Right from the beginning of our story in Scripture we are confronted with the reality of the goodness of God’s creation. We are struck six times with this phrase, or something similar, “God saw that it was good…” That is then followed up with the well-known, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”
What a statement to pronounce over your work – good, very good.
What a statement when God is the one who pronounces it. You’d expect nothing less over his work.
With this storyline being emphasized more and more in the evangelical tradition, we have moved away from a more dualistic, overly-ethereal view of God’s work. We find this because plenty of folk are championing that God is the God of the spiritual and physical. Even more, thanks to works like Surprised by Hope, we are aware that God does not plan to abandon the earth but rather fully and finally restore it in Jesus.
This is a good place to start.
But I don’t think talking about these two points goes far enough.
Though we declare God loves creation, that it’s good, that God is at work amongst it, that he wants to restore it, there is still this kind of ethereal idea of what it means for God to be active in all he has created. We see it as good to look at creation, to take pictures of it for our own albums or for social media, to go on vacations in it, but I believe we are missing something.
What Genesis 1 (and the whole story of Scripture at that) tells us is this: Beyond the creation (of trees, oceans, mountains, grass, etc) there is a sacredness to all the senses; a holiness to the full gamut of the tangible.
We, at least as evangelicals, don’t deal much with the tangible, the sensory, when we gather together. That’s what those traditional churches do. You know, the Catholics and Orthodox and Anglicans. And many of us envision that stuff points more to dead religious traditions and rituals, rather than anything much of life. That’s why those buildings are becoming more and more abandoned.
Well, perhaps for some. But is that the full story?
Moving into Genesis 2, we are given an account of God taking earthy dust, dry dirt and forming life out of it. Just dirt. Brown, dirty dirt.
Yeah, we’ve got the beautiful mountains, seaside sunsets, enchanting safaris, amazing islands, blue oceans, and more in Genesis 1. But dirt? Really?
Right here we are presented with the concept that God is invested in all tangible materials of the creation, even the elements beyond the wowing and awe-inspiring. Or maybe it’s the simple and earthy elements that end up bringing us to a place of awe.
Of course, mountains, seas, sunsets, safaris, islands and the sort are part of it. They are exquisite masterpieces. But Genesis 2 presents us with the story that God got his hands dirty in forming his pinnacle of creation itself – humanity.
When we begin to track across Scripture, we see that God is really invested in this “earthy” material. The tabernacle is constructed of wood and curtains. The elements in the tabernacle, and later the temple, are not just made of gold, but also bronze. As one makes their way through it, you glimpse the bread and water and lamps and animals.
It’s not just blaring music (so loud you can’t hear the congregation singing) or an aesthetically pleasing PowerPoint presentation. We have pieces of the puzzle that are calling forth those other senses we so often forget – touch, smell and taste.
When they celebrated their feasts – and the Hebrews knew how to celebrate! – it called for all to come see, touch, hear, taste and smell that the Lord is good. When the community put the fellowship offering to their lips, they could literally say, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”
Ok, this is too Old Testament, right?
This isn’t New Testament, the place where we find more spiritual worship!
Well, I’ll admit some things have shifted due to the work of Jesus. But nothing has shifted for God with calling his people into a full five-sensory reality of worship. When you get into the waters of baptism, you are touching something. When the community shares at the Lord’s table, they are touching, tasting and smelling something, all the while hearing and seeing the pronouncement of the good news in this meal. When they would lay hands to appoint leaders, they utilized their touch, while hearing the prayers being offered. Anointing the sick with oil involved the sense of touch and even smell.
We (hopefully) continue those practices today.
Today, when we sit down in a pew (and I used to despise pews like you possibly do), you touch old wood that reminds us we are in a very long story that’s been going for quite some time. We are getting a touchable, tangible reminder of the work of God. As we sit in that old wooden pew, we grasp a hymnal that contains hundreds of songs written hundreds of years ago expressing the storied praise of those people. Those folk have a lot to teach us. When we glance not at a PowerPoint (and those are not bad) but at a stained glass window depicting the risen Lord, through our sight we are drawn into the story that reminds of something bigger than ourselves.
And here’s the reality. All this is spiritual.
Not so much that “God is God of the spiritual and physical,” but that the material is part of God’s good created order in which the Spirit himself hovered over long ago. This spiritual encompasses the physical. The “spiritual” is literally “of the Spirit,” and God does lay claim to all physical. God, bigger than what we can visibly see, has chosen to work within what we visibly see (and hear, taste, touch and smell).
He even gets down and works in that earthy dirt.
He breathed into that earthy dust and it came alive, becoming a living being. Perhaps the first act of worship was the first breath taken.
One day, I think, I pray, we’ll move away from over-etherealizing everything, sanitizing our life of worship down to primarily hearing and seeing. We’ll start embracing a five-sensory life of worship. We’ll even look for more ways to enjoy the grace of God beyond merely music, video-projected slides, and a superb light show. We’ll start to have eyes to see, ears to hear, fingers to touch, tongues to taste and noses to smell the work of God in our midst.
Dirt once became life.
There’s much more of the tangible awaiting to come to life.