Listen to the voice of creation

Hanging on in faith (photo by Martin Malina, Rialto Beach WA, August 2022)

Every year in September the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada invites members and congregations to join with Christians of various traditions in celebrating a Season of Creation.[1] 

This year’s focus on this theme is: “Listen to the voice of creation.” Our faith calls us to listen to God, and one another. But have you ever considered listening to the voice of the earth, its trees, animals, wind, water? What would creation have to say to us?

Having been outside a lot in the last couple of months, I’ve experienced the beauty and wonder of creation—along rugged coastlines, pristine beaches, in towering rainforests and on peaceful, freshwater lakes. I’ve clapped my hands at astonishingly beautiful sunsets. My heart sang in seeing and hearing the song of a sea lion swimming close to where I stood atop a cliff overlooking the ocean. I can say with gratitude that I am fortunate to have heard a happy voice from creation.

This perspective is positive. It’s like a certain perspective on God—that God should come and be heard and known in holiness, in splendour, in riches, in wondrous miracles, in universal truth, in high, moral standards. You may have looked to hear God’s voice here. As I have in the cathedral of nature. Of course, God is present in all these.

And yet, if ever you’ve camped overnight in a tent listening for the cracks of thunder during a wicked lightning storm, canoed across a wind-churned lake with whitecaps smashing into the hull of the boat, threatening to capsize you into icy cold water, or come across the silent threat of bear tracks on your backcountry hike, you will also know that nature can be chaotic, horrific, threatening and terrifying as well.

What does this say about God? What is God saying to us through the bad things, the scary things, the uncomfortable aspects of nature?

The reality of our lives does not permit only the good, only the glorious. We know, some of us more intensely than others, that life is not just peaches and cream. Even a good life. And our relationship with God, as with nature, is not just some romantic vision bathed in radiant light, some utopian perfection where there is no suffering, no pain.

“God is more feral and blood-spattered and painstricken than most Christians are ready to admit,” confesses American writer and theologian Belden C. Lane.[3]

In other words, both/and. We also have to learn to accept that while we live in the light as people of God, the light always casts a shadow. That’s just reality. There’s always a shadow in the light, and we have to live with both.

An important feature about the parables of Jesus is that he uses this Jewish way of conveying wisdom (called the mashal) and turns it upside down. We notice this especially in today’s Gospel. Because rather than stay in the familiar world of talking about conventional morality, he moves his listeners beyond the safety zone of pleasantries into a world of radical reversal and paradox. He transforms the traditional proverb into parable—which isn’t the same thing as a moral lesson.

The parable’s job is not to confirm but to uproot. You can imagine the effect that had on his audience. Throughout the gospels we hear people saying again and again, “What is this he’s teaching?” “No one has ever said anything like this before.” “Where did he get this?” “Where did he come from?”[4] We feel this tension in the story of the shrewd business manager.[5]

He is a thief and a manipulator. Shrewd, yes, but dishonest and slippery in his dealings. And yet, the rich man commends his manager’s actions. “Make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth,” is the parable’s instruction. The rich man is no example of righteousness himself: He decides to fire his manager before asking for an accounting of the manager’s work. Finally, the “children of the light” are relegated in the parable to a lower status than the more shrewd “children of this age”. 

What are we to make of this harsh word to us? Aren’t we supposed to be all goody two-shoes? Is Jesus justifying immoral behaviour? While our behaviour, good and/or bad, is often the substance—the grist for the mill—of most parables, maybe that’s not the endpoint of the parables. Even this one.

What came to my attention this week is a theme that weaves throughout the bible, and just below the surface in this story as well. Did you notice it? 

We don’t know what happened to those clients of the shrewd manager whose bills were reduced by almost half: The hundred jugs of oil owing became fifty; the hundred containers of wheat owing became eighty. Imagine if your banker came to you today and told you your mortgage is suddenly reduced by half? Imagine your total debt slashed in half! How would you feel? What would you do? Pretty good news, no?

God makes something good out of nothing. Even here. God makes something good out of something that is broken, weak, sinful. God takes a bad situation, a dishonest dealing, and does something good out of it for someone else.

The cross of Christ is the mark of our salvation. And the cross casts a long shadow through history and to the present day. So, it is in the vulnerability, the weakness, the suffering, the loneliness, and the dying of our lives that God comes to us. And makes something good. God has entered our pain and our losses in Jesus, in order to touch us and save us. This is not to romanticize suffering, idealizing it somehow. It is accepting the reality of our lives, even as Christians. 

“There is no pain so great, no loneliness so vast, no vulnerability so low, and no weakness so extensive that it will escape God’s presence,” writes our national bishop, Susan Johnson.[6] There is nothing as bad, as terrifying, as horrifying that will escape the grasp of God’s grace and God’s love. Nothing and no one is beyond the reach of God’s grace. That’s the message of the cross of Christ.

All physical shadows are created by a mixture of darkness and light. We cannot see inside of total light or total darkness. As Jesus says to the rich young man, “Only God is good.”[7] And all created things are a mixture of good and not so good.

This does not mean we stop loving other people. In fact it means we actually begin to truly love people and creatures. It means finally accepting and fully owning both our gifts and our weaknesses; they no longer cancel one another out.

We can eventually do the same for others too. We do not let another’s faults destroy our larger relationship with them. While hard work to do this, to perceive it this way, it makes love, forgiveness, and patience possible.[8] God doesn’t need much to make something good out of it. The children of the light only need to offer a small spark for God to get the fire going.

Creation has a lot to say to us. Let’s listen.


[1] Visit www.elcic.ca for information and resources.

[2]  p.262

[3] Belden C. Lane, “Conclusion: Taking the Great Conversation Seriously”, The Great Conversation: Nature and the Care of the Soul (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019, kindle edition), p.262-264

[4] Cynthia Bourgeault, Transforming Heart and Mind—A New Perspective on Christ and His Message (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 2008), 23-24,27.

[5] Luke 16:1-13

[6] Donald W. Johnson and Susan C. Johnson, “The Second Article: On Redemption, Day 23, Tuesday”, Praying the Catechism; Revised and Expanded Edition (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2021), p.62

[7] Mark 10:18

[8] The conclusion of this sermon is adapted from Richard Rohr, “A Change of Consciousness: Forgiveness” Daily Meditation (www.cac.org, 13 September 2022)

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