By Rev. Tamara Mitchell
This article was originally published in PCJH’s Winter 2023 Pinnacle, “Seeing God in the Arts”
Every year close to three million visitors from around the globe visit Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. The most sought-after site is naturally the Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone. Because so many people come to see Old Faithful, park officials have had to construct specific boundaries, boardwalks, benches and even hotels, to manage the crowds. When this unique phenomenon spouts off in all its glory, the gasps and cheers are visibly heard. Some people clap. Some tear up. Some go silent. People brave long lines and traffic jams to try and catch a portion of this unique display. Why? What is it about seeing water spew out from the ground that evokes such heartfelt, spontaneous actions? What do they sense in their inmost being that stirs, emerges, or awakens?
Awe. Wonderment. Curiosity. Mystery. Felt by every human, in every culture, and in every age. Its commonality is anything but common. Like a well-cut diamond with many facets to heighten the brilliance, so the emotion of awe illuminates the complexities of the human being. Awe inspires. Awe motivates. Awe challenges. Awe creates. Awe unites.
Awe is a natural response to God’s creation. Awe is what we experience when we encounter the creativity of our Creator and the creativity of our Creator’s creation. I am in awe of the creation around us. However, as amazing as Old Faithful is, I am in more awe of the creativity seen in others! And this awe of others inspires me, (hopefully all of us), to live in gratitude to God.
The Reformer, John Calvin, begins his monumental work, “The Institutes of Christian Religion,” with the doctrine of God as Creator. This God is the author and source of all life, and the One who sustains and provides for the entire created order. God created our world for our good so that we might know God’s power and grace. Calvin believed the beauty of creation was intended for two purposes: to show God’s glory and bring joy to God’s children. It is the place in which we, as humans, were specifically purposed and placed to care for and to participate in. As the Psalmist says, “All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your faithful shall bless you. They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power” (Psalm 145: 10-11).
Calvin may have the reputation as being a cold intellectual, a serious theologian, or a highly pietistic scholar, but he had an immense heart for the beauty around him. In Calvin’s mind, the wonders seen in the natural world, as well as those seen in the persons who were incredibly gifted in the creative arts, demonstrate and contribute to God’s majesty, omnipotence, and glory. The heartbeat of Calvin’s theology is soli Deo gloria (for the glory of God). As historian and scholar Belden Lane writes, “Calvin was smitten by God’s beauty as he was overwhelmed by God’s power.” Every creature has been created and called to relish in the glory of God. Awe is the natural response to God’s glory seen in the creative work of God. One author specifies awe as, “the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your current understanding of the world.” Calvin and the Christian world would answer, “there is a name to that ‘presence’.” That name is the Triune God.
We are surrounded by people who consistently invoke awe in us. Through music, artistic talent, creative words, or poetry of motion, they provide the feeling of being in the presence of something that is transcendent. Awe is a powerful emotion that can spur us to perhaps change their attitudes, beliefs, values, and thinking. However, the goal of creative arts is never meant to focus on the person, but on God in Jesus Christ.
This Pinnacle is a small attempt to honor the creativity of Christ and to give us another opportunity to help us see God’s glory all around us. As we read our friends ‘stories, may we enjoy the immense creativity of our Lord God as expressed through them. To God be the glory, great things God has done.