Ancient Egyptians worshiped the blazing sun. The pagan Greek saw Apollo riding his chariot through the sky, until philosophers like Anaxagoras studied the meteorite that fell at Aegospotami in 468 B.C. and said, “They’re not heavenly bodies, they’re just hot stone.” The demythologized hot solar rock took on new importance with Copernicus and Bruno who made it the center of the universe. Even modern man may yet get down on his knees to put an adapter on his gas and oil furnace to catch the heat from this source of energy.
But it takes the Bible to tell the truth that the sun is a servant of the Lord. The glorious, formidable sun is not a matter of fact so much as a minister of God, as faithful as the angels, whose testimony is more sure than human tradition. The sun waits, along with the trees too polluted to breathe well and with animals suffering wounds, for the redemption of our bodies so that its service be fulfilled and it may rest from its labors.
Again and again the Bible stresses that the name of Yahweh is praised from where the sun rises to where the sun sets. The name of Yahweh—Covenanting Lord of faithfulness—is held up high for all nations to see, and the people native to the earth are called to chime in with pure offerings of “Hallelu Yahweh!” “Don’t tell me,” says Paul to the Jews at Rome, “that you and your neighbors never heard the Good News. Didn’t you ever see the sun run along its God-appointed race track?” Each day of sun and rain, of dappled things and finch’s wings and pileated woodpeckers, is brimming over with news of God’s great deeds.
Scripture cuts off such sentiments as Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “O world, I cannot hold thee close enough!” The praise of nature is not in the Bible to elicit introverted, pantheistic feelings about the fall colors or to encourage God’s people to have tremulous, Romantic experiences of the sublime “out in the country” (an eighteenth-century, citified term) while the urban world goes to cultural hell. And you miss the meaning of Psalm 19, or 104, or 148, if you agree that you should just look at the sun and moon, fire and hail, fruitful trees and cedars, young men and virgins, so that your I meets the Thou of these innumerable individual presences filling the world, and we bask in the encounters of mutual love and praise (See Nathan Scott’s “Prolegomenon to a Christian Poetic,” Modern Literature and the Religious Frontier, Harper & Brothers, 1958, pp. 50–52).
As I understand God’s Word, “the contemplative poetic look” is a gnostic version of the human vocation; the artistic stare is not enough to save anybody or anything. What counts is whether the human response to creation levels pride, builds up Christ’s body, and compounds the praise and thanksgiving of God’s myriad creatures. God tells us that the creaturehood of nonhuman creatures is good, deserves respect, is worthy of cultivation, is to be emulated and sanctified by prayerful thanksgiving on our part.
Starkly put, creation is a revelation of the true God, as Psalm 19 tells us. God speaks through the glossolalia of his creatures day and night; God witnesses through the path of the sun, through seedtime and harvest, of his providing care. The covenanting will of the Lord is not secretive, oracular, or far away, but as close as the solution of salt in water, the breathing of a newborn child, the way of a man with a maid, the fine line of an older generation’s pedagogy next to indoctrination. Children of God are asked to trade their talents in interpreting creation. That’s what Christian philosophy is all about, what Christian aesthetic theory wants to plumb for its service, the very rationale of Christian scholarship and Christian education.
When you want to find out how God ordered plants to grow, you don’t go study the synoptic Gospels. You go examine plants with a sharp knife and a keen microscope. If you need to discover what chinks in a person’s emotional makeup are apt to crack wide open in later life and how you should put an arm around such a one, you don’t go read Proverbs for details on neuroses and psychoses. You study the case histories of emotionally disturbed people and examine others who display psychic health, make notes, reflect, and bite your fingernails as psychotherapist lest you mess up the life of somebody Christ died for. If you must decide, so you can give leadership on whether Chagall’s stained glass window, honoring the late Mayor Daley in the Art Institute of Chicago, is more or less significant than the striking piece by Abraham Pattner that takes a whole wall of the downtown loop synagogue, you don’t read Paul’s letters, the Psalms, or even Isaiah 40. Instead, you study art and the artists and slowly begin to make an aesthetic judgment that will bring relative blessing or a curse to those whom it influences.
Although God’s people necessarily go first to the Bible for the Lord’s disciplining and setting our consciences straight and for a right understanding of doctrine, we must needs go search creation for drafting our fallible, Christian solutions to the problems facing us in our sin-cursed world and society.
That’s nothing new. But I’m saying (with the authority of God’s written Word, Psalm 19) that no Christian need be uneasy about whether a study of biology, psychology, or aesthetics serves the Lord. Creation is a revelation of God’s will, and if you are humbly studying plant creation or emotional or artistic creatureliness, and are busy trying to discern the will of God there, what more could one ask for as a kingdom mission and fulltime Christian service. Of course, if your biological theory is Lamarchkian or Teilhard de Chardinian, and your psychology is soft-Skinnerian or Jungian, and your aesthetics is Crocean or a mixture of Hume and Dewey, you should be very uneasy as a Christian. Otherwise, you perjure the plants, the emotions, and the arts.
Yet, we must not succumb to the temptation to use the Bible as an answer sheet to check out our biological taxonomy, our chart of personality types, or to determine “what now is art and music?” That would be a cheap misuse of the Bible and express an illegitimate, immature desire for a ready-made, instant Christian culture that shoves off on God what he entrusts us to do. What we need is a richer grasp of creation in our Christian philosophy and evangelical theology, and a new, urgent sense of doing scholarship as a community of saints.
Don’t misunderstand; I am not talking about “a natural theology.” I think that a biblical understanding of the doctrine of creation is the backbone of a Christian cultural philosophy and a theology worth its biblical salt. The glory of the Lord God is indeed being revealed everywhere—deafeningly—so nobody has an excuse; but some people are religiously deaf. Only when the Holy Spirit unstops the ears and opens up the heart can you make saving sense out of the creaturely glossolalia.
Evangelical believers are so busy thinking, talking, and acting out salvation, with nary a second thought about creation, that before you can say “Afghanistan” we are caught up in quasi-world-flight heresies and are “saving” disembodied, uncreaturely people. One cause of this abnormality, I’m afraid, is that many of us walk around with a lightweight Bible and act as though all the Good News for modern man is in the New Testament and the Old Testament is out of date. But creation is Good News, and it is found in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament. A believing knowledge of creation brings hope because creation, understood biblically, reveals the perversion and broken power of sin, as well as of salvation. Inflation and unemployment in tandem is not an inevitability. Racism is not ineradicable. Camp art and mental breakdowns among the saints are not necessary. We are not locked into evil. We can turn from sin to God, who will save us and his creation. That is enough to leave you limp.
G. Douglas Young is founder and president of the Institute of Holy Land Studies in Jerusalem. He has lived there since 1963.
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