While orbiting the moon in 1968, Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders described the crew’s close-up view of the moonscape. He called it “a foreboding horizon . . . a stark and unappetizing-looking place.” Then the crew took turns reading to a watching world from Genesis 1:1–10. After Commander Frank Borman finished verse 10, “And God saw that it was good,” he signed off with, “God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth.”
The opening chapter of the Bible insists on two facts:
Creation is God’s work. The phrase “and God said . . .” beats in cadence all the way through the chapter. The entire magnificent world we live in is the product of His creative work. All that follows in the Bible reinforces the message of Genesis 1: Behind all of history, there is God
Creation is good. Another sentence tolls softly, like a bell, throughout this chapter. “And God saw that it was good.” Much has changed since that first moment of creation. Genesis 1 describes the world as God wanted it, before any spoiling. Whatever beauty we sense in nature today is a faint echo of the pristine state God created.
The Apollo 8 astronauts saw Earth as a brightly colored ball hanging alone in space. It looked at once awesomely beautiful and fragile. It looked like the view from Genesis 1.
2 When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall. 3 Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear;
though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.
4 One thing I ask from the
Gazing out my open study window, I hear birds chirping and see and hear the wind gently blowing in the trees. Bales of hay dot my neighbor’s newly tilled field, and large, white cumulus clouds stand out in contrast to the brilliant blue sky.
I’m enjoying a little bit of paradise—except for the almost incessant noise of the traffic that runs past our property and the slight ache in my back. I use the word paradise lightly because though our world was once completely good, it no longer is. When humanity sinned, we were expelled from the garden of Eden and the ground was “cursed” (see Gen. 3). Since then the Earth and everything in it has been in “bondage to decay.” Suffering, disease, and our deaths are all a result of humankind’s fall into sin (Rom. 8:18-23).
Yet God is making everything new. One day His dwelling place will be among His people in a renewed and restored creation—“a new heaven and a new earth”—where “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:1–4). Until that day we can enjoy the bright splashes and sometimes wide expanses of breathtaking beauty we see around us in this world, which is just a small foretaste of the “paradise” that will be.
Lord Howe Island is a small paradise of white sands and crystal waters off Australia’s east coast. When I visited some years ago, I was struck by its beauty. Here, one could swim with turtles and with fish like the shimmering trevally, while moon wrasses drifted nearby, flashing their neon colors like a billboard. In its lagoon I found coral reefs full of bright orange clownfish and yellow-striped butterfly fish that rushed to kiss my hand. Overwhelmed by such splendor, I couldn’t help but worship God.
The apostle Paul gives the reason for my response. Creation at its best reveals something of God’s nature (Rom. 1:20). Lord Howe Island’s wonders were giving me a glimpse of His own power and beauty.
When the prophet Ezekiel encountered God, he was shown a radiant Being seated on a blue throne surrounded by glorious colors (Ezek. 1:25–28). The apostle John saw something similar: God sparkling like precious stones, encircled by an emerald rainbow (Rev. 4:2–3). When God reveals Himself, He is found to be not only good and powerful but beautiful too. Creation reflects this beauty the way a piece of art reflects its artist.
Nature often gets worshiped instead of God (Rom. 1:25). What a tragedy. Instead, may earth’s crystal waters and shimmering creatures point us to the One standing behind them who is more powerful and beautiful than anything in this world.
One Sunday, I stood by the gurgling stream that wends its way through our North London community, delighting in the beauty it brings to our otherwise built-up area. I felt myself relax as I watched the cascading water and listened to the birds chirping. I paused to give the Lord thanks for how He helps us to find rest for our souls.
The Lord instituted a time of Sabbath—a time for rest and renewal—for His people in the ancient Near East because He wanted them to thrive. As we see in the book of Exodus, He tells them to sow their fields for six years and rest on the seventh. So too with working six days and resting on the seventh. His way of life set apart the Israelites from other nations, for not only they but also the foreigners and slaves in their households were allowed to follow this pattern.
We can approach our day of rest with expectancy and creativity, welcoming the chance to worship and do something that feeds our souls, which will vary according to our preferences. Some will like to play games; some to garden; some to share a meal with friends and family; some to take an afternoon nap.
How can we rediscover the beauty and richness of setting apart a day to rest, if that’s missing from our lives?
Sunsets. People tend to stop what they are doing to watch them . . . snap pictures of them . . . enjoy the beautiful view.
My wife and I watched the sun setting over the Gulf of Mexico recently. A crowd of people surrounded us, mostly strangers who had gathered at the beach to watch this nightly phenomenon. At the moment the sun fully slipped below the horizon the crowd broke out with applause.
Why do people respond like that? The book of Psalms offers a clue. The psalmist wrote of God ordering the sun to praise its Creator (Ps. 148:3). And wherever the rays of the sun shine across the earth, people are moved to praise along with them.
The beauty that comes to us through nature speaks to our souls like few things do. It not only has the capacity to stop us in our tracks and captivate our attention, it also has the power to turn our focus to the Maker of beauty itself.
The wonder of God’s vast creation can cause us to pause and remember what’s truly important. Ultimately, it reminds us that there is a Creator behind the stunning entrance and exit of the day, One who so loved the world He made that He entered it in order to redeem and restore it.
Desert Solitaire is Edward Abbey’s personal history of his summers as a park ranger in what is now called Arches National Park in Utah. The book is worth reading if only for Abbey’s bright language and vivid descriptions of the US Southwest.
But Abbey, for all his artistry, was an atheist who could see nothing beyond the surface of the beauty he enjoyed. How sad! He lived his entire life in praise of beauty and missed the point of it all.
Most ancient peoples had theories of origins enshrouded in legend, myth, and song. But Israel’s story of creation was unique: It told of a God who created beauty for our enjoyment and childlike delight. God thought up the cosmos, spoke it into being and pronounced it “beautiful.” (The Hebrew word for good also signifies beauty.) Then, having created a paradise, God in love spoke us into being, placed us in Eden, and told us, “Enjoy!”
Some see and enjoy the beauty of the Creator’s good gifts all around them, but don’t “worship him as God or even give him thanks.” They “think up foolish ideas of what God [is] like. As a result, their minds become dark and confused” (Rom. 1:21
Others see beauty, say “Thank You, God,” and step into His light.
The glory of the Roman Empire offered an expansive backdrop for the birth of Jesus. In 27 bc Rome’s first emperor, Caesar Augustus, ended 200 years of civil war and began to replace rundown neighborhoods with monuments, temples, arenas, and government complexes. According to Roman historian Pliny the Elder, they were “the most beautiful buildings the world has ever seen.”…
Fifteen-year-old Wilson Bentley was captivated by the intricate beauty of snowflakes. He looked with fascination through an old microscope his mother had given him and made hundreds of sketches of their remarkable designs, but they melted too quickly to adequately capture their detail. Several years later, in 1885, he had an idea. He attached a bellows camera to the microscope and, after much trial and error, took his first picture of a snowflake. During his lifetime Bentley would capture 5,000 snowflake images and each one was a unique design. He described them as “tiny miracles of beauty” and “ice flowers.”
No two snowflakes are alike, yet all come from the same source. So it is with followers of Christ. We all come from the same Creator and Redeemer, yet we are all different. In God’s glorious plan He has chosen to bring a variety of people together into a unified whole, and He has gifted us in various ways. In describing the diversity of gifts to believers, Paul writes: “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work” (1 Cor. 12:4-6).
Thank God for the unique contribution you can offer as you help and serve others.