The Two Books’ Purpose

HS5339Not long ago, while reading James B. Hunt’s book on John Muir’s 1000 mile walk to the Gulf called Restless Fires, I was reminded of a delightful story concerning Muir’s encounter with a blacksmith in Tennessee.  When the two met the blacksmith asked Muir what he was doing in that area.  In the journal Muir kept on his journey he recorded the words that followed: “I replied that I was looking at plants.” “Plants?  What kind of plants?”  “Oh, all kinds; grass, weeds, flowers, trees, mosses, ferns,–almost everything that grows is interesting to me.” “Well, young man…you mean to say that you are not employed by the Government on some private business?”  “No, I am not employed by anyone except just myself.  I love all kinds of plants, and I came down here to these Southern States to get acquainted with as many of them as possible.”

The blacksmith found it hard to believe that someone would walk all that way just to study plants.  He told Muir, “You look like a strong-minded man, and surely you are able to do something better than wander over the country and look at weeds and blossoms.  These are hard times, and real work is required of every man that is able.  Picking up blossoms doesn’t seem to be a man’s work at all in any kind of times.” 

fog-in-Cumberland-Gap-hMuir knew the blacksmith was a religious man and eventually asked him, “You are a believer in the Bible are you not?”  The blacksmith readily admitted he was.  At that point Muir reminded him how King Solomon had studied and collected plants and how Jesus told his disciples to “consider the lilies.”  Muir then asked, “Now, whose advice am I to take, yours or Christ’s?  Christ says, ‘Consider the lilies.’  You say, ‘Don’t consider them.  It isn’t worthwhile for any strong-minded man.’”  Looking at things that way the blacksmith had to admit that Muir had a point and perhaps his study of plants was worthwhile.

Muir did indeed have a point.  The study of Creation is not idle work.  Instead, it is important work for those who long to know God through both of His books—the Scriptures and the Creation.  I have written often about Creation being God’s “other book.”  I remain convinced it is just that.  I also believe that like the Bible itself, one must diligently study “God’s other book” in order to trove its treasures and discern its deepest lessons.

fern-gardenI have literally thousands of books in my study.  A large portion of these pertain to the Bible, theology, preaching, ethics, pastoral care, church history, and spirituality.  There are, however, also hundreds of books in my library on natural history.  I have field guides that cover all areas of North America.  I have books on specific animals and plants.  In my library you will find all kinds of resources for better understanding God’s other book.  For me personally, my theological library would be incomplete without them.  In their own way they, too, help me better understand God and His works. Having said that I will hasten to add that having such a collection of books as those you will find in my library does not do me much good if I do not go on to personally experience the God they point to.  Knowing about God and actually knowing God are two different things.  Learning about God through the Bible and Creation is great but it is of limited value unless it also enables one to experience the God both the Bible and Creation point to.

John Muir knew both the Scriptures and the book of Creation well.  You cannot read his writings without coming to the conclusion that he also knew God well.   I intend to follow in his steps and hope you will as well.


(I took the top picture at Henderson Sloughs W.M.A., the middle image at Cumberland Gap N.H.P., and the bottom one at Pine Mountain State Park in Kentucky.)