All Things Bright and Beautiful

During one summer break from college, I took my younger sister Vonda on a road trip to the Grand Canyon. I wanted to give her an extravagant adventure and introduce her to parts of the West I had grown to love. One August night on the Canyon’s South Rim, we lay quietly under the shimmering expanse, and a hush settled between us. There was no cathedral, no sermon, but I knew everything illuminated by that vast sky was holy. I didn’t have language to explain my experience, and now, more than two decades later, words remain paltry, too weak. However, on that starlit evening, I caught a fleeting glimpse of the beauty God reveals through this world—a mere sliver of His abundant delight over earth’s beauty (which He wants us to enjoy, too, while we’re here).

 

The Scriptures have much to say about the goodness of this world, describing an appropriate love for and delight in the place God has given us to call home. Whenever the sun brushes the horizon mystic orange or the moonlight spreads across our front lawns; whenever we catch the whiff of pine or sight a cardinal or dig our fingers into fresh loam to plant peas or onions—there are reasons why these experiences (and thousands like them) stir our souls.

Likewise, when we see God’s creation marred or neglected, there are reasons why it disturbs us. God gifts us this world to enjoy, and we are grateful for His extravagant generosity. But there’s something more we must do—cultivate a desire to tend these gifts with care, and to honor the God who gave them. In the decades since that Arizona night, I’ve found a few threads woven into the Bible’s story, threads that help to explain my own experiences and realign my thinking.

First, God is the Creator of everything that exists, and everything He creates is good. Genesis commences with the most foundational words in the Bible: “In the beginning God …” This planet and all it contains (every brook and forest, every rhino and whip-poor-will, every raspberry and avocado) exist because the Lord has spoken them into being. Concluding each burst of creative energy, God paused, relishing the magnificent fruit of His labor, and said, “Now that’s good.” After crafting night and day, sculpting prairies and mountains, and sowing great conifers and oaks across the landscape, God exclaimed: Good!

Hebrew scholars suggest that another translation for good would be “beautiful.” I imagine God watching the tide roll over the shore or a flock of geese cut across the sky, admiring it all with deep pleasure. Perhaps when we find ourselves in a similar moment and moved to a similar response, we can remember how we bear God’s image and, like our Creator, know true beauty when we see it.

We are grateful for His extravagant generosity. But there’s something more we must do—cultivate a desire to tend these gifts with care, and to honor the God who gave them.

Second, God continues to love and sustain creation, despite the ways we corrupt its goodness. Tragically, human rebellion did not affect us alone; it altered the earth itself. This is why Paul says that the whole of creation groans with pain, awaiting God’s redemption. (See Rom. 8:19-23.) However, God continues to love the earth He made. The first Bible verse many of us memorized assures us that “God so loved the world” and that this love extended not only to the people of the world but also to the world itself, to the entire cosmos.

Even more, God’s grace and energy continue to sustain the earth. In Colossians, Paul explains how God holds all things together—the sky, sea, mountains, fowl and beasts, and the very ground on which we walk (Col. 1:17). Job insists that if God were to remove “His spirit and His breath, all flesh would perish together” (Job 34:14-15). The earth, like us, lives from the very hand of God, nourished by His tender grace.

Third, God reveals His own splendor and beauty through the wonders of this brilliant world. “The whole earth is full of His glory,” the prophet Isaiah tells us (Isa. 6:3). No wonder we gasp whenever lightning gashes the dark. No wonder we know pure pleasure whenever we spy the first bulb of spring or bristle with eager anticipation for the eruption of fall colors. Whether we acknowledge the truth or not, at those moments we revel in God’s grandeur.

The first Bible verse many of us memorized assures us that “God so loved the world” and that this love extended not only to the people of the world but also to the world itself, to the entire cosmos.

In the warm months, my wife takes off her shoes at least once a day and walks into our backyard so she can make contact with God’s good earth. She wants to stay in touch with the ground, to feel God’s handiwork. She would tell you that with her bare feet on green grass or on one of her walks along the James River, she’s more aware of God, more connected to His love and presence.

Fourth, God promises to renew creation, refusing to abandon the world He loves.

The Lord will not forsake this world but rather promises to restore it, healing the whole of creation (God’s earth and God’s people). Revelation 21:1 describes His plans for the future as “a new heaven and a new earth.” When God has the final word, the earth will flourish with copious exuberance. It will, at long last, be just as He intended. God will transfigure the very ground where we live and work, the very places where we often feel so futile and wonder if anything will ever be beautiful again.

Philip Yancey describes this earthly redemption God promises: “We will realize God’s design as reclaimed originals, like a priceless oil painting restored after a fire or a cathedral rebuilt after a bombing. Redemption involves a kind of alchemy, a philosophers’ stone that makes gold from clay.” In response to all the ruin we’ve caused, all the harm we’ve done, God can and will make all things new.

But until then, God has named us as stewards of creation, a vocation where we tend to His world with care and affection. Like Adam and Eve, we must tend whatever the Lord gives us, working to make the world fruitful, yielding His abundance. We must manage our precious resources wisely and learn how to use the land well, how to promote a holy harmony between humankind and nature. We give thanks to God for the bounties of the earth. And in His name, we help the world to become more beautiful, more whole.

Gather gladness from the skies;
Take a lesson from  the ground

—Gerard Manley Hopkins, from “Easter”

 

Illustration by Eiko Ojala

Related Topics:  Creation

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What happens to my notes

19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.

20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope

21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.

23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.

17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

14 If He should determine to do so, If He should gather to Himself His spirit and His breath,

15 All flesh would perish together, And man would return to dust.

3 And one called out to another and said, Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory."

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.

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