God created the world as a place of natural beauty in which all created things live and exist together in peaceful harmony and unity.
As the lyrics speak of the composer’s heart, as the penned words reveal the author’s mind, as the painting points to the artist’s soul, so creation communicates the Creator’s design. The Creator speaks through what He creates. Here’s how one poet puts it: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world” (Ps. 19:1-4, NKJV). There’s a continual communication going on from God through His created life (day and night). And though you can’t hear an audible voice, there is a revealed message from God that circles the globe. Wherever there’s creation, there’s communication from God.
What happens when you contemplate creation? What do you “hear” from God? What does God “say” through His created works? The poet describes the heavens proclaiming the “glory of God,” displaying God’s craftsmanship. The word for “glory” literally means “character.” What about God’s character is revealed in nature? What qualities of God are seen when we look around and pay attention to, as the mystic said, what lies before us? Perhaps several things might come to mind.
First, God is a creative being, a craftsman, as the poet put it. And what does that necessarily imply? God thrives on the process of dreaming and putting into place what He dreams. Watch the poet or artist or sculptor at work. They are passionate about revealing their view of life through their works. The creative process involves the use of the whole being: body, mind, heart, and soul. So all of God is involved in providing a unique window to the world through His art. It’s a way of expressing what’s in the heart. Artists value not only the end result but also the process of creation.
Second, God values diversity. You can’t help seeing this side of God by looking even with a cursory glance at nature. There’s such infinite variety in complexity, color, essence, size, shape, ability, function. For example, some experts estimate that among birds alone there are as many as 9,703 species. Now that’s diversity!
Then, third, God values interdependence. Our ecosystem is comprised of biosystems in which living organisms interact with and influence each other in mutually beneficial ways. One of the paradigms of physics is that forces (interactions between objects) always occur in pairs—an action always involves a reaction. Single, isolated forces never happen. The universe is composed of constant simultaneous interactions. And since nothing happens in isolation, every action has an impact on the whole. Nature definitely has a cooperative side. The scientific terms “symbiosis” and “mutualism” refer to numerous instances in which organisms live together and help one another. The organisms can be of vastly differing species, such as an anemone and a hermit crab, or reef-building corals and algae.
The poet John Donne, applying this to human life, put it this way: “All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated. . . . As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness. . . . No man is an island, entire of itself. . . . Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”1
God designed creation in such a way that interdependence is an operative principle. But what about competition, the often fierce struggle for dominance, the concept of the “survival of the fittest”? What about those brutal examples of violence that occur in nature? If nature speaks for God, how does that reflect on God’s glory? What does that say about God? It’s interesting that in the Jewish Scriptures (for example, the prophet-poet Isaiah’s writings) the future world of God is described as a place where the following will be commonplace: “ ‘The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play by the cobra's hole, and the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain” (Isa. 11:6-9, NKJV).
That’s quite a picture of peace and harmony! It provides a glimpse into the way God originally intended the world to be and what God wants for the ultimate future. That is the view of some of the major world religions like Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. God created the world as a place of natural beauty in which all created things live and exist together in peaceful harmony and unity—interconnected, interdependent, cooperative, collaborative, and mutually supportive—where cooperation rather than competition is a primary principle of life.
The context of the poem in Isaiah describes how, instead of that natural harmony, there is aggressive human rivalry, injustice, and exploitation of people. The results are extreme poverty and slavery, which creates a culture of the “haves” and the “have not’s,” the rich and the poor, the free and the enslaved. That relational paradigm certainly has impacted the natural world. Human greed and selfishness, violence, power, and control have too often created an environment of abuse, fear, oppression, and waste.
Leonardo de Caprio’s documentary The 11th Hour, dealing with today’s environmental crisis, suggests that human greed and selfishness are what continue to perpetuate our exploitation of the planet. We are slaves to our own needs and desires and lusts and so continue our thoughtless ravaging of the world. Very profoundly and poignantly, the documentary brings home our reality: we have to change our behavior from competition and aggression to cooperation and admiration. In other words, we, in essence, must return to God’s original plan for global life, where all life lives in harmony from mutual respect, value, support, and interdependence. That would reflect accurately on God and what God values and how God has created life. But given these current conditions of creation, is it possible to use only nature as an adequate revelation of God? Or has God chosen to use other means to communicate Himself to His creation?2