A DOXOLOGICAL VIEW OF GRASSES

A Doxological View of Grasses,

with Special Attention to Matthew 6:28-30 and Luke 12:27-28

 James J. S. Johnson, JD, ThD, MSGeog

grass-field-with-wildflowers-prairie

And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good. (GENESIS 1:11-12)

Each blade of grass is a soil-rooted witness, giving evidentiary proof of God’s Creatorship. Furthermore, each blade of grass is a growing doxology, directing us to worship the LORD.

Recently Mike Matthews, of Answers in Genesis (and Editor-in-chief of ANSWERS magazine), observed the following truth about grasses, calling them “green factories”:

These [grasses] are God’s creation. They perform a fundamental biological process—photosynthesis—that still astounds scientists. The thousands of chemical equations [that describe the grass-housed photosynthesis process] would fill a wall. Yet every day, these green factories churn out the sustenance of life. They remind me that a lowly sinner like me can glorify my Maker and Life-giver, who gave His life for me.

[Quoting Michael Matthews, “Green Factories”, ANSWERS, 11(4):86 (October-December 2016), emphasis added.]

ppt-hummock-grasses-triodia

Now that is sound science!—that is meaningful analysis of what grasses are really here for, revealing details of God’s immeasurably creative glory, simultaneously with recognizing the value of His bioengineering providence. Why? So that we can better know and appreciate our God for Who He really is! If our hearts are not stirred to worship, we have failed to understand the meaningful value of His creation.

Grass seems so plain, so un-exciting – it dominates many parts of the world, so we deem it common-place (see Job 5:25).

But a careful study of grasses, observing the many moving parts within their complicated living systems (and interactions with their environments), leads to an appreciation for their God-designed purposes, programs, and complexities.

ppt-montana-bluegramagrass-c4

Yet it is not enough to learn the “geeky” science data (such as the biochemical mechanisms that power the plant photosynthesis pathways), such as whether this or that plant uses the C3 version (or the C4 version) of carbon dioxide-to-carbohydrate photosynthesis.c4-photosynthesis-compared-to-c3-diagram

Even so, the ecological and agricultural details — far beyond the scope of this short perspective article — exhibit how God uses growing grasses, which are here today and gone tomorrow (Isaiah 40:7-8), to feed both mankind and many animals.

He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth. (PSALM 104:14)

If we, as creatures who owe God glory and gratitude, fail to personalize the lesson that His living creation provides—including doxological lessons from blades of grass—we have failed to be true creation scientists. The ultimate purpose for learning about grasses is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, as the Westminster Confession reminds us (see also 1st Corinthians 10:31 & John 10:10).

Recently I participated in an evening lecture series, at ICR, called “Grassland Habitats: God’s Providence in Plain View — Living in Prairies and Pampas, Steppes and Savannas (Grasses, Grazers, Grazer-Grabbers, and Grasshoppers)”.

ppt-grasshopper-in-grass

Suffice it to say, the opportunities for learning about bioengineering details that God has designed, programmed, installed, and maintains – in the various grasslands of the world – could be packaged as a full-length college course (such as APOL 557, “Grasslands and the Genesis Mandate”, an elective in ICR’s Master of Christian Education degree program).

And it’s not just above-ground photosynthesis that grasses facilitate, because the root systems of grasses, unseen by humans, busily perform many valuable functions – such as processing nitrogen compounds in ways that facilitate protein synthesis (e.g., in legumes), mineral recycling, the hydrologic cycle, and abatement of soil erosion. Grasses work hard, honoring God by their very existence and operations – regardless of whether any humans “have eyes to see” it or not.

ppt-grassland-with-pronghorn

But why is there no emphasis on the doxological aspect of grasses?

Once again, listen to the insights of Mike Matthews, as he hits the bull’s-eye on what is usually missing from “natural science” publications, and even from many “geeky” studies in “creation science” literature.

First, what’s with the photo on the last page [of ANSWERS magazine, October-December 2016 issue] ?

I’d like to open my heart wide here. … I’m a literature guy. What fires my engines each morning is not the [geeky] details of science, as interesting as they are. It’s knowing God better. …

For a believer to know Him is to be devoted to Him. It means being so overwhelmed by the perfections (or glories) of His being –and by His creation—that we can’t help but renew and deepen our dedication to serve Him with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength.

