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Mind Field...      
Vol. 7, No. 2  Mar.-Apr. 1989

 

WHAT SHALL WE DO WITH THE WORLD?

Does it sometimes seem to you that the Christian life is burdened with a great many activities that aren’t spiritual? Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to live a vibrant Christian life if we didn’t have to do so many things that seem to have no spiritual significance? To begin with, we spend roughly one third of our lives asleep. And when we struggle out of the covers in the morning, we have to wash and dress, perhaps after we have gone jogging or bike riding or done some aerobics. Then there is the breakfast to get through, the beds to make and the house to clean, or the kids to take to school, or the job at the office. Getting supper isn’t very spiritual, either. And there is the laundry to do, the paper to read, and probably some maintenance to do on the house. If we can find tine to read a little in the Bible and pray, we are doing well. Sunday is a day for going to church, which is more spiritual, but for the most part the week seems full of anything but activities directly related to God.
In the last issue we suggested that our doctrine of creation might be defective and that the lack of praise in our lives is traceable to this defect. We did not, however, exhaust the doctrine of creation. In what follows we would like to suggest that the problem outlined in the preceding paragraph may also be rooted in an incomplete understanding of what the Bible means when it says that we live in a created world. We suggested earlier that the Scriptures make creation dynamic rather than static, immediate rather than distant, and public rather than private. Now we want to look at what living in a created world does to the ordinary, routine activities of daily life. Can it be that here, too, we have been so influenced by modern thinking about "Nature" and "natural law" that we have lost our awareness of the holiness of ordinary activities and daily life?
Suppose we begin by asking why God would make a world like the one we occupy. Why did He put us in an environment where we have to breathe air, drink, water, eat three times a day, sleep six or eight hours a night, an work the better part of our lives to provide for our physical needs? To answer in the briefest way, we need to say two things.

1. Creation is revelatory of God.

God is a god who talks who gives Himself away when He does so. That is why Jesus is called the Word of God. But creation itself is a way in which God talks to us. That is why Psalm 19 says that the heavens declare God’s glory and the firmament shows his handiwork. It is why Romans 1:20 says that the power and godhood of God are evidenced by "the things that are made." He built a world where we get hungry and tired, need to bathe and rest, desire to love and be loved because He want tell us something. Our real hunger is a hunger for Him, as Augustine said long ago, he alone can give us true rest and cleansing, And human love is reflective of and only finally culminated in the love of God, received and returned. The entire cosmos, created and upheld moment by moment by God’s powerful Word, is one of His ways of showing Himself to us. Before the fall, Adam could read the creation clearly enough to name the animals. Sin blinded him, and the creation was short-circuited into an end in itself instead of a revelation of the great God. Since then we have gone to endless trouble to keep that glorious reality from breaking in upon our consciousness, and probably no movement in history has been so effective in this direction as the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment.
Think for a moment in this connection of incarnation of Jesus Christ. God gave us a world which is full of His glory (Isaiah 6:3), but when sin entered the race, we could no longer see that glory. So God revealed Himself to Israel through the Old Testament Scriptures. But they didn’t read God very clearly in the Bible either. So, in a crowning act of condescension, God came himself, in the Person of His Son born in a barn in Bethlehem, to reveal Himself to us. The Incarnation is the culmination of the process by which God has given Himself to the human race. This is attested by our Lord’s regular use of the creation in his teaching. He used God’s clothing of the lily to encourage us to trust Him to provide clothing for us, and His care of the sparrow to remind us that He cares for us. His sermons, both public and private, are replete with illustrations form the creation. That’s because the primary purpose of the creation is to be an instrument through which God tells us about Himself and so about ourselves, who were created in His image.
Not only does the Bible tell us that creation reveals God; creation itself is crowded with examples. Here are three.

Onion skin. Robert Capon in The Supper of the Lamb devotes a whole chapter to the consideration of a dried onion that is used in preparing a leg of lamb for the table. He asks his reader to take a dried onion and very gently remove the outer layer of skin, then to lay the pieces of onion skin inside-out on the cutting boards. He proceeds to say, "They are elegant company. For with their understated display of wealth, they bring you to one of the oldest and most secret things of the world; the sight of what no one but you has ever seen . . . they present themselves to you as the animals to Adam: as nameless till seen by man, to be met, known, and christened into the city of being . . . And they come to you --to you as their priest and voice, for oblation by your heart’s astonishment at their great glory." (see footnote 1) Returning to the theme near the end of the chapter, he comments that "The heaviest weight on the shoulders of the earth is still the age-old idolatry by which man has cheated himself of both the Creator and creation." (footnote 2) Think what this idea does to every preparation of a meal at the kitchen counter!

The argument from order. Peter Berger, in A Rumor of Angels, lists a number of what he calls "tokens of transcendence," insistent reminders that there must be something more to life than physics and chemistry. One of these is the argument form order. He says that the most important thing parents do for their young children is to give them a sense of an orderly universe. Think of a small child on a visit to grandma, sleeping on the couch in the living room. Awakened by some noise to a strange situation and threatened additionally by the ticking of the grandfather clock unknown at home, the child slips quickly to the edge of sheer terror. His screams are only silenced when his mother comes, turns on a light, takes him up and says, "It’s all right, honey, everything is all right." Remarkably, the child believes her and returns to a peaceful sleep. Berger insists that there is nothing particularly religious here; any mother will do this. But he says the important question is - Is the mother lying to the child? The only basis for a negative answer is that there is indeed a loving God who holds "the whole world in his hands." The mother, perhaps quite unconsciously, bears witness to God’s hold on the world. (see footnote 3)

Pleasure. The pursuit of pleasure is one of the most powerful motivational factors in human life. Each of us experiences a myriad of pleasures every day. In "Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer," at the beginning of chapter 17, C.S. Lewis asserts that "pleasures are shafts of glory as it strikes our sensibility." This is not just true of spiritual pleasures; it is true of all pleasures. The delight of a warm bath after a hard day’s work, of a particularly delectable meal, of the love of a dear one - these are shafts of God’s glory. Only God makes pleasures (Psalm 16:11; James 1:17); the devil misuses them, but he cannot make them. Here again is an instance of the fact that creation is booby-trapped with God’s self-manifestation. Creation is revelatory of God.

