The goodness of creation: Matter bad, spirit good?

by K.W. Leslie, 04 February

There’s a really popular, common idea in our culture: Spiritual things are good, and material things are bad.

It comes from Greek philosophy, though the Greeks were hardly the first to believe it. It’s found pretty much everywhere. Plenty of pagans insist every spirit being must be an angel, and good. Therefore we must always, always take their advice, and never wonder whether any of them are evil. ’Cause why would there be any such thing as an evil spirit? They’re spirits. Duh.

Regardless of its origins, Christians have totally bought into this idea. In part because we think we see it in the bible.

Romans 8.5-8 NRSV
5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, 8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Galatians 5.16-17 NRSV
16 Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want.

Flesh is material, right? Made of atoms. And in these passages flesh isn’t just shorthand for fallen human nature; it’s a reminder that matter is bad, but spirit—especially the Holy Spirit—is good. Hence Christians have overlaid this Greek idea upon Christianity since the very beginning. It’s all over gnostic literature. It’s why there was a giant fight in the early church about whether Jesus really became human, because why on earth would God demean his pure spiritual nature by becoming human? But he did. Pp 2.6-7

And he really did die, and when he was resurrected he was put back into a real human body.

1 John 4.2-3 NRSV
2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world.

Yep, anyone who says Jesus isn’t really human, or that his resurrection put him in some weird kind of “spiritual body” 1Co 15.44 which is only the illusion of matter but actually pure spirit: They’re not just heretic, but antichrist. Jesus has a body, and I don’t just mean the metaphor of the “body of Christ.” He has a physical body. He didn’t temporarily become human; that change is permanent. He’s one of us now.

’Cause neither matter nor spirit are inherently good. Nor bad. They can be either. It all depends on whether they are as God originally made ’em. ’Cause when he originally made the cosmos, when he first created matter, he declared it, and everything he made of it, good.

Genesis 1.31 NRSV
God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

(If you wanna argue Genesis 1.31 only refers to sixth-day stuff, fine. On all the other days, God declared those creations good… so it’s all good.)

When humanity was created, God declared us good. We humans are part matter and part spirit; we’re not purely one or the other. (In fact if you split us into one and the other, you wind up with a corpse and a ghost: A dead human. It’s not an upgrade!) But when humanity went wrong, it wasn’t part of us which went wrong; ’twasn’t the material parts which got all corrupt and depraved while the spiritual parts remained intact and pure. The immaterial, spiritual parts of Adam and Eve were corrupted before they ate the wrong fruit and got materially corrupted. Their spirits did evil. ’Cause spirit can definitely be evil.

Matter/spirit dualism.

Dualism is a word we use to describe any system where there are two equal and opposite forces. Y’know, like yin and yang. Good and evil. Light and darkness. My political party and the opposition party. The Batman and the Joker.

Humans really like dualistic ideas. We really like bad guys who are an even match for the good guys. Hence we see dualism all over human history, mythology, philosophy, and religion. Daoism makes it central to everything they teach.

But dualism is not found all over the bible. People just overlay it upon biblical concepts, and claim it’s there. I already gave you the example of living by the “flesh” versus living by the “Spirit,” which was Paul’s shorthand for living by our corrupt human nature and impulses, versus obeying the Holy Spirit. It has nothing to do with matter being evil and spirit being good; it has to do with this particular matter being self-centered and totally depraved, and this particular Spirit being infinitely good.

There’s no dualism to be found in the things of God, versus the things of the devil, this world, or sin and death. Because God is infinite. He’s almighty. Nothing can take him on. Not that foolish humans and spirits don’t try, but nothing is a match for him. Satan can’t stand toe to toe with him; Satan couldn’t even stand up to Michael. Rv 12.7-8 Sin got defeated; death is getting eradicated; light wipes out darkness; Jesus conquered the world. It’s not an equal battle. It’s not even a fair fight.

People assume evil is mighty, and matter is evil, because of how extensively sin has corrupted every physical thing in this world. Of course matter looks evil: An awful lot of it has become evil, or been used to further evil’s spread. Hence the world no longer resembles the good and perfect creation God originally made. Not just because we humans make a mess of things, although a whole lot of it is bad for precisely that reason: We humans do a rotten job of tending the planet God gave us. Our works aren’t meant to glorify God, and last, but to gain honor for ourselves, and last only as long as we can enjoy them—seldom longer. Most of our works are disposable.

(Ironically the only work we often don’t figure is disposable, is not our good deeds, but our art—which is actually one of the most disposable of things, since every generation prefers to create its own art, thank you very much. But that’s a whole other discussion.)

Evildoers would certainly like us to believe they have an equal chance—if not the upper hand. All the easier to get us to compromise and capitulate.

But the Spirit is greater than anything in this world. 1Jn 4.4 So follow him.

God’s plans for creation.

When God created the world and called it good, it was. God’s goal is to get it back to his original design. Not just destroy the world and replace it with New Earth, but redeem and recycle it.

This world we’re currently trashing: Jesus intends to rule it personally for a thousand years. Since this idea comes from Revelation 20.4, and Revelation is pretty much all apocalypses, I’ve no idea whether it’ll be a literal 10 centuries, or just a mighty long time. Either way, Jesus will be here, on this planet, for quite a long time before he recycles it. Rv 21.1

So those self-described Christians who are polluting the world, recycling nothing, throwing their garbage into lakes and streams and ocean, pumping fumes and toxins and smoke into the air, pouring paint down the storm drains, leaving their dog’s feces on the sidewalk? Maybe they don’t believe matter is bad and spirit is good, but they do figure since this world is passing away, 1Co 7.31 it’s okay to trash it. Nature somehow has the power to absorb our messes, and climate change isn’t a thing. It’s our world to piss all over, and God is making us a new one anyway.

Yeah, they don’t know God as well as they think they do. They’re just looking for loopholes, and excuses to be lazy and wasteful. But we have no business spoiling this world God made for us. It’s like a bratty kid who’s given a new toy for Christmas, and spitefully smashes it against the driveway because “it’s mine and I can wreck it if I choose; Daddy will just get me a better one.” He will, but come on; don’t be a dick.

Instead let’s help God redeem the world. Avoid contributing to a disposable culture. Intentionally create things which are meant to last—especially when the things we make are intended for good deeds. God doesn’t make junk; neither should we.

Avoid purchasing inferior products when we can. Fix things whenever we can, instead of replacing them. Redeem, recycle, and repurpose. Be creative with the resources we have—not just destroy them because we can get new ones. Destruction is practicing the behavior of the wrong master.

Follow God’s example. Create good things.