THE DESIGNER’S DELIGHT
By David Feddes
Imagine waking up some morning to see the sun rising in the west. The water in a nearby river is flowing uphill. Beside the river are several trees on which pizzas are growing. An elephant flies overhead. A bull races past, guided by a radar system. Mice walk along following directions on a map. How would you react? Wouldn’t you be astonished to be in a world where the sun rises in the west and goes down in the east, where water runs uphill, where pizzas grow on trees, where elephants fly and bulls have radar and mice follow maps?
But now think about the world we’re actually in. Is this world any less amazing than the world we’ve just imagined? Is it any less amazing for the sun to rise in the east than in the west? Is it any less amazing for water to run downhill than uphill? Is it any less amazing for apples and oranges to grow on trees than it would be for pizzas to grow on trees? Is it any less amazing for eagles to fly than it would be if elephants flew? Is it any less amazing for bats to use radar than it would be if bulls could use radar? Is it any less amazing for salmon to follow internal maps to their spawning grounds than it would be for mice to follow maps? This world is filled with things as amazing as any world we could dream up.
But for some reason, we’re not amazed. We watch the sun come up in the east, and we take it for granted. We just assume that this is the way things work, and we explain it in terms of which way the earth spins. But who says the earth has to spin that way? Why couldn’t it reverse and spin the opposite way? We might answer “inertia,” but what is inertia? It’s just a label. It’s a word for the mysterious fact that things tend to keep doing whatever they’re doing, but it does absolutely nothing to explain that fact.
Then there’s the question of why water flows downhill. Why not uphill? You might say “gravity,” but what kind of answer is that? Again, it’s just a label, not an explanation. It doesn’t tell us where this thing called gravity comes from or why it pulls downward instead of pushing upward. Why be amazed at a fairy tale fantasy that some hidden force would make water flow uphill and not be amazed at the real-life fact that a mysterious force we’ve labeled gravity pulls water downhill?
And then there’s the wonder of living things. Why be any more astonished at flying elephants than flying eagles? Why marvel at the notion of a radar-equipped bull and be bored with radar-equipped bats? Why be shocked at the notion of a mouse following a map, but yawn at the thought of fish and birds that are skilled at navigation? Why be amazed at the thought of trees making pizzas and not be amazed that trees make apples? (For that matter, why not be amazed that people make pizzas?) We live in a world that’s as full of marvels as a fairy tale. It might be amazing for a frog to become a prince, but isn’t it just as amazing for a tadpole to become a frog, or for a caterpillar to become a butterfly?
Our world is full of amazing things, but we are not amazed. Why not? Probably it’s because these things keep being repeated over and over, and repetition dulls our sense of wonder. “Familiarity breeds contempt,” as the saying goes. We stop being amazed, and some of us start to assume that anything which goes on repeating itself is mechanical and dead, running like a machine under the timeless, changeless, joyless laws of physics. But what if the repetition we see in so many things isn’t the result of dull, dead determinism but the handiwork of a joyful Creator who enjoys doing the same delightful thing over and over again?
Small children love repetition. You can read the same book to a child over and over until you’re sick of it, but the child laughs and squeals, “Read it again.” If you play a game the child likes, the little one yells, “Do it again! Do it again!” As we get older, we lose that joy in repetition. Instead of squealing, “Do it again!” we mumble, “Been there, done that.”
What if God is more like a joyful, lively child than a bored, tired adult? G. K. Chesterton says,
Grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again,” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.
Have you ever thought of it that way? Have you ever thought that perhaps the world keeps going, and certain things keep happening, not because of inevitable laws but because a God of boundless life and joy and energy keeps shouting joyfully, “Do it again, do it again”? The things we see as dull cycles are really the rhythms of a joyful Creator. The creatures we fail to marvel at are the astonishing handiwork of God, and they exist for his glory and enjoyment.
