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02 July 2008

The Theology of Everything

This is a shortened version of Dan's article. Read the full version

The chances are that when you hear the phrase ‘theology of everything’ you have one of two reactions. Either you are cynical - it must be a bunch of theology geeks who are convinced that their subject is the most important one, and that it alone has the key to understanding everything in the world. The other reaction you might feel is excitement. You’ve started to see that the gospel and your relationship with God must have some sort of effect on the way you look at your whole life. Surely the good news about being brought into communion with the Lord of the universe means that you see reality in a new and improved way! There’s a chance that you feel a bit of both. Whether you’re raring to go, or a cool cynic, I hope that after reading this quick introduction you will be ready to look at the world with new spectacles on, ready to see the theology that is in absolutely everything.

Everything is theological

To suggest that it is even possible to do a theology of everything is to assume that everything is theological; that is to assume that everything, in some sense at least, helps us along in our understanding of God. We’re very used to the idea that Scripture is our source of information about God (and rightly so), so it sometimes seems strange to us to imagine that we can find theological lessons in other places. But if we listen to Scripture, we find that we’re pointed to the rest of God’s creation too.

A famous example you’ll be familiar with is Psalm 19, where David writes, "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech and night to night reveals knowledge".1

Once we put on the spectacles of Scripture, we are confronted with a completely different view of reality. The way we look at the world must change- it could never possibly be the same! If you need to wear glasses for reading, driving, or watching the television, you’ll know what a difference they make. Likewise, when we look at creation with the right spectacles on, we will find that things are much clearer: they appear in sharper focus, and they become a delight to look at. And the delight we feel draws us to gaze not at the beauty of the stars or the power of the sea in and of themselves, but at the beauty and power of the one who stands behind them.

The first thing to notice is that even though we’re looking at the same reality we always have looked at, the spectacles of Scripture are now helping us make sense of creation’s sermon. We begin to see something quite amazing: that the Lord has ordered creation to teach us about Him. The way things work in creation is no accident, nor just an outworking of the laws of physics; rather the Creator has ordered it all with pinpoint accuracy to preach to us a sermon about a greater reality. It as if creation were a school of the gospel: always teaching us truths about God and reality.

Trying it out on the sun

Recently, a friend pointed out to me that in the Genesis account of the creation, God creates light and darkness, day and night on the first day, but that the sun only comes along on day four. She wondered where the light was coming from on the first day! Whatever your views on the interpretation of Genesis 1-3, everyone agrees that Moses is trying to say something about the nature of creation by writing these chapters. So what does the sun say to us about the greater reality of God in the universe?

Genesis shows us that there is light shining before the sun is created on day 4- and it makes that point for a reason. The reason lies in the way the creation account is structured. On day 1 God created light and darkness, dividing them into day and night; then on day 4, he created the stars, the sun and the moon to fill, light and govern the day and night. On day 2, God created the sky, separating it from the water; then on day 5 he filled them both- the water with sea creatures, and the sky with birds. On day three God created land, separating it from the water and made vegetation grow on it; then on day 6, He filled the earth with animals, and finally created man, commanding Adam and Eve to ‘fill the earth’. So God created on the first three days, and filled on the last three days before he had his day of rest.

What we should take note of as we think about the sun is that fourth day- the filling of the day and night with the lights. We are faced with the fact that light existed before the sun; there was separation of light and darkness before the sun was ever born. Remember: the Lord has so structured creation that it reflects spiritual realities. By filling the day and night with lights God is making a spiritual point- a sermon about reality embedded in creation. It is that the real and true light in the universe is not the sun; it is the Lord, and the sun is a picture to us of it. The sun shines brightly in the sky, giving light, giving warmth, sustaining life- exactly as the Lord Himself does2. Of course, the idea of God as light is huge in the Bible. Supremely, Jesus is the Light of the world- the true sun! The sons of Korah say in Psalm 84v11 that the Lord is a sun. So the point of the sun is not primarily to be the source of light and sustaining life, but a big sign to point us to the source of light and sustaining life: the Lord Jesus Himself. That's why the sun only arrives on day 4- it's not the real deal. There is a light on day one that shines first, and the sun is but a twinkling, slightly sparkly sign of Him.

We look and enjoy all we see thanks to the sun’s light, but how much more important that we have plenty of light from the true sun to shine on the eyes of our minds and souls! The sun is schooling us in living with the gospel at the very heart of our understanding. It shows us that the gospel should be our constant point of reference in interpreting reality, for God is the fundamental truth and his relationship with us shapes everything we think and do.

Wearing your new spectacles for life

Now you have an idea of where we’re going, you could think about theologies of other things- the wilder and wackier the better! Try doing a theology of eating. Or a theology of music. How about a theology of flower arranging? You will find that with the spectacles of Scripture firmly in place, and with a little bit of thought, you will get some really quite exciting results. As unlikely as your subject may seem, you will find that there is nothing that does not point you back to the Lord with all of its energy.

One of the most important things about this take on reality is that we suddenly see that the gospel is never far away from us. We so often go about our lives without thinking of God or His good news; we sometimes go from Sunday to Sunday without remembering the grace and goodness of the Lord. But when we begin to look at everything through the spectacles of Scripture- seeing that all of reality is theological, we are reminded of the gospel every time we look at the sun or eat our food, wash our hands or go to sleep. Often we create a really unhelpful divide in our lives between those things that appear to us to be ‘spiritual’ or of eternal consequence and those that are temporary or unimportant- but thinking theologically about everything opens-up to us a world where nothing is pointless, lost, or unspiritual. As Kuyper said, there is nothing we do, touch, see, experience, or know of which the Lord Jesus does not say ‘That is mine!’4.

So there’s the challenge: think theologically about everything. Take careful note of creation’s sermon as you wear the spectacles of Scripture. Think about what it means to live every part of your life consciously confessing that Jesus is Lord of it all. I hope that if you started out as a cynic, you’re beginning to feel that perhaps it’s worth thinking carefully about the theology of everything. Not only does creation invite you, but Jesus Himself commands you.

[1] Psalm 19v1-2

[2] Psalm 27v1, Psalm 50v2, Psalm 3v5, Hebrews 1v3

[3] John 1v4, 8v12

[4] Kuyper, Abraham (1998), "Sphere Sovereignty", in Bratt, James D.,Abraham Kuyper, A Centennial Reader, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, pp. 488

Dan Hames works for UCCF: The Christian Unions, where his job is to look after Theology Network.