God’s intention for us in creation (Part 1): Introduction

Something that I have been thinking a lot about recently is how God wants me to experience His creation in my daily life. I love being outside. It feeds my soul. Interestingly, it is a similar feeling to reading the bible. It connects me with God’s heart. You know what I mean; it’s a spiritual experience. But why?

Someone once said that there are two books that teach us about God; the bible and the creation. Although they are different in many ways, there are many similarities. Both books were brought into being by God’s Word. When God made the heavens and the earth, He spoke. When He inspired Moses and the prophets to write, He was speaking. Therefore, they are both living and active Words of God. Both books also reveal the glory of God to us. The bible is not merely a collection of words. The creation is not merely a collection of atoms. There is something organic about both; they engage us on a soul level and a spirit level. And I have a sneaky feeling that we are missing out in our modern world.

When I look in the psalms at how passionately David speaks about his revelation of God from nature, I realise how much more I need to engage my heart in what I see around me. There is place for science in society, but sometimes I feel that God also intended creation to engage our soul. There is a sense in which, just as theology can separate from the Spirit behind scripture, science can separate from the Spirit behind creation. If only our biology about plants led to more poetry about God! If only our research resulted in more singing! We have not brought mind and heart together in this area. Could it be that if we cannot enjoy nature like an innocent child, we are missing out?

Jesus was like David; he often drew insights about God and the kingdom from his surroundings. Sometimes I wonder at what must have gone through the Lord’s mind as he walked through the Jewish countryside. When you read the gospels, you get the feeling that He saw all creation for what it really was, a living parable of life. Just as we can read the bible and be blind to what God is saying, how often are we blind to the simple and profound truths around us? This is not blindness due to ignorance. It is a spiritual blindness. Oh to have eyes to see the glory of God in creation! Both Jesus and David were filled with the Spirit. Perhaps this is where the blindness starts.

In this age of concrete and metal and electronics, are we surrounding ourselves with spiritually dead environments? Are we so clean and comfortable and sheltered in our civilized air conditioned culture that we are insulating ourselves from real life as we see it in creation? Perhaps spending too much time in the bible and too little time in the forest or on the beach is unhealthy? There are perhaps many sicknesses in the Christian life that stem from this. Nothing can replace the role of creation in the Christian life – not more sermons, or church meetings or worldly entertainment.

There are so many good things that can be said about this topic. There are also so many wrong ways to approach it as well. I will be posting several different thoughts on this as time goes on. But for now, I have a few questions for discussion.

What priority should creation have in our spiritual life and health?

How is modern life alienating us from creation and thus from a deeper relationship with God?

How are we as Christian’s relating wrongly with creation when we do interact with it?

Please comment and tell us how you think and feel about it!


9 thoughts on “God’s intention for us in creation (Part 1): Introduction

  1. I agree that modern life can alienate us from a deeper relationship with God. Consider the following scriptures concerning the revelation of God through nature:

    Ps 19:1-2 : The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork. 2 Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge.

    Rom 1:20 : For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made

    I think that one of the reasons why modern life and technology alienates us from God is not only due to it being artificial, but also because it is designed to be functional instead of relational. Creation also has a functional purpose, but from the scriptures above one see that God also intended it to have a relational purpose by communicating His attributes and character through it.

    Most things we use and rely upon in our daily lives are made for a particular purpose, but primarily a purpose that serves our needs and desires. These things in themselves are not necessarily bad, but they do tend to cause us to not include God. It does not, however, have to be that way.

    In the book of Exodus the design and construction of the tabernacle is laid out. I find it quite interesting that, even though God reveals Himself through nature, He instructed the people to build the tabernacle as a place where He can be met. He didn’t point out a hill or a giant tree where they should go, but instead chose a man-made structure. With the Holy Spirit given to us we do not need to go to a temple to meet with God anymore, but I would like to point something out about God being involved with man-made things. I feel that what made the tabernacle special is that it was consecrated.

    Consecration can be defined as separating and dedicating something that is common or ordinary for a sacred or holy purpose.

    I believe that, similar to the tabernacle, our work, houses and even our offices, all of which are man-made, can be consecrated for a holy purpose. I am not saying that these things will then become a substitute for nature where we will experience God, but it immediately makes God the focus and includes Him in something which we would otherwise consider secular.

