.
I can remember when the land in America was washing away with the rains and ending up in the Gulf of Mexico. I can still see the desolation during the drought... the fences clogged with tumbleweeds, and the banks of dust that covered the weeds. Those were grim days. My dad and I put up Russian thistles for hay that we had to water down so the cows could eat it. Some people are trying to compare the recession of 1982 with the depression of the early thirties. Forget it! Those who think they see a similarity didn't go through it or, if they did, they are making political tumbleweeds!
I don't think any of us who are temples of God believe that God's wonderful world should be neglected like that. It would be wrong not to be a land conservationist. A Scripture might apply here ... "To him that knoweth to do good and doeth it not, to him it is sin." I don't want to go so far as to say that the farmer who lets his land erode is a sinner ... but if letting your land erode is not a sin, it would certainly have to be classified as stupidity! And God's temples shouldn't be stupid.
Really, it's the ecology thing that is all bent out of shape.
We who are God's temples cannot expect the world to view resources and nature like we do. We know that heaven and earth shall pass away. We know that Jesus is coming soon. We don't feel the compulsion the sinner does to make this world last for another thousand years.
But is our hope an excuse to abuse planet earth? The believer can use God's wonderful world, but abuse ... no! Nor should we "temples" be indifferent to what the world considers important. We cannot be a testimony to the unbeliever, to whom ecology is so vital, if we abuse and waste natural resources.
I believe God put natural resources on earth for man's benefit. I have no problem with eating meat... even though an animal has to be killed to make it possible. I see no wrong in cutting down forests if a replanting program is carried out. I think it was wrong to mine coal and leave the land scarred and ugly, but it makes good sense to me to allow coal to be mined if the scars are covered and the land restored.
I appreciate the fact that there are "endangered species" that we should protect... but I have a real problem with stopping a project that could benefit thousands of people for the sake of a few darter fish. So they would become extinct? So what? For thousands of years man lived on earth without knowing there was such a thing as a darter fish. We could possibly survive without them ... but human beings may not survive if food in the world is short. I believe the darter fish was made for man ... not man for the darter fish. But if we can save both man and darter fish, then let's have at it!
You will note that I am giving my own opinion. I do not find much said about ecology in the Bible. If the Bible is read with an open mind, however, it will become apparent that the Early Church looked on natural resources as given for man's use. They looked on the world as something that would pass away, and they helped themselves freely to God's good gifts.
4. He should improve it.
If not for others, for his own enjoyment and fulfillment the believer should improve God's wonderful world. God took nothing and made something of it. We who are created in God's image should emulate our Creator.
Deterioration and decay are the result of the curse. One of the first signs of "God in us" should be the effect it has on our environment.
The world's approach to environmental problems is an "outside to inside" approach. "Man can only be better," they say, "if his environment is better." So they build beautiful housing complexes and put sinners in them. Experience has shown this method to be bitterly disappointing.
On the other hand, the temple approach says, "Change man, and his environment will change." Now, if a sinner is living in derelict surroundings and then gets saved, one of the first things "God in him" will want to do is to improve his neighborhood. A believer's home should reflect the inner change that has taken place. Our experience is suspect if inner change is not followed by outer change.
Let us remember the words of James. "Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works ... but wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? "I don't think we are stretching the truth to apply this Scripture to our care of God's wonderful world.