The world is brimming with marvels that enchant little children and astound learned scientists. Underlying the almost magical qualities of various creatures are mechanical designs that display God’s mind-boggling wisdom. Even the simplest cells are marvels of design. “The cell,” writes biochemist Michael Behe, “is essentially a completely automated factory, so all assembly has to be done by highly sophisticated robots, not by magic.” Now, if a single cell can be compared to a factory with robots, imagine the complexity of a body made up of billions of cells and the kind of information needed to produce such a body.
Here in the computer age we’re impressed that one small compact disc can store hundreds of books. But that’s nothing compared to the information storage God invented for our bodies. Just one tiny gram of DNA can hold the information equivalent of a trillion CDs! Information scientist Werner Gitt estimates that a quantity of DNA the size of a pinhead could hold so much data that if it were written in books, the books would stack up 500 times higher than the distance from the earth to the moon.
Can anyone imagine the intelligence of the divine Designer who could pack such incredible amounts of information into such a small space? Can anyone grasp the artistic genius of the God who dreamed up all the different creatures with no prompting or pattern but his own creativity? Can anyone fathom the power of the Lord who brought into being living creatures and vast galaxies without having any raw material to start with except his own omnipotence? The universe is a theater which displays God’s glory. One of the silliest ideas ever is the idea that the world and its creatures came to be without a Creator.
Source of Pleasure
There’s another idea, though, which may be even sillier: the idea that God exists but is a killjoy who wants to stifle and spoil our pleasures. That may be the dumbest idea ever. God invented pleasure! Why would he want to ruin it?
When you’re feasting your eyes on a sunset or a waterfall or the fall colors of a tree, who do you think invented all those splendid colors and gave you eyes to see them? When you’re listening to the whisper of a breeze or the chirping of a bird or the giggling of a baby or the melody of music, who do you think invented all those sounds and gave you ears to hear them? When you’re sinking your teeth into scrumptious food and washing it down with a refreshing drink, who do you think got the idea for all that flavor and gave you taste buds to savor it? Who made creatures that could enjoy loving kisses and tender caresses? Who came up with the idea for all this? God did. How could God create all this and be an enemy of pleasure?
God isn’t against happiness; happiness is his idea. In fact, it’s not just his idea. It’s at the very heart of who he is. God is a happy God. The Trinity of God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit, is a union of boundless delight. Father, Son, and Spirit decided to display God’s own overflowing delight by creating a world filled with delightful creatures who would delight in the world and in its Creator. In Psalm 104 the Bible says, “May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works.”
Clothed in Light
Psalm 104 is a great song about God’s joy in all he has made. The psalm begins by saying,
Praise the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty. He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters. He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind. He makes winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants.
What a picture! God uses light the way we use clothes. How do we use clothes? To enhance our appearance and to say something about ourselves, and to cover ourselves. God does something similar when he puts on light as a garment. He creates light to adorn himself and show something about himself, and at the same time he uses it to hide himself from the direct gaze of anyone. By clothing himself with the light he creates, God reveals that he is light and at the same time he conceals his uncreated light that no created being can look upon.
This radiant God stretches out the heavens as a tent. Don’t miss the wording here: “the heavens”—not just “space,” but “the heavens.” The vast realm beyond earth isn’t just empty space but heavenly fullness, for God has spread his tent there. He is present there in glory and divine joy. As for the clouds, they are his chariot. The winds are his angelic messengers. Flames of fire and flashes of lightning are servants, acting on his orders.
Now, God obviously doesn’t need a literal chariot to thunder around from here to there. He’s already everywhere. He doesn’t need clothes to wear or a tent to live in, either. No tent, not even one that stretches across all the galaxies, is able to contain God. As the Bible says, “The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you” (2 Chronicles 6:18). So why talk about God’s tent and chariot and clothing and all the rest? Here in Scripture God is using words to express a reality greater than any words—just as in creation he uses created things to express an eternal glory greater than any created thing. This universe is a creation and revelation of a majestic, wise, and joyous God. He is active everywhere in it and he delights in his works.
All creation is ordered by God and follows divine directions. We take it for granted that water gathers in low-lying places instead of simply covering everything with a uniform layer, the way the atmosphere covers everything. But according to Psalm 104, this wasn’t always so.
