Discerning the Voice of the Lord
“Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In His hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.” (Job 12:9,10)
Does God speak through the things He has made? Is it possible to gain some understanding into His will, or clarity regarding His purposes, by careful examination of the world around us?
Contemporary Christians, especially those with evangelical affiliations, are used to getting their information about God and His will from His revelation in Scripture. We read, study, meditate, reflect, and pray over the words of the Bible because we are persuaded that God is speaking here in ways we can understand and profit from. All this is well and good (would only that it were true of more evangelicals, and more Christians).
But Job was also convinced that God speaks through the things of creation. Faced with a situation of great suffering and apparent injustice, Job rejected the glib, theological formulas and conclusions of his friends and counseled reflection on the created order as a pathway to understanding, an argument God Himself would employ in helping Job recover his shalom (Job 38-41).
In his belief that the study of creation can yield insight to the mind of God, Job was not alone: the psalmist counseled a similar course (cf. Psalms 19, 111, 145). Solomon, in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, often referred to aspects of the creation as sources of wisdom. Jesus recommended consideration of all manner of things created and cultural—sparrows, lilies, coins, farmers in their fields, fallen towers, weddings, and more—for what we can learn from them about God and His ways. The Apostle Paul said that, in fact, the revelation of God coming through the things He has made is so clear as to leave men without excuse for not worshipping Him (Romans 1:18-21).
Indeed, it must be possible, as Job insisted, to discern the voice of God speaking to us through the things He has made. It would appear to be something of a scandal that so few people have any interest in seeking the Lord by this means. The revelation of God in creation is clearly there; and we have strong Biblical examples teaching us to make good use of it for the purpose of knowing God and His will. So why do we make so little use of the witness of creation? But who can expect to benefit from this revelation of God, and how should they go about it?
NOT FOR THE UNGRATEFUL
The Apostle Paul tells us that the revelation of God in creation is closed to those who refuse to receive it for what it is. Ungrateful to God, Who gloriously and graciously reveals Himself through creation, men turn from Him to idols of their own devising, preferring to worship the products of their own imaginations rather than the God Who made and sustains them (Romans 1:18-21). Consequently, God blinds them to His truth (Matthew 11:25)—a most reasonable response to their declared preferences—and they drift further and further into rebellion and sin (Romans 1:22-32).
Those who are not grateful to God for what He is revealing about Himself in creation run the risk of drifting away from Him into one or another form of idolatry, thus invoking His displeasure and judgment.
On the other hand, those who have come to know the Lord of creation through faith in Jesus Christ, and are increasingly grateful to God as they learn more and more about the wonders of His grace, should expect that all the voice of God is now open and accessible to them—both in Scripture and creation—and, as I argue in my book Consider the Lilies, they should give themselves diligently to discerning and understanding it. All who know the Lord, and who live each day in the light of Scripture, can confidently expect that Light to help them understand the light of God coming from other, created sources as well (Psalms 19:7-11; 36:9). In the light of God’s Word, the light coming from Him through the works of His hands can add depth, beauty, and deeper affection to our relationship with Him.
How, then, may those who know the Lord and are grateful to Him for all His revelation, and who are resolved to study His works more carefully (Psalm 111:1, 2), begin to take Job’s counsel to heart and start listening to the voice of God in creation?
DISCERNING GOD'S VOICE
There is a witness of God—insight into His character and will—being presented to us daily in the things He has made. Those who delight in God’s works, and approach them gratefully, patiently, and expectantly, can benefit from that witness. But they must be willing to take up a few basic disciplines if the witness of creation is to yield its message. Six practices in particular can begin to open our minds and hearts to the revelation of God in the things He has made.
- Set aside time. Listening to the voice of God in creation requires time devoted to that effort. Normally, we are so busy and distracted that we pay no attention to what God is revealing about Himself through His abundant works. We need to set aside time to go for a walk, take a hike, investigate local flora and fauna, do some reading, and reflect on what we’re beginning to observe. Just as it takes devoted time to hear God speaking in His Word—as well as certain specific disciplines—so hearing His voice in creation will require that we set aside time for this discipline as well.
