The image of God – being spokesperson for a worshipping cosmos

I want to pick up on one throwaway idea on my previous blog. That is the thought that one aim of gaining knowledge, apart from the good of mankind, is to praise God for it. I was prompted in this by a video of Tom Wright, which I won’t link to as he was reflecting someone else’s thought – though no doubt, being Wright, some additional insight drifted in.

The idea was connected with John Walton’s portrayal of Genesis 1 as the inauguration of a cosmic temple (and if you’re not familiar with this, you must read The Lost World of Genesis 1, which is absolutely seminal in a gaining a contemporary understanding of Genesis). On the last day of creation, God places his image in the temple – that image, of course, being man. Just as the image in a pagan temple represented the presence of the deity, and acted as a focus for worship, so in Yahweh’s temple – which is the whole creation – man both represents God and acts as the mediator between the creation and God.

Wright points out that one aspect of this is that, in one sense, the non-sentient cosmos is said to worship God, just by being what it is. But man has the unique privilege of being able to approach an understanding of creation, to wonder at its glory, and to express worship to God for it in rational praise. Only man can express what a tiger, a sequoia or a mountain would have to say to God about its existence. That privilege shows an amazing balance of authority and rule, responsibility and stewardship, beyond the more common concept of merely running the world well. Adam was truly a priest as well as a king.

Clearly this has big implications about our attitude to science, as well as other forms of understanding. The incredible order of the division of a bacterium, the mysteries of quantum mechanics, the very existence of extinct, but wonderful, species and ecosystems – God’s work in them would remain unexpressed were it not for their discovery by man. In a real way it makes sense of what some Christians would regard as the “waste” of the aeons of time before man’s coming into being. I wonder if the “frustration” of creation expressed by Paul in Romans 8 may have much to do with the failure of man, since the fall, both to understand the world adequately and to engage in worship about it.

Indeed, it’s an insight that could cast light on many other aspects of the Bible’s message. For example, the fall itself could be interpreted as man’s passively heeding a defective part of creation’s denigrating God instead of turning that creation into praise. It gives more traction to Paul’s teaching in Romans 1 that the root of sin is the worship of the creation rather than the Creator, when maybe we’d expect it to be “selfishness” or “lack of love”.

Maybe we should rewrite John Wesley’s famous dictum as “Learn all you can. Teach all you can. Worship all you can.”

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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