The word of the day is “creature.” As we begin a new secular year, we might consider the nature of the material world in which we live. Yes, we live in the hope of a “better country,” our eternal inheritance. But the material world, though subject to corruption, is not evil. In our reading of 1 Timothy 3:14-4:5, St. Paul writes, “For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving. For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (vs. 4).
The Law of Moses divided food and drink into qualities of “clean” and “unclean” as if they were intrinsically good or bad. But the Lord said, “Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth defiles a man” (Matthew 15:10). The Greek word for “defile” refers to “making common.” From that thought comes the idea of making something ceremonially “unclean” and from that we get “to pollute” (Strong’s #2840, 141).
No Longer Clean or Unclean
But the Lord rejected these categories, declaring all food pure (Mark 7:19) (Strong’s #2511, 124). Material things have no intrinsic moral qualities. To think otherwise would be to blame the “forbidden fruit” for tempting Adam and Eve to sin.
We can expand this principle to o apply to all the physical properties and processes of the material world. It is not their nature but the use of material things that makes them good or bad. For example, our understanding of nuclear physics developed the atomic bomb, a grave threat to human civilization. Yet it also gave rise to nuclear medicine, which saves countless lives.
Consecrating Physical Things
These thoughts give fresh insight to Paul’s words, “For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (vs. 5). By blessing our food with thanksgiving and prayer, we consecrate it for the nurture of our bodies. Therefore, the food becomes holy because it is dedicated to strengthening us in the service of God and others.
Likewise, when by thanksgiving and prayer, we consecrate the use of material things to benefit others, we sanctify it. That is, we set these things apart for the good of others and the service of God. Moreover, we should understand that we are the caretakers of the physical universe. Physical things depend on us to value them and use them properly. Material things change according to the way we treat them. If we treat them with exploitation or neglect them, their condition will reflect our abuse of them. But if we treat them as sacred gifts of God, then they will bless us as God intended when He created the world and called it “good.”
One of the ancient heresies of Christianity is the dualism that the material world is morally evil, and the spiritual world is good. This notion denigrates the goodness of God’s creation and permits the human race to abuse it. We think that after all, the physical world is a burdensome weight that ties our souls down to the earth. How different is the attitude of the psalmist: “The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament shows forth His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). God is known in His creation.
From this perspective, science is not the enemy of faith, nor medicine the anthesis of divine healing. Instead, everything in creation praises its creator as the psalmist says, “Praise the Lord from the heavens. Praise him in the highest. Praise Him sun and moon. Praise Him all you stars of light. Praise him you dragons, and all the deeps. Fire and hail, snow and ice, stormy winds… mountains and all the hills, fruitful trees and all cedars, wild animals and all cattle… (Psalm 148 passim).
So as we begin the new secular year, let us join the whole physical creation in praise of God for materials things that He has created. Throughout the year, may we sanctify the physical things that God provides us that they might be of use to the service of God for His glory.
Well said, Father. Thank you.
Dear Andrew: may we join all God’s creation in praising God as we bless the waters in the coming Feast of Theophany! A blessed New Year! Fr. Basil