The term devotional has gotten a bad rap these days. For some reason, it has the connotation of light and fluffy. The root meaning is just the opposite. It’s associated with love, loyalty, enthusiasm, worship. …

The Almighty God is so glorious that He effortlessly tosses priceless gems into every nook and cranny of our lives. Everywhere we look, even lowly blades of grass, the Lord gives us reminders of His grace and majesty.

[Quoting Michael Matthews, “Devotional Isn’t a Trite Word”, ANSWERS, 11(4):10 (October-December 2016), emphasis added.]   Finally!  It’s about time that someone emphasized the valuable role of devotional theologyand doxological creation apologetics.  (Apologetics is firstly a matter of “sanctifying the Lord God” in our hearts — only secondarily is it a matter of providing witness of God’s truth to those with ears to hear — see 1st Peter 3:15).

Yes, Mike, we see countless doxologies in creation, every day, if we “have eyes to see” it. God’s providential care and splendor are ubiquitous (Acts 14:17), so there is no excuse for us to lose our “first love” for Him (Revelation 2:4).

ppt-creatorship-is-clearly-seen-grassland

The ultimate reality and focus of all creation is not primarily about people, even though humans are quite valuable – the main reality is about God being the Creator!  All of creation, therefore, especially our own lives, can and should be an ongoing doxology for Him (Revelation 4:11). And yet, that doesn’t mean we should shirk or flee from the “geeky” side of creation studies; rather, we should harness such observations for God!

In fact, the Lord Himself emphatically encouraged the study of wildflowers and field-grasses, according to Matthew (6:28-30) and Luke (12:27-28)  —  and I must thank my research assistant, Jared Watkins (of Tyndale Theological Seminary), for the New Testament Greek research  that undergirds these philological insights.

matthew6-28-30-philology-slide

Specifically, Matthew reports Christ using an imperative verb that means to intensely learn, to thoroughly study (καταμαθετε) – to carefully observe (i.e., what empirical scientists call “research”). Matthew’s verb is related to the Greek noun translated “disciple” — so our study of wildflowers and field-grasses should involve the due diligence of a disciple!

But there’s more. Luke complements Matthew’s record, reporting that Christ also used an imperative verb meaning to intensely mind, to thoroughly think through (κατανοησατε) – to carefully understand (i.e., what empirical scientist call “analysis”).

luke12-27-28-philology-slide

In short, Christ’s exhortations – preserved in Scripture by Matthew and Luke – obligate us to practice faithful-to-the-details “research and analysis”, so that we can reverently and admiringly appreciate God’s providence, for the supposedly “simple” wildflowers and field-grasses.

And the photosynthetic (and other) providences of such “green factories” point to even greater providences — including God’s personalized care for our own lives and futures.

Accordingly, paying attention to these grassy “green doxologies” can and should encourage us to expect God’s greater providences in our own lives, as higher creatures – being uniquely created with life in God’s own image – plus having our lives salvaged from our sinfulness by the completed redemptive work of His crucified-and-resurrected Son, our Lord Jesus Christ (Psalm 102:18; Ephesians 2:8-10, Luke 10:20).

So, if I am obedient, daily, to Matthew 6:28-30 and to Luke 12:27-28, I will daily recognize that (so-called) “simple” blades of grass, plus their underground root systems, are Earth-rooted doxologies, pointing our minds and hearts heavenward.   ><>  JJSJ

ppt-prairiedog-in-prairiegrass


 

Competing, in Plain View, for a Ball of Dung

Competing, in Plain View, for a Ball of Dung

Dr. James J. S. Johnson

Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ. (Philippians 3:8)

DungBeetle.manure-pile
Imagine the life of a dedicated dung beetle. Collecting, moving, and hoarding dung – even raising your children on it. Talk about an ignominious existence – what a life! Yet, from the perspective of a dung beetle, it’s what life is all about. But there is a life even lower than that, actually, an existence that makes a dung beetle’s life look good. Before we pity those who live a “less-than-dung-beetles” life, however, let us consider how dung beetles actually contribute valuable services via their mundane manure-moving lives.

So what is the occupation of a dung beetle, ecologically speaking? How does a dung beetle make the best of herbivore-dropped manure, from which the dung beetle provides for itself, for its family, and for the habitat it crawls around in? What is so valuable about herbivore feces, that dung beetles are observed to fight over dung-balls, energetically “stealing the ball” from one another, as if the dungball-grabbing competition was an Olympic soccer game!