You covered [the earth] with the deep, as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. But at your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of your thunder they took to flight; they flowed over the mountains, they went down into the valleys, to the place you assigned for them. You set a boundary they cannot cross; never again will they cover the earth.”
Why doesn’t rain fall upward? Why does ice float instead of sinking? Why doesn’t water flow uphill? Why isn’t the ocean a threat at any moment to flow upward onto the land and overwhelm everything? Why does water act the way it does? Because God set boundaries for the way water can behave. The so-called “laws of nature” that control water are really standing orders from God.
If God gives orders to water that are different from the usual standing orders, the water obeys him. When God wanted to rescue his people and bring them through the Red Sea, he told the water to stand in a heap, and that’s exactly what the water did. When Jesus told stormy waves to be quiet, they were instantly calm. We should praise the Lord for miracles in which water piled up in a heap or waves became calm, but according to Psalm 104, we should also praise him when water behaves in the ways we’re accustomed to. Whether water is obeying special orders, as in a miracle, or obeying standing orders, as when it follows its ordinary patterns—either way, God is the one directing it and delighting in his work.
Psalm 104 goes on to say that God provides mountain springs to give water to wild animals and birds, and that he sends rain to water the earth. In this way, says the psalm, “he makes grass grow for cattle, and plants for man to cultivate—bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart” (v. 14-15). Wine and bread, pizza and pop, oil and aftershave—these are products of the Creator’s joy. God stores wonderful possibilities in things, and he gives us the ability to unlock and develop and enjoy these gifts.
The Creator is interested in more than just his human creatures. Psalm 104 says that he waters great trees which provide homes for all sorts of birds. He provides high mountains not just for people to gaze at but for mountain goats to make a home. They like rugged places that aren’t at all suitable for people or most other animals. When I think about mountain goats strolling along impossible cliffs, or penguins relaxing on a glacier and playing in ice water, or cactuses and camels living in a desert, I’m astonished how the Creator matches such unusual creatures with such unusual homes.
The wild variety of creation is God’s work, and so are the regular patterns. The rhythm of day and night, the changing of seasons, the behavior of sun and moon and earth in relation to each other—these are not just the mechanical movements of lifeless laws. They are the Creator’s doing. The Bible tells of a time when God made a day last twice as long as usual so that his people could win a victory. “The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. There has never been a day like it before or since” (Joshua 10:13-14). God is the one who stopped the sun (or halted the earth’s rotation) that day, but he is also the one who sets the length of every other “normal” day. Psalm 104 says very clearly that God directs the regular rhythm of day and night. Creatures of the night have their allotted time of darkness to seek food. Then the sun comes up, the night creatures steal away, and people and other creatures of the day go out and do their thing until evening.
This regular rhythm is not a result of mechanistic determinism, any more than the vibrant variety in creation is a result of random chance. The patterns and orderly repetitions in creation are the design of a faithful and joyful Creator who actually enjoys doing certain things over and over again. God likes to tell the sun and moon, “Do it again! Do it again!” At the same time, he’s also a God who relishes variety, and so he creates and sustains an astonishing variety of creatures.
In fact, God often enjoys combining sameness and variety. He delights in doing the very same thing and yet does it in a way that it’s never actually quite the same. He makes trillions of snowflakes that all have pretty much the same properties and look pretty much the same at first glance. And yet every one of those snowflakes is unique. Likewise, God makes billions of people who share many of the same characteristics, and yet each person is unique. Billions of people are born with exactly ten fingers, and yet no two people have the exact same fingerprints—and no two people have the exact same personality. We have so much in common, and yet nobody is common. God delights in giving each of us a distinct identity, and he knows each of us by name.
After going on and on about the wonderful works of the Creator, the writer of Psalm 104 catches his breath and exclaims, “How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures” (v. 24).
