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This is the second of several posts I’ll be doing on principles for living in what I call a worded world, that is, a world that is made, sustained, and governed by God’s speech (click HERE to read the first post). Each of these principles comes from my book, The Speaking Trinity & His Worded World: Why Language Is at the Center of Everything.
Principle 1: The world is not what it seems.
I look outside my window right now, and I see a towering white pine tree—almost still in the soft breeze. Halfway up its massive trunk, the tree splits. Two great necks stretch and wind their way into the open air, hanging out their branches like tired arms, some raised in worship, others bowed in submission. Behind the tree is a light blue sky. Cumulus clouds—happy, heaven, cotton thoughts—drift slowly in the expanse.
What am I seeing? More than a tree . . . much more than a tree. God has spoken the world; he’s uttered it. And the medium has affected the message (in Marshall McLuhan’s words). Creation, after all, has a message. We don’t think of it that way, but Scripture is clear about this.
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
4 Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
Every part of the world, all the things “that have been made” (Rom. 1:20), reveals or “speaks of” God. The speaking God has made a worded world that offers a sort of speech back to us about him. How do we hear it? Well, we have to interpret what we see in the light of God’s voice, in the light of Scripture: God’s speech recorded on the page. When we delve into Scripture, we find biblical characteristics of God that are also reflected in features of the created world.
The white pine tree offers a simple example. God many times draws us to see his strength in Scripture (1 Cor. 16:28; Ps. 18:1; 28:8; 140:7; Isa. 45:24; Eph. 6:10). Analogously, the pine tree reflects that attribute of God in its root structure and the density of the wood, it’s hardness. These are things we associate with “strength.” Ultimately, the pine tree is strong because God is strong, and the world everywhere reflects him. Scripture also talks frequently about God’s gardening and his care for the natural world (Gen. 2:8; Matt. 6:30). He even uses horticultural imagery when talking about his own people (Isa. 5:1-7; Ps. 80:7-15; Matt. 21:33-46). We know, then, that the white pine can grow because God is tending it; he has created and maintains all of the circumstances necessary for its flourishing—the temperature, the content of the soil, the rain, the sunlight. God gives these things. The tree grows because we serve a God who gives growth (1 Cor. 3:7).
This white pine tree has something to say about God. In its quiet beauty, it says, “The Lord is strong. The Lord gives growth.” The tree, in other words, isn’t just an object on a landscape. It’s not just a thing. It’s a part of God’s creation that has something to say about him. Everything in our world has something to say about the God who made it. And one of the most encouraging parts of this truth is that the world is richly personal. It sings the personal presence of the God who is three persons in one.
That, in short, is the first principle. The world is not what it seems. The secular world constantly encourages us to see the world as an impersonal atmosphere that is essentially non-revelational or non-communicative. The sunlight, to a secular mind, is simply a concentration of light particles that have traveled millions of miles through the darkness. A non-Christian sees nothing about sunlight that is transcendent or revelatory of the God who speaks. But I look at the morning light and I see speech. I see something that God has created through speech that “speaks” to me about who God is in his grace, kindness, and glory. The ultimate light, after all, is not the sun, but God himself.
We must continue to combat the secular, fallen assumption that the world is not communicative of God. It is—every part of it. So, when I say, “The world is not what it seems,” I am really saying, “The world is more than it seems.”