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.
With the storyline of creation’s goodness being emphasized more and more within the evangelical tradition, we have moved somewhat away from a more dualistic, overly-ethereal view of God’s work. We have recognized God is the God of the spiritual and physical.
Even more, thanks to works like NT Wright’s Surprised by Hope and others, we are aware that God does not plan to abandon the earth but rather fully and finally restore it through Jesus.
This is a good place to start.
But I don’t believe this takes us far enough.
Though we declare God loves creation –that it is 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 social media, to go on vacations that include 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 that our senses encounter.
But what does this mean?
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. They are the ones who do the rituals (which shows we don’t understand what a ritual is).
Even more, many of us envision that stuff as pointing to dead religious traditions, rather than anything to do with true spiritual life. That’s why their buildings are becoming more and more abandoned, right?
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.
Brown, dirty dirt.
Yeah, we’ve got the beautiful mountains, seaside sunsets, enchanting safaris, tropical 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 awe-inspiring. Or maybe it is the simple and earthy elements that end up bringing us to a place of awe.
Of course, mountains, seas, sunsets, safaris and islands 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 move 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 the sanctuary of worship, you glimpse the bread and water and lamps.
It’s not just blaring music (so loud you can’t hear the congregation singing) or an aesthetically pleasing ProPresenter slideshow. There are pieces of the puzzle that call forth the 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 practice of worship.
When you get into the waters of baptism, you are touching something. When the community shares 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 we lay hands on people to appoint leaders, we utilize our touch, while also hearing the prayers being offered. Anointing the sick with oil involves the senses of touch and smell.
Today, when we sit down in a pew (and I used to despise pews), we 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 God’s 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 the gift of sight we are drawn into the story that reminds of something bigger than ourselves.
And here’s the reality. All this is spiritual.
Yes, God is God of the spiritual and physical. But, even more, 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, the One who is 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. 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.
Perhaps there are many more tangible things awaiting to come to life.