2. Creation used as an offering to God.

However, this is only half the story. Communication with God on the part of His human image-bearers is never intended to be one way only. If God is talking to us in the creation, it is both our solemn responsibility and our immense privilege to answer him. We do that by the way in which we use the creation. So Paul says in Romans 12:1, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual (margin reasonable) service." In 1 Corinthians 7:31 he urges us to use the world without abusing it. Abuse comes when we make the world an end in itself instead of a means of serving the Lord. Arching over both these references is the original, never rescinded, commission to have dominion over the creation (Genesis 1:28, Psalm 8:6-8; Hebrews 2:6-8). Surely that dominion, which we exercise in a spectrum which runs all the way from brushing our teeth to building a business or negotiating an international agreement, was intended to be an expression of our loving service to the God to whom we owe out very life, physical as well as spiritual. Communion with God is a two-way street. We are to hear God’s voice and to answer Him. We answer through the things we do as well as through our prayers, hymns and meditation. Creation was made to be given back to God in our daily use and handling of it.

a. The Sacramentality of Creation. We can pursue this thought by considering what

Schmemann calls the "sacramentality of creation." This is not to propose the addition of sacraments to the two that most Protestants observe, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. But it is to suggest that the communion with God, which is what eternal life is all about (John 17:3), can be and is meant to be experienced through a much wider range of life activities than those normally considered "spiritual."
In the first chapter of his book, For the Life of the World, (see footnote 4) Schmemann argues very cogently for seeing ordinary life activity, not as an end in itself, but as a channel through which we can be in touch with God. When we eat the bread and drink the cup at the communion table, we touch and are touched by the Lord Himself. We commune with Him. But is this particular act of eating and drinking the only one that has spiritual significance? Not at all. It is a tangible token to us that every act of eating and drinking is meant to be a means of communicating with the Lord. Christ’s incarnation is the apex of God’s self-revelation in the creation. Miracle that his immaculate conception was, his humanness is not meant to be isolated form other births so that we fail to see that God is talking to us also in the delivery of every human baby. Christ was truly human, and His humanness ennobles every child born of woman. That is why he said that if we receive a child in His name, we receive Him (Matthew 18:5). The meaning of the communion table is intended to permeate all of our eating and drinking even while it maintains its unique position as the God-ordained way of celebrating the death and resurrection of Christ. Schmemann pursues this thought in these words: "When we see the world as end in itself, everything becomes itself a value and consequently loses all value, because only in God is found the meaning (value) of everything . . . For only one who thinks food in itself is the source of life, eating is communion with the dying world, it is communion with death. Food itself is dead, it is life that has died and it must be kept in refrigerators like a corpse." (see footnote 5).

b. The Priesthood of Christians. If ordinary human life is something which is meant to be

offered to God, then the priesthood of the believer comes suddenly into focus as a very important description of what redeemed life is all about (1 Peter 2:9). The priestly office, which in the Old Testament was limited to the descendants of Aaron, is in the New Testament broadened to include all Christians (1 Peter 2:5; Revelation 1:6). The very word, "priest," sounds strange to modern ears. We have been acclimatized to think in less religious words like "manager" or "therapist." But priests are what we are, and pleasing God in our Christian life depends heavily on finding out what that means and doing it.
Capon puts this idea strikingly when he has God say to Adam, "See what I have made you. Behold a creation with shape that cries for shaping, with a meaning waiting to be meant by somebody." (see footnote 6) Then he has God challenge Adam to a game of oblation or offering. God says, "My serve first. Watch now! Watch trees and grass, watch earth and mountains and hills; watch wells, seas and floods, and whales and all that move in the water. Catch! Catch beasts and cattle and children of men; catch winter and summer and frost and cold; catch nights and days and lightnings and clouds; catch omina opera Domini (all the words of God, ed) - catch them, and return the service!" (see footnote 7).
Schmemann is saying the same thing in different words. He insists that the central characterization of a man is that he is a priest. "He stands in the center of the world and unifies it in his act of blessing God, of both receiving the world from God and offering it to God - and by filling the world with this Eucharist, he transforms his life, the one that he receives from the world, into life in God, into communion with Him. The world was created as the ‘matter,’ the material of one all-embracing Eucharist, and the man was created as the priest of this cosmic sacrament." (see footnote 8)
All of this is involved in a Biblical doctrine of the creation. What is the creation? It is a revelation of the living God. What is it for? It is for giving back to Him in loving and devoted service. In the next issue we will try to pursue some of the more ordinary, daily lives of God’s people.

Editor: Al Greene
Alta Vista College

 Footnotes:

1. Capon, Robert F., The Supper of the Lamb. P. 12.
2. "ibid," p. 18.
3.Berger, Peter, A Rumor of Angels. P. 54-57.
4. Schmemann, Alexander, For the Life of the World. Chap. 1.
5. "ibid" p. 17
6. Capon, Robert F. An Offering of Uncles. P. 64.
7. "ibid," p. 64.
8. Schmemann, Alexander, For the Life of the World. P. 15

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