Feb 19 2014

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.)


Sep 11 2013

The Glory of the Lord

_CES8039Seeing Creation as a manifestation of God’s glory is by no means a new concept.  Both the Jewish and Christian scriptures affirm that God makes His presence known through the visible world.  Why this seems to be a novel idea to a lot of contemporary Christians baffles me.  As noted numerous times at this site, God has two books through which He has chosen to make Himself known–the Scriptures and Creation.  Here it might be of benefit to pay attention to how the “glory of God” is used in the Bible.  God’s “glory” is usually understood as a visible manifestation of His power or presence.  In the Old Testament it is often connected with the word, “Shekinah.”  Shekinah literally means “that which dwells.”  God’s glory or Shekinah is that which dwells amongst us and it takes a wide variety of forms throughout biblical history.

In Exodus 16:10 it says, “While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.”  Somehow, someway, God’s glory was revealed in a cloud.  In Exodus 24:15-16 a cloud is mentioned again. “When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai.”  The next verse goes on to say “To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain.” (v. 17)  Here both a cloud and fire, and perhaps even Mount Sinai itself, are associated with God’s glory being revealed.

eCES8212At the end of the Book of Exodus there is a lengthy section about the construction of the tabernacle or Tent of Meeting.  Once the tabernacle was completed we’re told “the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” (40:34)  The Tent of Meeting in essence became God’s temporary abiding place.  Many years later King Solomon felt compelled to construct a more permanent place for God to dwell so he built a majestic temple.  Once the temple was completed “the cloud filled the temple of the Lord.  And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple.” (1 Kings 8:10-11)  The temple in Jerusalem came to represent God’s presence for His glory resided there.  Even so, King Solomon was wise enough to note in his prayer of dedication for the temple that no building could contain God.  He said, “But will God really dwell on earth?  The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you.  How much less this temple I have built!” (vs. 27)

eCES8155Sadly, many people later came to believe that God’s glory was restricted or limited to the temple.  That had never been the case nor could it ever be.  In an incredible vision the prophet Isaiah was confronted by a group of angels at the temple and heard them calling to one another saying “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Is. 6:3) The angels taught Isaiah, and us, that day that God’s glory is not restricted to any temple or building, the whole earth is full of His glory.   If you want to see God’s glory–to experience His presence and power–there is no shortage of places to look.  It can be found throughout His Creation.

The glory of the Lord which can be seen in Creation is quite real.  It is not, however, the final or fullest expression of God’s glory.  That would be found in Christ.  The author of the Fourth Gospel wrote: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14).  John helps us understand why the glory of God is revealed more in the person of Christ than in Creation.  He says in 1:3 “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”   Christ is preeminent over Creation because he is the author of Creation.  In the end it is his glory that we see reflected in Creation; it is his glory that fills Creation.  Therefore, for those with eyes to see, seeing Creation is a vital component of seeing Christ.  It also means that we see Creation best when we do so through the lens of Christ but that is a discussion that will have to wait for another day.


(I took the pictures shown above this past week at Henderson Sloughs Wildlife Management Area near where I live.)