"He who oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker, but he who honors Him has mercy on the needy" Proverbs 14:31.
I have to admit the juxtaposition of topics in this week's lesson, starting with creation and ending up with helping the needy, was a stretch for me. It wasn't immediately clear how these two concepts fit together. In this insight we will endeavor to connect the themes in light of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
"By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth. . . . . For He spake, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast" Psalm 33:6, 9.
From my earliest years, these words were indelibly etched in my mind. My father was not raised as a Seventh-day Adventist. Trained in physics and the theory of evolution, the biblical account of fiat creation posed an enigma beyond his comprehension as he first learned of the Genesis record. A decision to accept the creation story by faith, followed by his baptism into the Seventh-day Adventist church, took my father on a quest to find scientific support for the faith position he had accepted. Did science really contradict the Bible? Do we need to lengthen the ages mentioned in Genesis to accommodate the wisdom of the world? My father's decades-long research and discoveries ultimately affirmed the biblical record. His faith in the Word was strengthened. Moses was not mistaken. God did not fabricate an account of earth's beginnings in Genesis. Satan is the author of lies. The theory of evolution originated with him.
But in addition to the physical record of creation being validated by science today, for those willing to acknowledge the evidence, the Bible contains many other deep lessons pertaining to creation, the fall of man, and our salvation.
On day one of creation, "God said, 'Let there be light;' And there was light;" Genesis 1:3. From Paul we learn that the Light that shown that day was more than a mere brightness that illuminated space: "For it is the God Who commanded light to shine out of darkness, Who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" 2 Corinthians 4:6.
Darkness represents the misapprehension of God's character of agape love. He had been maligned by the highest angel in the heavenly courts. The unveiling of the creation of our world would bring to light a revelation of the mystery that had been hidden from ages past. Christ, the Creator, would demonstrate His love in a way never imagined by the onlooking universe. After the fall, our little planet took center stage. It would be here that the fate, not only of the human race, but of all creation, would be decided. The contest had yet only begun.
John explains that "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it" John 1:1-5.
Here again, we see that the light shining in the beginning was emanating from Jesus Christ, and it was not only something to be seen, like a flashlight in a dark tunnel, but something to be comprehended, or understood. This reality the plan of salvation would unfold.
John correlates the light that shone in the beginning with the life that is in man. E. J. Waggoner expounded on this in his Present Truth articles beginning in 1898:
"A portion of this unquenchable life is in every man that comes into the world. It would all be in every man, if no man would reject it; for of His fullness have all we received.' But men 'hold down the truth in unrighteousness.' Rom. 1:18. R.V. Christ is the truth and the life. They work against the life, because they love death." Proverbs 8:36. What wondrous grace has been manifested by the Lord, in that He has so marvelously provided for the salvation of all men. Upon every soul of mankind has He bestowed this wondrous love, that all might be called the sons of God. Men may reject the love, but that does not at all nullify the fact that it has been bestowed.
"This light of life is in every man that comes into the world. It 'lighteth every man coming into the world.' R.V. As he comes into the world, he receives the light. It is ours from our earliest infancy. With our first breath we have the life of Christ. What for? - 'The Word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.' Deuteronomy 30:14. And this Word was in the beginning with God, and the Word was God. So although 'the wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies' (Psalms 58:3), there is no excuse for their so doing. God's eternal power and Divinity are to be seen in them as well as in the other things that He has made, 'that they may be without excuse.' Romans 1:19, 20. The life is with them from the very beginning, in order that they may live even as Christ lived.
"Do you say that it but increases the condemnation of all mankind, in that all have sinned, and 'there is none that doeth good, no not one?' Very true, but 'where sin abounded grace did much more abound.' Great as the condemnation may be, greater still is the salvation. The life is in every man, not for condemnation, but for salvation. 'For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved.' John 3:17. These things are for our learning, not for our discussion. They are not theories but facts. We are to understand them by believing them, and thus we get life through His name." (PT, December 22, 1898)
The world needs to hear the gospel story of what Jesus has done for us, through creation and through redemption. As Waggoner states, Christ's life was given to every man. Paul warns us in Romans 1 not to suppress this light. Jesus said to let it shine.
In our world today there is much talk of stewardship of the earth and climate change. Great fear has taken hold of some who feel drastic political measures must be set in place in order to save our planet from its seeming path to self-destruction, aided and abetted by the selfish pursuits of man.
To this we say, if we desire to be stewards of the earth, we must be stewards of ourselves and allow the light that streams from Calvary to shine out in deeds of mercy to our fellow men. It is certainly true that when we show respect to our earth by caring for it and not aiding its destruction, we are showing respect to our Creator Who will one day make all things new. Our earth in its current state cannot be salvaged, but while the earth remains, "seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease" Genesis 8:20. The Lord will continue to provide for the needs of mankind while time should last.
Further, as stewards of His bountiful blessings to us, we must help call others out of darkness into His marvelous light. The poor and needy of this world remind us of our own destitution and complete need of Jesus Christ. We should point them to Jesus, Who has promised to make all things new. God's love is transformative. He does not leave us in sin, filth, chaos, and degradation. The light of Jesus in the heart, when given free rein, transforms the believer into an effective soul winner and reflector of His glory.
We are not called to do the work of the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, or other agencies, however admirable their work may be. God has given us a specific work: "We are not commissioned to feed the world, but we are instructed to educate, educate." (4MR 286)
As we share our food with the hungry, our clothing with the naked, we are to point them to Jesus, and help them gain a measure of independence. Many have never been taught the first lesson in the work of practical self-support or in self-discipline. These all need our tenderest love and care, without enabling behaviors that perpetuate an entitled existence.
Recently, our church hosted an AMEN Free Clinic. We were pleased with the turnout -- some 95 individuals came seeking help -- and a variety of resources, including health and lifestyle education -- were included along with dental, eye, and medical care, haircuts, food and clothing.
One particular family seeking help stood out for their great need. At 38 years of age, the father and husband was crippled from a debilitating stroke last year. His wife, burdened with the care of three young children, could not drive and was dependent on friends for everything. They were constantly being threatened with eviction. I invited her to go with me to the DMV, where she eventually successfully passed her driver's exam. A driver's license is a step toward independence. There are many suffering ones in our world, but none are less valuable in the sight of God than the ones most highly favored in this world. God has no favorites. When we allow His light to shine through us, we become stewards of His grace, love, and mercy to our world and especially for those whom He died.