Recently, I invited students to consider what it means to say God speaks through paper and ink. That somehow this book, with different authors and genres is God’s word to us. Scripture points us to God’s action in Jesus Christ, declaring that God became a human being, took on real flesh and blood, fully God and fully human as Nicea and Chalcedon creatively testify. My invitation to students was to think deeply about the truth of the Christian faith. It’s one thing to believe because you feel you have too, that somehow you’ll disappoint your family or pastor or whoever it might be. It’s another thing entirely to awaken to the truth of Christian faith as it echoes within the fabric of reality–the deep mystery of created stuff, what we call matter, that is at the same time knowable and un-knowable. Or, to experience love as that which holds all things together, pushing us outside of ourselves to encounter the rich diversity of creation, and yet somehow realize that within that diversity we remain deeply connected. Within the cosmos we discover signs and markers of incarnation, that God has, from before the foundations of the world, declared all this stuff “good”. In Jesus Christ God has promised to be for us and not against us, showing how God’s Yes is so much louder than God’s no. In Jesus Christ, God has set God’s face toward the creation, binding God’s very self to it, promising to reconcile all things into the divine life of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Yesterday students read The Veneration of Icons by John of Damascus. One line popped out from the text: :”Do not despise matter, for it is not despicable. Nothing is despicable which God has made.” The Eastern Orthodox have a high view of the creation, even if it comes through the filter of Greek philosophy. It’s sad that evangelical Christianity can’t quite accept this. We give lip service to it, “All truth is God’s truth” or “every square inch”, but we are betrayed by their actions, by our fear.
Maybe John of Damascus should be the patron saint of the Liberal Arts. (Maybe his is and I just don’t know it.) He declares that “matter is good”, so explore biology and physics, study mathematics and politics, learn how to paint, how to read music, not for employment, but as an act of worship. We are made in the image of a God who became human to show us how to live. We worship a God who took on human flesh to show us that our embodied, cultural, life is good. Maybe Christian faith is more than escaping the fires of hell, maybe it’s also declaring with the Psalmist:
The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.