Among all the memorable moments in C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, one of my favorites comes near the end of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Caspian and his crew land on an island inhabited by a retired star named Ramandu. True to form, young Eustace Scrubb puts his foot in his mouth: “In our world,” he says, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.”
Ramandu the star corrects him: “Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of.” In this exchange, as he does so often in the Narnia series, Lewis brilliantly communicates a truth often forgotten, especially in a “secular age” like ours: There’s more to the world around us than its material stuff. Much more. Meaning, revelation, and mind are behind everything we see because it was all made by God for His glory. There are no “ordinary things”—certainly not in the sense that materialists imagine.
John Calvin put it this way: “There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice.” Whenever Christians have taken a cue from Holy Scripture, they have taught that human beings and the entire created order “declare the glory of God.” When we quote this wonderful psalm, we mean more than creation is evidence for God’s existence (though we certainly believe that).
What we mean is that creation, itself, is alive and infused with meaning. Just as human beings are not merely the dust we’re made of but images of our Creator, every star, every flower, and every grain of sand is also charged with divine truth. None of it is there by accident but exists to instruct us and to impel us to worship! Every earthly beauty is a reflection of a heavenly reality.
In our secular age, we can quickly forget just how important that thought is, not just for belief in God, but for how it shapes our understanding of ethics, science, art, business, and even politics. If there is meaning and purpose in the world that we didn’t put there, that means “right” and “wrong” are not things that can be changed at will. It means sex and marriage are real features of creation, not social constructs we can constantly redefine to serve our own purposes. It means the natural world is our Father’s world, and it must be treated well because it’s not our property. We’re only taking care of it. It means that beauty is objective, not simply a matter of taste. And it means that every person we meet is an immortal image bearer whom we have a duty to love, respect, and value.
All of this requires some major vision surgery. Even those of us who believe in God can quickly get into the habit of dividing the secular from the sacred. We can walk out of church on Sunday and immediately fall back under the spell of our secular age. We can act as if God has nothing to say about how we live and is only there when we need Him and otherwise doesn’t interfere with our lives.
In the coming months, we at the Colson Center want to challenge that way of thinking in any and every way we can. We’re convinced, along with Lewis and Calvin, that there are no ordinary things. We think it’s time to call Christians back to a bigger, older, and more thrilling way of seeing our world—of seeing Earth as crammed with heaven, because it is.
That’s the theme of our upcoming Colson Center National Conference, May 19-21, in Indianapolis, Indiana. The phrase “earth crammed with heaven” comes from a stunning poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, a Victorian English poet who knew how to look at the world and see heavenly truth. In Aurora Leigh, she writes:
And truly, I reiterate, nothing’s small!
No lily-muffled hum of a summer bee,
But finds some coupling with the spinning stars;
No pebble at your foot, but proves a sphere;
No chaffinch, but implies the cherubim;
And (glancing on my own thin, veined wrist),
In such a little tremor of the blood
The whole strong clamour of a vehement soul
Doth utter itself distinct. Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes …
If Browning’s words resonate with you, I want to invite you to join us at the 2023 Colson Center National Conference. At this year’s annual gathering (formerly known as “Wilberforce Weekend”), we will explore, from as many angles as we can, how God has filled His creation with His glory, and what it means to look through that glory as we live in this world. We’ll be joined by speakers like theologian Justin Bailey, creative Ryan Bomberger, medical school professor Dr. Kristin Collier, and many more. Not only will we learn how to better encounter our Creator in His mighty works, but we’ll work on what it means to see His creation through the lens of Who our Creator has revealed Himself to be. Registration is now open at colsonconference.org.
Today’s Breakpoint was co-authored by Shane Morris. For more resources to live like a Christian in this cultural moment, go to colsoncenter.org.
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