by John Mays
My remarks in this post owe a lot to two books. The first is David Bentley Hart’s The Beauty of the Infinite (2003), perhaps the most difficult and demanding book I have ever read. (Studying it through took approximately 150 hours.) This book is superb on the theology of the Trinity, and on the notion that our theology of creation flows from our theology of the Trinity, ideas I repeat below as part of Thesis A. The language and quotes I use to describe the Trinity are from Hart. The second is Robert J. Spitzer’s New Proofs for the Existence of God (2010), the source for the idea I describe below as Thesis B.
As a science teacher and writer, I read a lot about science. But since science is the study of creation, I also study the theology of creation, the mystery of creation, and what I have come to call the Symphony of Creation.
Scripture describes the creation as one great symphony of praise to God, declaring his glory and delighting in its very existence. According to Psalm 19, creation declares the glory of God. Psalm 148 describes the Lord being praised by all creation, all things animate and inanimate—all the creatures of the deep, and the sun, moon, stars, mountains, hills, trees, fire, and hail; Psalm 65 describes the hills and valleys as girded with joy and singing and shouting together with joy; and Psalm 150 ends with, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”
Scripture reveals much else about God’s relationship to creation: in Genesis 1, where he makes it and calls it good; in Psalm 104, a detailed account of God’s intimate, sustaining care for creation—he makes everything, the creation is essentially woven together with God’s majesty and joy, he provides all the creatures their food and shelter, everything is made with wisdom; and in Job 38–41, four continuous chapters of God taking delight in describing all the things he has made.
These aspects of creation are well known. But the Symphony of Creation is telling us something else about God, something enormous, but something that we almost always miss and that one rarely hears talked about or preached on. In fact, I have never heard anyone preach on it. This missing testimony is huge for science classes, but I have never heard about in any of the many science classes I have taken.
Let’s approach this missing theme by way of two questions. What is the reason for the creation? And what is the reason for us being part of it?
According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “the chief end of man” is “to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” According to the Children’s Catechism, the reason God made us and all things was “for his own glory.” Not to criticize, but with only the briefest defense I am going to propose a different way of addressing both these questions, a way that I believe connects directly to how we should live every moment of our lives. As we have seen, Scripture describes many things about creation, what it reveals, and God’s relationship to it. But to really get at the heart of these questions of purpose, we need to go to the heart of what we know about God. And that is the thunderclap of revelation, found throughout the Scriptures, of God’s love.
There is a great deal in Scripture about love. A brief sample: In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul tells us that love is the greatest thing. The Lord Jesus said that the two greatest commandments are to love—first, to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength; second, to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:30, 31). He even tells us we must love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). In his parable of the prodigal son, the unconditional love of the Father for both sons is the main point (Luke 15:11–32), and of course this is made explicit in John 3:16—God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son for us, and Romans 5:8—God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
This aspect of God’s love—the love behind the redemption—is what we do hear about. But I want to focus on 1 John 4 for the two points I am developing. The passage says twice that God is love—in verse 8 and again in verse 16. It also says that those who do not love do not know God (v. 8). The implications of this passage are what I have been leading up to.
The first point is this: The love that motivates the redemption is also the motivation for the creation in the beginning. The creation is here because of God’s overflowing, infinite love. This understanding of creation follows from our doctrine of the Trinity.
The theology of the Trinity, as articulated by early church Fathers such as Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, and many others, includes this: Within the Trinity is an eternal communion of infinite love, infinite joy, infinite peace, infinite light, infinite truth, infinite giving and receiving of the Father’s infinite beauty, infinite goodness, and infinite fullness of being. The doctrine of creation flows from the doctrine of the Trinity: the creation, from the infinite fullness of God’s being, is an outpouring of God’s infinite love in which he “utters himself” (think of Jesus Christ, the Word or Logos of God, through whom all things were made, John 1:1–3) in the infinitude of creation’s permutations—like a musical fugue with trillions of voices, one for every creature, star, and planet, or even one for every atom and all its movements.
In fact, the creation is a love song—a cosmically beautiful love song, because the Beauty of the Father and the Love of the Father and the Goodness of the Father are all eternally given and received within the Trinity; they are all infinite and flow forth unceasingly from him, through the Son and echoed and returned and shown to us by the Spirit. This is what the creation is. Every quasar, photon, resonance, atom, molecule, harmony, mountain, organism, movement, river, spiderweb—all are God’s expressions of himself as he utters himself in a constant display of infinite beauty and goodness flowing out of his overflowing infinite love. The point of the creation is love. The reason for the creation is love. And this love flows forth in overflowing fullness and infinite beauty as it never ceases in its permutations—one unique snowflake, leaf, crystal, orchid, and coral reef after another.
The creation is here because of love. This means creation is a gift, a precious gift, suffused with beauty, from our loving God to us, the ones he brought forth to share in his loving fellowship, which is infinite delight and infinite peace. You may have read C.S. Lewis’s brilliant line in The Weight of Glory, “You have never met a mere mortal.” Every person, made in the image and likeness of God, is divinely appointed to reflect God’s love and beauty to the rest of creation, declaring and witnessing to his glory. You are one of these! So am I. So is everyone.