“Although often ignored or reviled, insects are cornerstones of the prairie ecosystem: they spread seeds and pollen, [metabolically] break down plants, fertilize the soil [such as by distributing nitrates in herbivore manure that they spread], and provide food for birds and small mammals. Not quite an inch long, the dung beetle … uses its scooplike head to roll a ball of dung sometimes as large as an apple. Once satisfied with its compacted [artwork], the beetle buries it, feeds on it, and then lays its [fertilized] eggs in it [after crafting an air-hole for each deposited egg]. When the larvae hatch, they finish off what remains of the ball. In this way dung beetles assure themselves of a reliable [albeit humble] diet and, inadvertently [from the perspective of the dung beetle], distribute seeds that may be rolled up within the dung.”

Quoting Burkhard Bilger, HABITATS (New York, NY: Macmillan, 1994, edited by Tony Hare), page 69.

DungBeetle.ScienceMag-photo

In other words, dung beetles serve themselves and their progeny, by accumulating and storing up the dung of grazing animals (such as wild pronghorns or domesticated cattle), and while doing so they serve the ecological needs of their neighborhood. Even nutritious nitrates, contained in cattle dung, are transported to other locations, as well as seeds that along the way got mixed in, with the manure, so both life-growing seeds and helpful fertilizer are simultaneously distributed at places other than where the herbivores defecated. Think of dung beetles as slow-motion couriers, who provide seed-sowing service!

Are these dung beetles being altruistic environmentalists, caring about their native ecosystem? No. Dung beetles don’t study biome ecology; they give no thought to how they further the nutrient dynamics of the American prairies.

Rather, the mutualistic symbiosis network in action, that we see exhibited in these operations of the prairie’s habitat – where cattle provide valuable resources to dung beetles, who help to plant the next generation of grasses, which in turn grow up to benefit the hungry cattle — is a composite and interactive display of God’s preplanning genius and bioengineering. It is God Who is multi-tasking on the great grassy plains, working above and below the surface, providing habitat for plants and animals — and simultaneously providing for human needs.(1)

DungBeetle.smorgasbord-wikipedia

This is but one valuable gem of God’s handiwork in the plains of the Great West. Even the dung beetle is glorifying God, in plain view (pardon the pun), we see, if we slow down enough to see what is happening in the grass beneath our feet.

DungBeetle.NatlGeo-photo
But how does the dung beetle’s routine diligence, in “harvesting” herbivore manure, help to illustrate true value, as taught in Scripture? Consider again the words of the apostle Paul (in Philippians 3:8), when he compared his own human achievements to the immeasurable value of knowing the Lord Jesus Christ:

Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.

Before becoming a Christian, Paul was an extraordinary “winner”, by the standards of his world. Then Paul met the Lord Jesus as his personal Redeemer and Messiah, and Paul soon learned that the most honorable of his own human accomplishments was mere dung (σκυβαλα) compared to the wonderful privilege of knowing, belonging to, and living for Christ. Paul was no “loser” spouting sour grapes; rather, Paul was a “winner” who could speak with authority about discarding worldly “dung”, to better follow Christ in this life (and beyond).

But nowadays we see competition all around us, yet much of the carnal contests – of becoming “rich” or “famous” or “powerful” – is just a tussle over cultural dung, a tourney over the soon-to-be garbage of this ephemeral world. Entertainers of all sorts struggle to out-perform and out-poll one another, as if they were dung beetles trying to grab the prize (dung-ball) by hook or crook. Whoever “wins”, (and keeps) the “most”, is deemed a star to be celebrated, a “celebrity”. Why? Because (based upon our secular habits of covetousness) we assume that “more” must be “better”. So whoever has “more” is labeled and flattered as a “winner” worthy of applause and celebration – a “celebrity”. But do “celebrities” have good and virtuous and joy-filled lives? Do they routinely demonstrate that it is “more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35)? Or do most of them live selfish, indulgent, prodigal, empty lives, employing fake smiles (for the camera) to mask their own self-destructive lifestyles? And, for the most part, what are those celebrities “feeding” their babies? The dung of this Christ-dishonoring world.

DungBeetle.ScienceDaily-photo
As the apostle Paul could have told them (and, in fact, he has told everyone who will take the time to read the Bible), worldly success, apart from knowing Christ, is just a pile of dung, a messy cow-pie.   But before we get too self-righteous, as we scoff at (or pity) those who waste their entire lives rolling up dung-balls of worldly ambition and tinseled treasure, let us learn from the foolishness of the ancient Egyptians.