    There are definitely things about God we can experience in nature for which artificial environments are not conducive, but due to God’s Spirit, we thankfully do not have to limit experiencing God to nature either.

    • I think you make a great point, Henk. A scripture that come to my mind is:
      “Ken Hom in al jou weë.”
      I like it because of the double meaning in Afrikaans of :
      (a) Know Him in all you do (i.e. do everything in His sight, in the light. Don’t deny Him like Peter by the fire).
      (b) Inform him about all you do (i.e. talk to Him about everything going on your life, seek His council therein and ask for His blessing).

      (a) happens through your day while (b) happens in your inner room, when you pray.
      I think that some Christians fail at doing both, while many seem to succeed at only one.

      But I think that bringing God into your workplace, your exercise routine, your relationship with your loved ones – both believers and non-believers – is how Christianity is being intended by God 🙂

  2. Yay! I have two contributions I want to make on what Henk has said (PS really cool Henk)… Please forgive me if they seem bit out of place, but maybe it adds to the whole:

    1.) God’s creation is both functional and relational: In the debate against creation there is an argument which seeks to prove the existence of useless body parts (why would God create useless body parts if he did indeed create the body?). In these arguments the male nipples often pop up (as they serve no obvious function). This has always amazed me (and induce involuntary questions regarding the sex-life of these debaters). Why should the relational and/or psychological function (thus extending beyond just the body itself) not be worthy of the consideration of those who think? (Maybe a result of the Greek tendency to ascetiscism underlying our modern, especially scientific thinking?)

    2.) Regarding the man-made: I have always been irretated by the general assumption among nature conscious individuals to consider all human impact on nature as detrimental. I believe God has invited us to partner with him in the development of nature, meaning that we have the capacity to improve on the raw natural state. I think it is part of our (overall) sinful state that we continue to develop with either a disregard for nature, or otherwise idealize it as perfect. If we however are consecrated (in reality) what we shape will reflect that consecrated nature. I have been in some old gardens where I have been able to experience this first-hand (a feeling very similar to old consecrated building, it induces prayer).

    • Very interesting! I like the way a blog allows a conversation to develop in interesting directions.

      Henk, I love what you said about the tabernacle. It really makes you wonder how God thinks about buildings compared to the “natural is better” foundations of asceticism. So much of the new age teaching concerning environmentalism and mother earth has a sort of “back to the garden of Eden feel”, when in fact, as Franz points out, we were always supposed to develop the garden. Don’t you find it interesting that we find civilization suspicious? I think deep down I still think of technology and progress as essentially less spiritual than farming or gardening, I wonder why?

      Franz, maybe a thought on the whole functional/relational thing: it seems to me that what you might call relational could also be called creative. When something is functional, you are solving an external problem. So for instance, we invent headache pills. They are unimpressive, ugly tasting things, but they work. However, something that is created, is not for solving problems or meeting needs but for expressing internal reality in an external form. Functional things don’t have a soul, but created things do have a soul because they are brought through the soul. In other words, when God created the universe, he was not only solving all our problems (like providing plants for headache pills), but he was (I think mostly) expressing himself (since all things were created for His glory and not for our need only). So in a sense, in the most obvious way, creation contains creativity, which has its main emphasis in what it exposes of the creator, not what problem it solves. God was acting in creation, not reacting (like evolving organisms supposedly do). Of course, the genius of God is in bringing function and flair together. Isn’t that the challenge for any design(er)? Perhaps the functional/relational split is caused by the seemingly reoccurring theme of the human split between the head and the heart which is plaguing Christianity at the moment. Perhaps in bringing together head and heart we would bring together relationship and function, because in God they are one!
      Sent via my BlackBerry from Vodacom – let your email find you!

      • John, I think you’ve nailed: I love the quote, “the genius of God is in bringing function and flair together”! So while the categories “functional” and “relational” are indeed helpful, in the back of our minds, I think it’s always important to see both, as God does.

