As I sit here at my table, drinking tea and watching the neighborhood birds through the window, I wanted to drop a quick thought on the subject of grace and creation. In Genesis 2, God gave Adam (and eventually Eve) care over His other creatures — a cool vice-regency role that believers in God should still seek to fulfill today. In this role, we humans have an important role to play in giving God’s grace to the creatures around us.
You see, any time an undeserving thing receives blessing, that is grace. My feeding these birds? Grace. My chasing away the nosy next-door chickens so that a tiny Junco bird can eat? Grace. The bird didn’t earn protection and comfort but I provided it, gratis. You’re welcome, birds. (Btw… I also broke up a hummingbird bar fight this morning. It was getting ugly so I stepped in. Sugar and yeast don’t stay docile for very long… Yep. Drunk birds. I took the feeder down to change the juice and I swear I heard one of the tipsy little guys say, “Where’s the rum gone?” Again, you’re welcome…)
But there is also a symbiotic function of grace in Creation. In Genesis, God tells Adam and Eve, ““I now give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the entire earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. (1:29)” Here we see that nature gives back to humanity. People watch over nature, nature provides food for people. In a fallen world, where people are in rebellion against God, this is “common grace” to us.
Jesus talked about grace during His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. While talking about our right response to conflict, He says, “I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (5:44-45).”
What our Lord is referring to is what theologians call “common grace.” There is special grace, like grace to cover sin for those who believe in Jesus, and common grace — God’s blessings on all, believe or not. It rains on my neighbor’s yard and my yard at the same time. He gets rain, too. His flowers grow, even if he is still in open rebellion against God.
There is a line in St. Francis’ masterful “Canticle of the Sun” in which he captures this common grace in Creation. Gardeners will like this…
“Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.”
Songwriter John Michael Talbot rephrases this in better language for my discussion:
“Colored flowers and healing herbs, heavenly grace flows through you…”
Talbot, a Catholic minister and monk, sees heavenly grace in herbs and flowers. Indeed, as one who grows both items, I love being able to go pick cilantro or parsley or basil and use them in my cooking. When I find edible plants in the wild (I love wild onions), I think of God’s grace. Just think of those survival TV shows. When the host is hungry and runs across “wild edibles,” is he or she very happy? Grace. Bear Grylls might recognize God’s grace (he’s an active believer). I’m not sure if the others do, though.
In this way, through the world God has made, His common grace comes to people. So, we give grace to other creatures, and living things like plants and weather systems give grace to us. Got it?
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Oh, one other thing I was going to mention… God provides His grace to creatures through humans even when people have no idea it is happening. Like a water puddle. One time when I was living in Gainesville (TX) I drove down a street and saw a lot of splashing by the distant curb. As I got closer, I noticed that the local Wendy’s had a sprinkler problem and water was pooling up in the street by the curb.
Taking advantage of the situation was a flock of birds, who used the water to bathe, drink, and have fun splashing each other. I stopped my car and watched them, grinning the whole time, as I witnessed how human neglect (bad sprinklers) had provided for the birds of the air. This past Sunday I saw it again when I heard a lot of chirping and wing-flapping going on near my truck in the driveway. I looked outside and several birds were bathing in my saucer-like gold pan, which I had left on the ground outside the day before and it filled with rainwater.
God is an amazing Creator! He even provides for his creatures when mankind is being absent-minded…