I’m currently in the middle of a book that I thought would be a light little romp. I pre-judged where I thought the author would go with the subject, and I was happy to go there with him. Instead I have found it to be a deeply cerebral book, one in which you don’t just read while the T.V. or anything else in your life is going on. But I have been rewarded with some really helpful ideas so far… and I’m only half-way through the book. The first chapter on the Trinity is worth the book itself – I was completely worshiping by the end. It built on some thoughts that have been new to me regarding the Trinity and totally expanded my thinking on it – hallelujah!
The book is The Things of Earth by Joe Rigney. I had previously read his delightful and insightful book, Live Like a Narnian, so it was not a shot in the dark for me to pick up his latest. In this book, Rigney addresses how we must train ourselves to look up the beam of light from the created to the Creator. God has left this fallen world filled with his glory and we can recognize the character and nature of our Creator in “the things of Earth.”
However, it’s about half-way through the book (where I currently am), where Rigney turns a bit of a corner and speaks of man’s role regarding the things of Earth, which many know as the Cultural Mandate from Genesis 1:28. In the beginning, God declared creation good and very good, and then blesses mankind as the glory of his creation. He directs them to not only fill the earth (“be fruitful and multiply”), but to subdue it and have dominion over it. As Dana would say, “Wait… What?” If God’s world was good and very good, how could and why would man need to subdue it? Remember this mandate was given pre-fall – it’s part of the definition of what it is to be human. It turns out that we are not just more highly-evolved mammals, but mankind was placed on this earth with a call that no other creature has been given – to subdue the earth and have dominion over it. It turns out that God placed in his good and very good world a vast, limitless, yet-hidden potentiality, a secret treasure in his creation that he made man to seek and discover and act upon… until He comes again.
“It is the glory of God to conceal things,
but the glory of kings is to search things out” (Proverbs 25:2).
“Man is a poetical animal and touches nothing
which he does not adorn” (C.S. Lewis).
Both of these statements speak to the heart of what it means to subdue the earth and have dominion over it as mankind continues to develop and enrich God’s excellent creation. “When we write, perform, or listen to good music, we are being invited into the life of the triune God… When we write poetry or immerse ourselves in a novel or watch a good movie, our hearts and minds can be enlarged so that we have greater capacity to worship God and love others. When we tend our gardens, change the oil, study for a math test, discover the characteristics of electrons, serve our customers, or build a new house, we are assisting in the enrichment of God’s world, and we ought to enjoy these activities and their results with clear eyes and full hearts” (p. 147).
But a caution is necessary since we now reside in a fallen world and sin has tainted the original glory of both God’s creation and man’s use of it. Both the making of culture and the enjoyment of it is a precious gift God gives us, but it must be wielded with wisdom and soberness of sorts. To this end, Rigney offers a short, non-exhaustive list to help us evaluate both our own culture making and that which others have created for us to enjoy. As a springboard, five cautions in the form of questions are offered (pp. 150-151):
- Does this engagement with culture lead us to worship God? Afterwards, are we full of thankfulness to God or do we wish to hide from him?
- Are our hearts enlarged and expanded that we might know God better, love him more, and become more fully conformed to the image of his Son or are our hearts shriveled by the encounter?
- Has our engagement (with our own culture making or that of others) made our hearts more tender or has it hardened them?
- Would your life be better or worse if you were to conform your actions and attitudes to those of your favorite characters?
- Do the stories you like to write/read/watch/draw/tell reflect the stories that God likes to tell? How is evil depicted? Is evil shown to be good and worthy? Is it minimized or clarified? To use an Oscar Wilde phrase – does the “good end happily and the bad unhappily”?
Because of this chapter, I am more than ever before, relishing so many, many of the man-made “things of Earth” and it has begun to affect my prayers and, just generally, how I see God’s world around me. I am thanking God for providing those “hidden treasures” in his creation that mankind has been freed to seek out, find, develop, and/or adorn – all for our pleasure and use and good! I experience God’s generosity to mankind in the cultural mandate when I consider grand things like the pyramids or Shakespeare or cures man has found for illnesses; but I also experience it in the “smaller” things of my life – when I listen to my oldest sing, when I see my 2nd’s amazing art, when I read the deep, spiritual reflections of my 3rd, or when I watch my youngest portray a character on stage. But I find myself being able to see God’s generosity to me through the Cultural Mandate even when I eat a tasty meal or listen to happy music or see the cover design on this book or when I add mulch to my garden or organize my recipes, etc., etc.
As I walk this world, I hope to train myself through use and study, to not only see God more clearly as I observe his creation, but to see him, as well, in the man-made things of Earth. Soli deo gloria!