Consider Moses the prophet, God’s appointed man who led the Hebrews out of the idolatry-infested land of Egypt. What pagan idols did Moses challenge, as he rebuked the polytheistic Pharaoh, admonishing him that only the LORD was truly God?  The Egyptians had a foul stable full of nasty idols — and one especially prized idol was Khepri, the “scarab-god” beetle, i.e., a fake god likened to (or symbolized by) a dung beetle with creative powers – with Kepri’s dung-ball imagined with animistic powers that could make life-forms “become” –  somewhat comparable to the mystical genes-in-magic of Darwinists’ “natural selection” animism.(2),(3)

In plain words, ancient Egyptians proudly worshiped a dung beetle “god”, imagining that dung-balls had magical powers to make new life to “become”.

Tempels van Karnak

Egyptian “Scarab” Dung Beetle Idol   (Karnak monument)

How silly of those heathen idolaters, right?

But are they really alone in their folly? Many Americans, in essence, are worshippers of celebrities who are themselves habitually ungodly, vulgar-to-your-face, and blasphemous. (When you think of Hollywood “stars”, or other “celebrities”, do you instantly think of people who reverence God and His Word? Likely not!)   Yet such secular “stars” are lionized, fawned over, and highly esteemed in the popular media (and elsewhere, even in Christian churches) as so-called heroes and “winners” whom we should honor and admire. But their worldly achievements and popularity are repulsive dung, according to Scripture. So why do Americans continue to idolize such immoral and ungodly dung-ball rollers?   In a sense, people who idolize such dung-collectors are not unlike the Egyptians who worshipped dung-collecting “scarab” beetles during the lifetime of Moses. But Moses, like Paul, dismissed the “treasures” and popular honors of his ungodly culture, choosing rather to revere and serve Christ, for better or for worse:

       Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt:  for he [i.e., Moses] had respect unto the recompense of the reward.  (Hebrews 11:26)

No one who reads this was created to be a dung beetle – or to live a life that resembles one. God has done amazing work to create each of us, to be who we are. Beyond that, God has provided Christ to redeem us from sin – giving us guilt-removing forgiveness, plus spiritual power and wisdom to keep us (and our families) from living wasted lives, gathering the dung-balls of this world.

Take a view of the Great Plains – look at the sea of prairie grasses. Then look in the dirt, and below it, for humble dung beetles. Their ignominious lives are worth something, yes — but they are not our role-models! Plaudits and prizes of this passing world are profane dung-balls, compared to living with Christ, here-and-now and hereafter. Pity folks whose life-goals and struggles are like competitively collecting dung-balls. And moreso, pity those who, like ancient Egyptians, celebrate and worship the dung beetles.     ><>  JJSJ

DungBeetle.rolling-dungball

REFERENCES

(1) Dung beetles perform a similar service in the African savanna grasslands: “Dung beetles, such as these Scarabaeus aeratus females, feed on the [fecal] droppings of other animals.  They also collect balls of dungs, as here, and place them in chambers in the ground, upon which they lay their eggs.”  Quoting Peter D. Moore & Brian D. Turner, “Savanah Grassland”, in Encyclopedia of Animal Ecology (Oxford, England: Equinox, 1991; edited by Peter D. Moore), page 72.

(2) See generally Randy J. Guliuzza, “Darwin’s Sacred Imposter: Natural Selection’s Idolatrous Trap”, Acts & Facts, 40(11):12-15 (November 2011), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/darwins-sacred-imposter-natural-selections . See, likewise, Randy J. Guliuzza, “Darwin’s Sacred Imposter: How Natural Selection Is Given Credit for Design in Nature”, Acts & Fact, 40(7):12-15 (July 2011), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/darwins-sacred-imposter-how-natural . Compare also, accord, Jeffrey P. Tomkins,  “Mechanisms of Adaptation in Biology: Molecular Cell Biology”, Acts & Facts, 41(4):6 (April 2012), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/mechanisms-adaptation-biology-molecular .

(2) See James J. S. Johnson, “Bait and Switch: A Trick Used by Both Anglerfish and Evolutionists”, Acts & Facts, 41(1):10-11 (January 2012), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/bait-switch-trick-used-by-both-anglerfish . See also, likewise, James J. S. Johnson, “Survival of the Fitted:  God’s Providential Programming”, Acts & Facts, 39(10):17-18 (October 2010), posted at http://www.icr.org/article/survival-fitted-gods-providential-programming .

 

DungBeetle.Scarab-Egyptian-idolatry

ancient Egyptian idolatry:  worship of “scarab” Dung Beetle