        Just a side note, when you (everyone posting) speak of creation, I think some of the differing thoughts are due to one person meaning ‘nature’ – in its unadulterated form – and the other meaning simply ‘creation’, in general – be it left to it’s original form (a tree) or a tailored product (a log cabin). Both, I think, are important states (of existence/form) to appreciate: neither should be demonized, though it is indeed hard for me to see the same quality of glory in a granite countertop and a granite mountainside. (I think much of this “where do you find beauty most” lies also in personality and God’s hardwiring of the individual. I know several friends who are fascinated by “altered” nature more than its original form – and this just doesn’t make sense to me).

        Whatever the case, it’s here that we see how man has been made in God’s image: we are both stewards, we are both designers, crafters and “delighters” in the work of our hands. Yet no doubt, the work of the apprentice will never exceed the work of the master. (Though this must not be true in every respect of life, cf. John 14.12).

        To end my ramblings I just want to share some about the original message of the main post:

        Besides trees, rolling hillsides and mountain tops, the feature of his created order that he speaks to me the most in, is by far through the wind. It’s hard for me to describe the comfort and intimacy that he generates through this avenue. Be it a soft breeze or rushing wind, I find life – his breath – in those moments. And yes John, it does lead me to write many poems about the power and love I am confronted with in nature.

        So as Henk already noted (quoting Ps 19), his created order roars and whispers – constantly – about the glory of their maker… yet “there is no speech, there are no words.” And the command from Jesus comes: “He who has ears let him hear, and eyes let him see.”

    • I agree whole-heartily. Even though I join the conversation about a year after the fact, I think that between the 3 of you, you cover a wide spectrum and provide a lot of insight into how we relate to God’s creation (I’m a bit embarrassed, because I did not read your comments before making my own, so now I see that there’s considerable overlap between what I said and what you guys had already discussed).

      I think John sums it up beautifully when he asks
      “Why do we so often separate the qualities and priorities of being christian from those of being human. To me, being Christian should naturally imply being more fully human because we are growing in the image of God.”

      Looking forward to the rest of my catch-up on the blog.

  3. Hi! An interesting presupposition that you seem to make is that it only counts as creation when it’s unblemished nature, such as beaches or mountains. You contrast this to city life with concrete, steel and electronics. But I note how most of the parables that Jesus used were about places of human interaction with nature: seed being sown, harvest being brought in, pots being formed by a potter’s hand, vines being cut, etc.

    Remember also that Jesus seemed to like the Garden of Gethsemane, not the Wilderness of Gethsemane.

    Lately I’ve had it upon my heart that the Lord is also concerned with not only the physical things such as my body, but also the material things, such as my stuff (my possessions).

    Perhaps it is not necessary to even travel out of the city to experience the glory of creation. One of my favorite places in Stellenbosch is to go through Idas Valley when the sun is setting and to smell the fires and see the kids play in the streets of lower class suburbia while the colours of twilight plays upon the smoggy sky. It’s beautiful and profound to me.

    It’s also sometimes very wholesome for me to spend time with good friends – they, like me, do after all form part of creation.

    On a cold night, I love cuddling up in my warm bed, just lavishing the feeling of warmth.

    The taste of a cold beer after I’ve run really hard in the sun.

    These are all examples of me having very vivid interactions with the physical world, though it is not the raw, unblemished creation.

    Do you think that there is room in your argument to say that even ‘man-made’ things can help us experience creation in a way brings us closer to the Word, and the glory of the Word that is the source of everything?

    I only discovered your blog yesterday, so I decided to start reading (and joining the discussion) from the behind and then work may way to the front 🙂


    • Hi Pieka! So glad you could join, I always appreciate it when someone is willing to spend the time (and energy) to engage and write comments. Especially someone thoughtful like you 😛 And since I already know you as a person (outside the blogosphere), it makes it all the more fun as well!

      I think its true that, as you say, ‘man made’ things are also somehow part of creation. Isn’t that what it means (partly) to be in the ‘image of God’? That would say a lot about us as a society when we are uncreative, or create ugliness. It is an interesting discussion, the whole question of the calling of being human and that relates for us as Christians when we work and take up hobbies/ventures that ‘interact’ with creation. Sometimes I feel that we often lack the vision of how this relates to the more directly church-related activities that we emphasize over vocation. Why do we so often separate the qualities and priorities of being christian from those of being human. To me, being Christian should naturally imply being more fully human because we are growing in the image of God.

      Just an aside, what did you think of Franz and Henk’s comments?

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