- Train your senses for observation. Job declared that he had “made a covenant” with his eyes, not to look upon a woman to lust for her (Job 31:11). Something like this needs to happen with us as well. We need to train our eyes, ears, and other senses to study the creation as the revelation of God. Poets such as Wendell Berry and Gerard Manley Hopkins can help us here, as they guide us in learning to perceive shape, texture, diversity, uniqueness, and beauty in the things of creation. In the way they view creation we can learn to train our senses to perceive God’s presence and discern His revelation in the things He has made.
- Meditate on your observations. Don’t be in a hurry as you contemplate the works of God. Study them closely. What do you see? Hear? Feel? How do the objects of your study present themselves? Do they summon feelings of beauty? Awe? Majesty? Horror? Sadness? Why? What about them makes you think on such things? What do these observations and feelings bring to mind about God and His ways with the creation? I like to make some notes as I’m observing, writing down my thoughts, feelings, and questions as I study the works of God. Then I can prolong my meditation, even for many days, until it begins to yield the insights and illumination I seek.
- Associate your observations with Scripture. Does the creation suggest something to you of orderliness, frailty, power, immensity, incomprehensibility, tragedy, surprise, abundance, or joy? These are the works of God’s hands, and they are His servants, fulfilling His purposes in the cosmos (Psalm 119:89-91). The creation obeys His Word explicitly (Psalm 147:15-18), and, as it does, it reveals to us something about the One Who made and sustains it. But what? Let your observations in the created order drive you back to Scripture; and let the light of Scripture draw in the light of creation to help you understand or experience God and His will in more brilliant illumination. It is one thing for us to know that God is majestic. It is quite another thing to experience majesty—as from a mountain height, overlooking waves crashing against a craggy shore, or contemplating towering thunderheads – and then to bring that experience of majesty back to a text like Psalm 8:1 and interpret our feelings more directly into the verbal revelation of Scripture. We will know the majesty of God much more intimately, and the words of Scripture will take on a deeper and more personal meaning.
- Celebrate your experience. Let your observations and experiences lead you to celebrate God, and the ways you are beginning to know Him better through the things He has made. Shout with thanksgiving. Write a song or a poem. Offer praise and thanks to the Lord for His infinite wonder, goodness, beauty, and might. Draw a picture. Take a photograph. Sing a hymn. Let your inward experience of God’s revelation lead to some outward expression of His glory, as you celebrate the deeper knowledge of God to which your experience has led you.
- Share your observations. Finally, tell others about what you’ve learned. Don’t keep to yourself the excitement of hearing God’s voice in creation. Take on the calling of being a “docent of glory,” and show others how to discern the witness of creation as it magnifies the Lord before our very eyes and ears. Just as you might be willing to share some insight gained from your study of Scripture with a friend or the members of your Bible study group, don’t be shy about pointing them to the revelation of God’s glory in the things He has made, and that you have come to experience through learning to listen to His voice there. You may be God’s instrument in opening a brighter, fuller knowledge of Him to your friends as well.
WHAT WE CAN LEARN
We do not look to the creation for clarity in doctrinal matters. And we do not study the works of God in creation apart from the teaching of Scripture, which guides us in how to think about the world around us. But God’s revelation in creation is real revelation; it shows us something about Him and invites us to keener insights concerning His will and deeper experiences of His presence all around us.
What we can learn from creation is a firmer, more profound and experiential sense of the steadfast love of the Lord; His faithfulness, majesty, and might; His unsearchable wisdom; and His beauty, goodness, and unchanging truth. The study of creation can bring deep delight, sharpened understanding, and more personal experiences of the presence of God. Yes, we must study God’s Word in Scripture; but let us not neglect the “book of creation,” where the voice of God speaks clearly and truly, inviting us to richer experiences of His grace and truth.
How might you begin to listen for the voice of God in the things He has made? How would you expect doing so to benefit you? Do you have a friend who could join you in this undertaking?
T. M. Moore is a fellow of the Wilberforce Forum. He serves as pastor of teaching ministries and director of the Center for Christian Studies at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church in Knoxville, Tenn. Readers can visit his daily blog at www.cedarspringsccs.com. T. M. is the editor of the series Jonathan Edwards for Today’s Reader (P & R), the latest volume of which is Pursuing Holiness in the Lord. His latest books are Consider the Lilies: A Plea for Creational Theology (P & R) and God’s Prayer Program: Passionately Using the Psalms in Prayer (Christian Focus). He and his wife and editor, Susie, make their home in Concord, Tenn. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (Crossway).
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