My first year of Master’s work, I took a Systematic Theology 101 class. The professor, Dr. Kreider, stood out as my favorite instructor during all of my graduate work. He not only had a unique teaching style, but an open, joyful acceptance of the idea that all truth is God’s truth. Every day, he would engage the class with clips from popular movies, songs from mainstream artists, paintings from all different eras, poetry from all over the world, and more. His thesis and framework for the whole class was that all humans are made in God’s image, and thus, whether knowingly or not, we will reflect some aspect of God’s nature and character. The painter who expresses himself on canvas, the musician who composes through the night, the scientist who works tirelessly to discover new ways to benefit his fellow man: all of them—all of us—are inherently reflecting our Creator. This means we can find truth—experience truth—in unsuspecting ways. We can catch glimpses of God’s nature from unsuspecting sources, if we’re aware.
Growing up, my traditions and environments created a Trinity that was, in essence, Father, Son, and Holy Bible. If it wasn’t in the Bible, don’t bother with it. If it was in the Bible, that was all you could know. If you wanted to know about God, read the Bible (and, if you were really “spiritual,” you’d read books about the Bible, too). That was that. That is, until Systematic Theology 101, where Dr. Kreider simply asked, “What about when the Bible says that we can learn elsewhere?”
To be fair, nowhere in the Scriptures will you find the explicit command to “put them down” (One should never get the sense that he has spent too much time with God’s Word). To read the biblical text and come away with anything other than the utmost respect for it would be to read it poorly. One cannot reach a point where he has read, studied, or applied the Bible “enough” in his life and must seek other avenues of understanding. The only valid other means of God’s revelation are those affirmed by and understood through the authority of his written Word. God’s Word affirms itself as authoritative and sufficient. Every book within is breathed out by God. And every word of it, when read and understood in context, is useful for teaching, training, and learning how to pursue a righteous life (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
If, then, we know every part of God’s Word is beneficial and should be read and obeyed, then we must consider the parts where the authors of the text encourage the reader to not only be aware of, but to seek out God’s truth in and throughout the world. For instance, the Apostle Matthew records Jesus as saying to the crowds, “look at the birds of the air” and “consider the lilies of the field” to teach them about God’s provision. He does not say, “Go read about the birds,” or “Go do a cross-referenced study on the lilies;” he says, “Get outside! Go marvel at the world!” Jesus, who knew a thing or two about God (being him and everything), explicitly instructs the discovering of God’s attributes through the natural world that he has created.
Or, look at Proverbs 6, where Solomon writes, “Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider its ways and be wise!” Solomon, in all his wisdom, tells the reader: “So, you want to learn how to have a godly work ethic and defeat laziness? Don’t only read about it. Go watch the ant! Go look at the way that God has revealed himself in his creation.”
A word of caution, though: that is not to say, “the ant is sufficient for all knowledge regarding godly work!” Of course it isn’t. Nowhere would the biblical text suggest replacing biblical revelation for natural revelation. What it does encourage, however, is to be aware of the many other things that we’ll encounter every single day that can show to us or remind us of God’s nature and blessings. Many of us will not walk around throughout the day turning pages of the Bible from the time we wake up to the time we go to sleep, but, that doesn’t mean we cannot constantly experience God and his truth in a multitude of ways throughout the day. Do we have to read the Bible to fully know God? Yes. Can we learn about him and his character in other ways? Yes. How do we know that? Because the biblical authors themselves tell us so.
A powerful and profound way to experience God—his nature, his attributes, his will for us—is by experiencing what he has created. In his creativity, we see his goodness. And, what in creation stands above all else in value, worth, beauty, importance, and God-revealing capacity? We do. Da Vinci painted many things, but only one Mona Lisa. Beethoven composed many things, but only one 9th Symphony. God created many things, but only one thing as prized as mankind. No other aspect of creation has the ability and the responsibility to display God’s nature like we do. So, it should not come as a surprise that the things we create as humans often serve as wonderful displays of his glory.
So, when we would walk into class and Dr. Kreider would play a Johnny Cash or Black Eyed Peas song, we weren’t surprised to see God’s truth woven into it. When he would play scenes from Gladiator or show us the latest Banksy artwork, it wasn’t difficult to be moved. Because we are God’s creation, we have the ability to create and put our creator on display. His nature that is within us can be illustrated through our creative efforts.
Whether its God’s provision we see in the lilies or a hint of his grace that we notice in the newest novel that we read, all truth is God’s truth. And life is better when we experience it in as many ways as we can. We simply need to be on the lookout.
“It’s not the long walk home that will change this heart, but the welcome I receive with the restart.” -Roll Away Your Stone, Mumford & Sons
But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”’ 20 So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; 23 and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:17-24)