Joel Clarkson’s Sensing God was a breath of fresh air for me. It can be easy for Christian readers to lump sensory experience into the category of “flesh” or “things of the world.” This makes our sensory experiences (taste, touch, smell, sight, hearing) immediately suspect when sin is present. But while senses can be avenues for sin, they can also be avenues for worship. God, after all, made our senses. In this book, Clarkson sets out to help us “discover how Jesus is seeking us in the points of sensory contact embedded in every part of our lives” (p. 8). In other words, he wants to help us see how our senses can be roads leading to the glorious beauty of Christ himself. Our sensory experience, in that way, can play a powerful part in helping us to encounter the triune God’s presence and draw nearer to him in worship.
What I Loved
There are plenty of things to love in this book—the author’s conversational and sincere tone, the attention to details in ordinary life, the earnestness with which he seeks to point readers to the God who made the sensory world. But what stuck out to me was Clarkson’s ability to draw out theological insights from commonplace sensory experiences. I did this myself in Finding God in the Ordinary, so I share a passion for doing this.
This is big for me because it gets at our perspective on the world around us. Most people, even Christians, assume that the world and everything in it is “just there.” But it’s not. The world isn’t a cold and neutral gathering of elements. It’s a God-reflecting, personal, and worshipful place, a place that everywhere reveals the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Rom. 1:20). We need to work daily to reject the hovering assumption that God is absent from the ordinary, that he’s only revealed in vast vistas and natural wonders. He’s revealed also in the cracks and crevices of dirt, in the silence between the notes of a child’s piano recital, in the sparks of inspiration we feel when staring at a beautiful work of art. God reveals himself to our senses just as much as to our hearts and minds. We need to stop relegating sensory experience to a distant alcove of our spirituality. What we sense is and should be a pathway to worship the beauty and glory of Christ, the one who embodies beauty in every sense. Clarkson has done a service to the church in writing a beautiful testament to the beautiful God, who gave us our senses to enjoy the beautiful world, in all its tangibility.
Here’s just a selection of my favorite quotes.
- “What if the answer we are looking for is not only to believe more fervently, to pray with more gusto, or have more holy thoughts, but to let those desires be heightened by getting the good earthen clay of God’s holy world under the fingernails of our senses? What if, instead of simply trying to “be spiritual,” we allowed our spiritual world to be informed by our sensory encounters in the world around us?” (p. 7).
- “In Jesus, the dying heart of a broken universe is being reversed” (p. 24).
- “If the beauty within creation points us to the beautiful one, then when we fail to behold and respond to that beauty, we hide ourselves from Him” (p. 26).
- “Knowledge is incomplete without a change of our hearts; this is because the one in whom we find ‘the hope of glory’ is not a what but a who. We are not made ultimately to understand God but to adore Him, to draw close to Him and participate in His glory through Jesus” (p. 32).
- “The whole of the universe is itself sacramental, nature intertwined with the activity of Christ moving in and through it” (p. 42).
- “When we align our hearts to God’s heart, it’s not that we get what we desire; it’s that He recreates and redirects our desires towards that which truly satisfies” (p. 46).
- “In every way we apply our senses to the work of beautifying the world, we have the opportunity to create instances of awakening to the bright light of the divine shining through all things” (p. 57).
- “Glory is the stubborn beating heart of the universe in turmoil” (p. 68).
- “We are living poems, created in a world of poetic expression, and though we, and the world with us, become cut off from the grace of that poetry through our sin, in Christ, we are restored to the beauty of verse” (p. 77).
- “The profound story hidden in the depth of Jesus’s life is that the joy of His resurrection emerges from the total extent of darkness over which He claims victory” (p. 97).
What I Would’ve Liked
I honestly don’t have much to put here. Perhaps some readers would like more exegetical details for the ideas he presents, but they seemed clearly biblical to me. The only thing that I’ve come to enjoy in theological books is chapters that end in prayers. Prayer, for me, is a fitting end to understanding and embracing the truth and beauty of words. But there are helpful discussion and reflection questions at the end of each chapter. This makes it easy to read the book in a group.
Should You Read It?
Yes, yes, yes. This is a topic that not many Christians read about, and it has the potential to turn their view of the world on its head. Paying more attention to your senses and how they reveal Christ and the Godhead can only bear good fruit in your soul. So, take up and read this book. Be encouraged, inspired, entertained, and directed to the God of beauty and truth. The book is a wonderful accomplishment, and I’m so happy to see it released in the world! You can click HERE to learn more about the book. Happy reading!