The psalmist sees the vastness and variety of God’s works, and he can’t help praising God’s wisdom. When he turns his attention from the land to the sea, he notices that not only has God kept the sea from overwhelming creatures on land, but he has also filled the sea with a world of creatures all its own. Psalm 104 says, “There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number–living things both large and small.” God makes oceans a home for another whole world of life, a highway for ships, and a playground for any sea monsters that may be frolicking in its depths, still undiscovered by us. I remember the astonishment I felt the first time I went snorkeling by a coral reef. It was a whole new world, a world blazing with color and swimming with life.
Psalm 104 says that every living thing is created by God and continues to need God at every moment. “These all look to you to give them their food at the proper time. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things. When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth” (v. 27-30).
This world is not a machine that God started up once upon a time and then left to run automatically. It is upheld every moment by the Creator. All creatures—you and I and every other living thing—are absolutely dependent on our Creator for life. When he gives, all things are nourished and satisfied. When he turns away, they are terrified and die. When his Spirit moves, there is fresh creation and renewal.
This utter dependence on God is humbling, but it can also be uplifting. We may think we’re lively and strong and have big plans, but God can end our life at any moment. On the other hand, we may think we’re ruined and dying and beyond hope, but God is a God who creates and recreates, a God who can even raise the dead. In fact, human resurrection will someday be as common and universal as what we now see when dead soil and dry seeds sprout and flourish whenever God renews the face of the earth.
The Creator’s Joy
As the inspired writer of Psalm 104 is caught up in the wisdom and wonder of God’s world, his heart soars beyond the world to the splendor and joy of the One who created such a world: “May the glory of the Lord endure forever,” he exclaims. “May the Lord rejoice in his works–he who looks at the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains, and they smoke.”
A glance from the Creator can set off an earthquake; the slightest touch from his finger can cause a volcano to erupt. That’s how powerful he is. God’s glory and power are so vast that he’s not dependent on his creation in any way. With a look or a touch, he could undo it all in a moment, and he would still be the eternal, blessed God. He would still rejoice in anything he decides to do.
So when the psalmist prays that God’s glory will endure and that the Lord will rejoice in his works, it’s not just a wish or a pious hope. It’s sure to happen. God has the power to make it happen. As the Bible says in another place, “The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths” (Psalm 135:6).
God created the universe first of all for his own glory and joy. He made some things for humanity, but he made everything for himself. Some of God’s creatures declare his glory to the humans who see them, but all of God’s creatures reflect God’s glory back to the Lord who always sees all of them. The Creator made billions of creatures in seas and oceans that no one will ever see but God himself. He made billions of flowers that spring up and blossom and wither again beyond the sight of anyone but him. He made trillions of stars, most of which lie beyond the vision of any telescope, but God knows each star by name and delights in every one of them.
All created things, from galaxies to goldfish, declare the glory and joy of God and the excellence of his beloved Son, through whom all things were made. If you could somehow know every fact in this astonishing universe, you would still have only a small hint of the range of God’s wisdom and imagination. If you could somehow experience all the pleasures and splendors of the universe, you would have only a taste of the eternal pleasures that forever overflow in the being of God. If you put together all the vitality of every living thing that ever walked, crawled, swam, or flew, you’d have only a faint glimpse of the unbounded life God has in himself.
Wonder and Worship
This creation is so marvelous and almost magical that many people throughout history have been tempted to worship it. There have been all sorts of nature religions that say various created things are actually gods, and there have been pantheistic religions that say everything is God. In a more scientific age, some of us have gone to another extreme. They tend to think creation is not magical but mechanical, not divine but dead.
The Bible, however, reveals the truth. Creation is vast and overwhelming and delightful and shimmers with divine glory, but the Creator himself is even more vast and overwhelming and delightful and glorious.
So don’t take creation for granted, and don’t worship it, either. Marvel at the creation, and then praise your Creator. Trust his Son Jesus not only as the one through whom all things were made but also as the only one through whom sin-shattered lives can be remade. Welcome his Holy Spirit not only as the one who breathes earthly life into bodies but also as the one who breathes eternal life into souls. Glorify this God. Seek to praise him and please him in all you do. Rejoice with the Creator in his works, and let your joy reflect the Designer’s delight.
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.