By this discipline a believer, standing on the foundation of Scripture and Jesus Christ, may expect to discover the glory of God in created things and be enriched thereby in wondrous and edifying ways.
Solomon wrote cryptically of this delightful discipline: “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter” (Prov. 25.2). By his own testimony, Solomon invested much time and effort in this very project (Eccl. 1.13). God has concealed His glory in all kinds of created things. He is making Himself known through the works of creation—the so-called natural world—and the work of providence—not only creation, but the wonders of culture and the outworking of human action in all kinds of spheres. Solomon’s Proverbs are filled with observations of divine truth drawn from the realm of creation. Jesus was doubtless the greatest creational theologian, seeing in lilies, falling sparrows, coins, tragedies, the work of farmers, and much, much more, eternal principles and divine truths which, as He pointed them out, left people amazed and awe-struck at His insight and authority.
As I have practiced this discipline over the years, it involves six activities. These are not completely isolated steps, but interact with one another, refer to one another, and build on one another to produce a satisfying encounter with the glory of God, one that can enrich our knowledge of Him and our understanding of His will.
The first step is observation. Find an object or focus on a situation, and examine it carefully, at some length. In Volume 13, Number 2 of The InVerse Theology Project, our versification of Ephrem the Syrian’s, The Pearl, we saw how he took up this task of observation in seeking the glory of God in a single pearl:
Upon a certain day I took
a single pearl in hand.
And O! what Kingdom myst’ries I
began to understand.
I saw therein the majesty
of God the Lord on High,
and likewise Jesus, Who to save us
came to earth to die.
How like a fountain was that pearl,
refreshing so to me,
as from its depths and wondrous flow
I drank deep mystery.
I set the pearl upon my palm
to study it with care;
on every side one face looked back
to greet my curious stare.
In the observation phase you will want to make note of everything. Write down details. Draw out some preliminary associations between the object of your study, your previous experience, or something in Scripture. Carry a notebook or note cards with you, because you will not remember everything you will need as you proceed to the next steps in the work of creational theology.
In the work of creational theology, we must never drift very far from Scripture. The Bible is the great light in which we will be able to search out whatever God is revealing to us in the lesser light of creation (Ps. 36.9).
In the second step of creational theology, association, we try to connect our observations of the creation with Scripture, to see how we might associate the object of our contemplation with how the Scripture does. For example, Jesus used pearls to represent the truth of God and His Word. Making such associations can put us in the mind of Christ about whatever we may be observing. This way we allow the light of Scripture to guide us in discerning the light of God’s glory in the things around us.
Association leads easily to integration, in which you bring together into language some preliminary thoughts based on your observations of the situation, thing, or event, and the Scripture it has provoked in your mind. Write a few sentences, a paragraph, or a longer summary that brings your observations together with what Scripture has to say about your subject, so that you begin to see how the two of them refract the glory of God in complementary ways.
Once you have completed this integrative task, make some time for meditation. By now you should have lots of notes, questions, Scripture references, and the beginnings of a cogent argument. Take some time to seek the Lord in prayer, offering up to Him your observations and conclusions, listening for any other thoughts or passages of Scripture His Spirit may prompt, and writing down additional impressions. Pray back to the Lord the sentences you have recorded, and begin in prayer to formulate them together into a statement that will capture in language the sum, not only of your observations, but of your experience of God’s revelation. Pray this back to God over and over, allowing Him to shape and clarify and form and perfect it until you arrive at a settled sense of what God has been showing you through His work.
Next, and indeed, throughout the work of creational theology, take time to celebrate the Lord and thank Him for making Himself known through the things He has made. Praise Him. Sing and worship. Shout out, jump up and down, get hilarious. Draw a picture, compose a song, take some photographs—whatever it takes to express to God the thrill of His revealing Himself to you in this way. Typically, my celebration takes the form of a poem, because in a poem I bring together my thoughts and feelings into a form that I can revisit to relive my experience over and over. I can also share my experience with others when I put it in the form of a poem. Such celebration leads to the final discipline of creational theology, which is to proclaim what God has revealed to you about Himself.
Don’t keep your experience to yourself. Tell someone else. Let your work of creational theology culminate in proclamation. For me, that usually entails some writing, very often in the form of a poem. In our study, A Ray of Sun, we considered various ways that sunlight brings into focus the grace and Presence of God. Our proclamation included a series of blank verse poems, spread over the course of Christian history, which concluded, in Volume 6, Number 2 of The InVerse Theology Project, with these insights concerning the Light of God and His glory:
So, while it may not be a miracle
that, as I waited on the Lord in prayer,
He sent a single ray of sun to meet
me, to encourage and engage me, and
to lift me from the dust and drift of my
frail, feeble flesh into the Presence of
His Light and glory, still, it was a firm
reminder of His steadfast love. His Light
gives life, hope, peace, and joy to all who seek
Him faithfully, and who bask in His Light—
each ray of everlasting Son which plumbs
our soul’s depths, banishes the dark of sin,
and with illuminating power, makes all
things new, and forms us, ray by ray, into
His image—holy, righteous, good, and true.
Practicing creational theology
Becoming adept at this cat-and-mouse game of creational theology takes a little doing, and a certain amount of perseverance. It helps to read widely—about all manner of things in creation, culture, history, and so forth—and to reflect as you are reading on how these different subjects speak to you about the glory of God. It’s also helpful to read the works of others who have practiced this discipline: Alexander Schmemann, Phil Ryken, and Vigen Goroian come to mind, as do Gerard Manley Hopkins, Albrecht Dürer, William Cowper, and a few others from the past. Such writers can help you learn to look and listen for what God is making known. Set aside some time each month for an exercise in creational theology. Keep a journal, with a section for conclusions as well as one for observations-in-process. Talk to others and see if you can encourage a friend to take up this discipline with you. Listen to fine music and study fine art; these can be rich sources of divine revelation. And make sure you keep studying and searching the Scriptures, for these must always be the touchstone for any work in creational theology.
When I was a kid, I had a six-week stint at home with rheumatic fever, during which time I discovered a fascinating TV game show called “Camouflage.” Contestants would be shown a line drawing and told that in it was a picture of, oh, say, a cat. But the line drawing was something totally different—a busy downtown intersection with people, cars, buildings, kiosks, and lots of stuff besides, or something equally full of objects and movement. The contestants observed the drawing carefully, then they had to answer a question from the host. If they got it right, a little of the line drawing was peeled away. This went on until one contestant was ready to take the pointer and trace out the image of the cat. At that point it was game over, and the amount of money won depended on how early in the game the sought-for object could be identified.
I delighted in “Camouflage” each day of those six weeks. I loved the thought that something was concealed in there for me to search out and find. Many times, I beat the contestants, and then I knew not only deep satisfaction, but a kind of pride that was, well, uplifting for a sick, home-bound seventh-grader. It was great fun, even though it didn’t amount to anything lasting or truly substantial.
Unlike creational theology. As Celtic Christians and many other saints of the past understood, great joy, insight, faith, and hope await as we seek out what God has concealed of His glory in the creation around them. May we in our day rediscover this game of divine “Camouflage,” not just as an amusing pastime, but for real growth in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord.
T. M. Moore
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