Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving (1Ti 4:1-4)
The source of the doctrine of the sinfulness of creation is demonic, according to Paul. Demons have tried to teach people to hate creation and see it as evil, to believe that marriage, and by implication sexuality, and food, are evil, and to be shunned. They have tried to teach people to see creation, such as the body, and food and marriage as evil. By contrast, we are told in verse 4 that every creature, or creation, of God is good, and not to be refused, if it is received with thanksgiving.
Gratitude is the first and best way to love God in creation. When we are thankful we are doing two things – we are enjoying what we are doing, but we are also receiving it. We are experiencing the pleasures of creation, but we are recognizing they are gifts.
We can allow the enjoyment we have in God’s good gifts to return up to God in gratitude. The great food, the good book, the sunset, the falling autumn leaves, the wool jersey, the incredible symphony, the job well done, the great friendship, the beautiful house, the moving story, the refreshing swim, the beautifully crafted woodwork, the creative scrapbook, the game with your children – these are meant to cause joy in our hearts. They come from God. If it is a lawful pleasure, if it is not forbidden in his Word, if it does not have the appearance of evil, if it does not cause others to stumble into sin, it is one of thousands of lawful ways of enjoying creation.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. (James 1:17)
Whatever cannot be enjoyed for God’s sake should not be enjoyed at all. All that can be enjoyed for his sake should be enjoyed.
Gratitude rescues us from dividing up our lives. Instead of seeing only direct communion with God as actual communion, gratitude reminds us that we can commune with God indirectly. We allow creation to become a means of enjoying God, by actually enjoying the creation, and then receiving it from God. The danger of dividing creation off from God is twofold – idolatry and ingratitude. If any thing in creation is loved as an end, and not as a means to God, it has become an idol. It has become a source of satisfaction that excludes God. Ingratitude is similar. The joys and pleasures of creation, and enjoy them as if they did not come from God at all. When loving God becomes the pursuit of our lives, creation is enjoyed as creation, but the act of enjoying it is the enjoyment of gratitude.
C.S. Lewis’ Meditation in a Toolshed describes this experience. He writes:
I was standing today in the dark toolshed. The sun was shining outside and through the crack at the top of the door there came a sunbeam. From where I stood that beam of light, with the specks of dust floating in it, was the most striking thing in the place. Everything else was almost pitch-black. I was seeing the beam, not seeing things by it. Then I moved, so that the beam fell on my eyes. Instantly the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed, and (above all) no beam. Instead I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the door, green leaves moving on the branches of a tree outside and beyond that, 90 odd million miles away, the sun. Looking along the beam, and looking at the beam are very different experiences.
If the beam of light is the gifts of God, we can either merely look at them and try to enjoy them as ends, or we can look both at them and up them – beyond them to the God they reveal. We must die to idolatry or ingratitude, and diligently seek and submit to God as the source.
How do we do this? We remember the truth of Romans 11:36: “For of him and through him and to him are all things, to whom be glory forever.” All things are from God, all things are to be experienced and enjoyed through him, and all things are to return glory to him. The created thing was made by God, it is rightly enjoyed by grace, and we return to God thanksgiving for the joy. We experience creation, focussing directly on the creation, with God still in our indirect focus.
The experience of gratitude unites the joy of creation with enjoying God’s beauty. We don’t stop enjoying the food, or the game, or the pet, or the scene. We simply make sure that the joy is the joy of gratitude. Gratitude allows us to enjoy some of God’s beauty, with the cycle of conviction, confession, consecration, cleansing, conformity and more communication occurring.