The purpose of this blog is to explore the question of what a new believer needs to understand in order to start his/her spiritual journey in the right direction. We’ve talked about what really happens at conversion, how the new path of discipleship is different, and what to do when we stumble (sin).
The next topic we are going to broach is how to listen to God. Today we will talk about what you can hear by seeing, and next week what we can hear by reading.
One of my favorite mountains is Mt. St. Helens. This is the famous mountain that blew its stack on May 18, 1980. It is one of the few volcanoes that blew out the side of the cone instead of the top, and the effect was devastation for miles. It is erie to drive up to the mountain. About twenty miles out you start noticing that the trees are knocked over. Then you realize that all their tops pointing at you and all their roots are pointing in the direction you are going. This goes on for miles. Eventually you realize that the trees in fact are pointing out from a central location, which of course is the volcano. If you are unfamiliar with the history of the area, you’d think aliens had landed.
When the blast hit Spirit Lake, which sits at the base of the mountain, it pushed the water out onto the mountain on the far side. The side of the volcano slide into the empty lake bed; when the water rushed back into the lake bed, it was 200 feet higher than before. Amazing power.
While Mt. St. Helens fascinates me, it is Spirit Lake that made the greatest impression. The Park Service was careful not to intervene but rather let nature rebuild itself. It is a tribute to the wonder and power of our God who created the world to flourish in the aftermath of such devastation. You park your car and start to walk down a path to the lake. It is a narrow path that forces you to walk in single file. I was in the middle of our group, and when I went around the first bend in the path, I felt like I was the only person on the face of the earth, if I were in fact still on earth. The hikers ahead of me had gone around the next bend in the path, and the people behind had not yet caught up. I felt all alone in the most amazing landscape I had ever seen. I can’t really explain it because it was so unique. Some dead trees. New plant growth. Many colorful flowers the likes of which I had never seen. I truly felt like the only person on the face of the earth. And the silence; it was deafening.
When I look at Spirit Lake, I can hear God. He speaks in my imagination as I try to see what the actual eruption would have been like. The awesome display of God’s power, and yet a power that was nothing compared to Jesus’ word that created the universe. He speaks as I look at the beauty and diversity of the regenesis of the land. As new life pokes its head out through dust and rubble, God declares that he is a God who creates, working powerfully to bring life out of death, and he does so with beauty. As the Psalmist says, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”
Theologically, this is called “General revelation.” It is the biblical conviction that God has made certain information available to all people of all times. This is what all people can know about God because they see it in creation. The main New Testament passage on the topic is Romans 1:19-20. In speaking about all people Paul says, “What may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”
There are three things that all people know about God. He is powerful; seeing creation calls us to confess that the God who created it is powerful beyond comprehension. God is divine, which means he is not human, he is separate from his creation. When we look at the flowers around Spirit Lake, we are drawn to the inevitable conclusion that they do not hold the keys to their own existence, that there was a great designer, a great creator, a great God who made them. And thirdly, while not explicitly stated, all people know that there is a God, and this God is powerful and divine.
We all have places like Mt St. Helens that speak to us. My favorite website is www.hubblesite.org, which is home to the Hubble space telescope. One of my favorite galaxies is the Sombrero Galaxy (www.hubblesite.org/gallery/tours/tour-sombrero). I can just imagine Jesus talking to his father, or perhaps himself (since all great people talk to themselves!), “I think I will make one galaxy really different. Hmmm. I know, I’m going to make a huge galaxy and create billions and billions of metric tons of rock, more than any person can imagine, and encircle not a solar system but the entire galaxy in rock.” “Why do you want to do that?” the Father asks, already knowing the answer. “Because it will help Bill and others understand the greatness of my power, and that will help him trust me when his life gets tough.”
(By the way, that last sentence is the theme of this post.)
When I was younger, I wondered why God made the universe so huge. Now I think I know. I think God made it so vast that when the Hubble space telescope was built and could look almost to the edges of the universe, that you and I could stand and stare in amazement at its pictures and repeat to ourselves, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” Our God, the God we love and serve, is a God of infinite power and might.
Whether it is Spirit Lake, pictures of galaxies, or the flower in your back yard, creation is everywhere screaming to you that it did not make itself, that it is merely a reflection of the beauty of its creator, and that you in turn should learn to hear is voice. This is general revelation, what all people can know about God.
Part of my challenge to the new believer is to learn to listen to God in nature. Slow down. Look at things differently. What used to be spring in the forrest with many shades of green is now the voice of God telling you that he is, that he is powerful, that he is beautiful, that he creates, and that he creates wonderfully and with diversity, and that this world was made for us.
Welcome to the next step of your journey.