In the economy of the Trinity, Beauty and Love dissolve into each other because both are ubiquitous—infinitely and eternally present. When contemplating God’s love, we are always simultaneously flooded with God’s beauty. Every expression of beauty in the universe is simultaneously an expression of God’s love, and also God’s goodness, joy, delight, and peace.
If we are not basking in the beauty of this love every minute, we are missing the very substance and content of the Symphony of Creation. We live and walk daily in the gushing forth of God’s love, announced—declared—shouted by every redbud, salamander, ladybug, and pelican. If during our day we hear only the sounds of our jobs, our phones, our politics, and our problems with the kids, we are missing the biggest thing—God’s outpouring of infinite love in the infinite beauty of the Symphony of Creation. God’s love is the reason for the creation, and creation constantly speaks this love to us. This is Part A of my thesis.
Thesis Part B is this: Love is not only the purpose for creation, it is also the meaning and purpose of our lives. Simply put, the reason we are here is to learn how to love, and to be perfected in love. Those who do not love do not know God, for God is love (1 John 4:8). So learning how to love is the reason we are here.
This should be the first thing we think in the morning and the last thing we think at night, and the living theme of our engagement with everything in between. This is what Jesus was talking about in his recitation of the two greatest commandments. And in understanding this purpose for our lives, we also understand what is meant by Kingdom life, life in the Kingdom of God, Christ’s Kingdom: Kingdom life is characterized by the overcoming of all conflict through love. Despite the victory already won by Jesus Christ through his resurrection, at the present time, we await the consummation of this victory—the world is still broken and conflict with opponents is inevitable. Do we seek to vanquish our opponents by being smarter or stronger than they are? Or more aggressive? Or even underhanded? Or deceitful? Or do we overcome conflict through love? This is what we are here to learn how to do. “Enjoy him forever”, as the Shorter Catechism says, given that God is love, necessarily means sharing, participating in, and being filled with the love of God. We must not miss this.
Knowing and internalizing the truth that the creation exists because of God’s love changes everything about how we see the world. A fish in a pond is not just a fish, fascinating though fish can be. The fish takes on an entirely new character as an expression of God’s love as God utters himself. A bird singing on a limb becomes the very voice of God. A green anole on a rock, so quiet and vulnerable, is an expression of the very character of the Creator. Even insects that we would normally find annoying, like a fruit fly in your house that keeps passing between you and the book you are reading, are suddenly seen as living expressions of God’s love, instances of the endless fugue of the Symphony of Creation.
Looking at creation this way is mind altering. As Christian science educators, it is simply essential that this theme should run through our classes as it if were an actual stream running right through our classrooms! Contemporary life has poisoned the way we look at creation—it has become unexceptional, uninteresting, and even boring, reduced to mere mindless matter and energy. To participate in the Symphony of Creation, we need to begin meditating on the expression of God’s love that is on display in every single object in creation. Extending C.S. Lewis’s beautiful statement, there are not only no mere mortals, there is no mere anything in creation.
Everything that exists is an instance of God’s grace, the grace of God’s gift of being. Even the materials we use exist because of God’s grace and are expressions of God’s love. The wood in a carpenter’s shop is beautiful and was made with love; the delightful smell of the wood shavings is an utterance of God’s love. The wool being sewn into a garment, the spices measured into a curry, the metals wound into guitar strings or rolled into organ pipes, the stone laid into the wall of a building—all are God’s self-utterances that exist because of God’s love expressing itself through the grace of being. As we go about doing various tasks throughout the day, we should do them in the conscious recognition that we are participating in the love of God through his gift at that moment, and that this is the source of its delight and beauty. It should occur to us that the delightful smell of the wood shavings is a beautiful gift of the love of God.
I invite us all to reflect on the bizarre contradiction between what most of us spend all our waking hours attending to and how little time we spend meditating on the centrality—in it all—of God’s love. We do think about God’s love in the redemption. What we generally don’t think about is that the entire creation is here because of God’s love, and that the reason for humans being in it is for us to learn how to love.
The last line in Dante’s Divine Comedy is “the Love that moves the Sun and the other stars.” Dante is saying what I have been talking about—love is the reason for the creation. Every ant crawling on a branch outside your window is doing so because of God’s love. Every inchworm in the garden, every mockingbird on a wire, every barnacle on the side of a rock in the sea—they exist because of God’s love. This is my Thesis A.
My Thesis B is that the reason you and I are here is to learn how to love. Traditionally, the seven virtues, of which one is love, are divided into the cardinal virtues and the theological virtues. The cardinal virtues are justice, wisdom, fortitude, and temperance. We understand that one can develop these virtues through study, practice, and habit. The other three are the theological virtues, faith, hope, and love. These are understood to be gifts of God’s grace, through the Holy Spirit. They are not virtues one can develop by sheer force of habit; they are gifts of the Spirit. So, if anything I have written here makes sense to you, and you want to know where to start, the place to start is in prayer. Pray every day, maybe several times each day, that God would give you a heart of love, and by his grace help you learn the things you need to know most—how to love, and how to see his love in the creation. That is a prayer God will not fail to answer.