[[The following is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Finding God in the Ordinary (Wipf & Stock, 2019).]]
Over the years, I have been blessed to receive a biblically sound theological education. I have learned much about God and his world in light of the truth of Scripture. Yet, I have also noticed that even those of us who have special training in theology are susceptible to a sort of numbness or a lack of awe and worship in our daily lives. In fact, perhaps this is an even greater threat for those who study theology than it is for those who work in other professions. And this is no small thing: how can we possibly lose a sense of awe and wonder when we claim to have a personal relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
I believe that, like it or not, all of us are negatively affected by the sinful world in which we live. We strive not to be, and we prayerfully ask God’s help in enabling us to be in the world but not of the world. Still, we can easily become infected by unbiblical thinking when we are not being vigilant, that is, when we are not earnestly engaging with God and his word every day.
Now, what exactly does this sort of negative worldly effect look like? I believe that it takes the form of “neutrality” or “impersonal objectivity.” Let me explain what I mean.
For people who do not believe that a tripersonal God has spoken the world into being and maintains all things by the word of his power (Gen. 1:1; Heb. 1:3; John 1:1; Col. 1:17), the world can seem like a conglomeration of elements: a tree here, a building there—a daisy, a duck, a daydream. All of these things are basically phenomena detached from any meaningful plan of a God who knows you and me on an intimate level. Apart from the life-giving work of the Holy Spirit, who unites us to Christ by faith and reconciles us to our heavenly Father, the world looks as if it is just there. It looks cold and impersonal and void of any unified purpose.
This is perhaps one of the greatest falsehoods that the devil uses to keep people spiritually crippled. And this falsehood has been given fodder by the empirical and rationalistic tendencies in modern life and thought. “The world,” says Satan, “is just there. It’s just a cold and neutral atmosphere in which you eek out your miserable, doubt-laden life. There is no God here.” As Christians, we know this is a bold-faced lie. God himself has told us, in his word, that he is both transcendent and immanent. He is both Lord over all things and yet intimately close to all of us. In fact, the tripersonal God is even in those who believe in the name of Christ (John 14:23; Rom. 8:9). He is that close.
According to Scripture, the world is not cold and impersonal. In fact, it has been marked by its maker, a warm and personal God. In Romans 1, Paul speaks of the ungodly and unrighteous and says that “what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 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” (Rom. 1:19–20; emphasis added). The world in which we live reveals God. Notice that Paul is simple here. His expression covers all of creation: “the things that have been made,” that is, everything. It is not the case that some of the world reveals God, or even that most of it does; all of the created world is marked by the triune God who spoke it into being and maintains it by the word of his power.
This means, among other things, that the world is revelational of God. It reveals him, and in that sense “speaks” of him. This does not mean that the world is animated or that pantheism is biblically warranted. It simply means that the world is not mute and cold. It testifies to the Lord who made it and sustains it. Psalm 19:1–4 is unabashed about this.
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.
There is a profound sense in which all of the world “speaks” of God, in that it reveals something about him. John Calvin is one my major influences on this point, though he was merely voicing the truth of Scripture:
Whichever way we turn our eyes, there is no part of the world, however small, in which at least some spark of God’s glory does not shine. In particular, we cannot gaze upon this beautiful masterpiece of the world, in all its length and breadth, without being completely dazzled, as it were, by an endless flood of light. Accordingly, in Hebrews, the apostle aptly calls the world the mirror of things invisible, because the structure of the world serves as a mirror in which we behold God, who otherwise cannot be seen (Heb. 11:3). (Calvin, Instit., 10)
An endless flood of light—that is our world. We are literally surrounded by an environment steeped in God’s presence, a world that cannot help but reveal something of the God who spoke it into being. Sin is the reason why we are blinded to this profound truth.
That is why we must constantly rid ourselves of the falsehood that the world is somehow neutral and cold: a conglomeration of elements, unpossessed by God and void of divinely-ordained meaning. Our sinful world says, “The earth is man’s; we govern ourselves.” But God says, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Ps. 24:1). We are living on and within purchased property—an entire cosmos that is possessed and governed by the triune God. And the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have so created this cosmos to reveal God’s control, authority, and presence around every corner.
This book is my attempt to describe “commonplace” elements or events of my own life and reflect on how they reveal the God I worship and serve. My hope is that this book encourages you to look for God in the world around you—in the ordinary. He is here. And because he is here, the world is not truly ordinary. It is always extraordinary because all around us we find marks of the Trinity: the God who governs, guides, and protects his people in a world that everywhere reveals his presence with us. Let us together train our minds and hearts to combat the sinful assumptions of the world and find the God of grace in the strangest places. This will take daily work on our part, driven and empowered by the Holy Spirit. But we have already been promised by Christ himself that this Spirit, living in us, will guide us into all truth (John 16:13).
Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion: A New Translation of the 1541 Edition. Translated by Robert White. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2014.