Does it sometimes seem to you that the Christian life is burdened with a great many
activities that arent spiritual? Wouldnt it be a lot easier to live a vibrant
Christian life if we didnt 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 isnt 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
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 Gods 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
Gods 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 didnt 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 Lords regular use of the
creation in his teaching. He used Gods 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. Thats 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
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
hearts 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, "Its 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 Gods 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 days work, of a particularly
delectable meal, of the love of a dear one - these are shafts of Gods 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 Gods
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 Gods 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
a. The Sacramentality of Creation. We can pursue this thought by considering
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
Lords 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. Christs
incarnation is the apex of Gods 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
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 Gods people.
Editor: Al Greene
Alta Vista College
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