In the Bible, God repeatedly describes himself and his saving work in relation to physical things such as a rock, horn, eagle, lion, shield, wave, ox, and more. In his ministry, Jesus used a lily, sparrow, sheep, coin, fish, harvest, banquet, lamp, stone, seed, and vineyard to teach about the kingdom of God. Job 12:7-8 says, “Ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you.”
Bible Gateway interviewed Andrew Wilson (@AJWTheology) about his book, God of All Things: Rediscovering the Sacred in an Everyday World (Zondervan, 2021).
What do you mean when you write, “Things exist not for their own sakes but to draw us back to God”?
Andrew Wilson: We tend to see objects as things-in-themselves, which exist exclusively for natural reasons and natural purposes. But they aren’t. All things are created with a specific purpose—the glory of God—and they achieve that purpose partly by revealing to us something of who God is. They are there to prompt revelation, and insight, and worship.
How is the world theomorphic?
Andrew Wilson: Theologians often talk about Scripture’s use of “anthropomorphic” language, in which we use human terms to describe divine realities (God is a “Rock” or has “hands”). But we can also turn this on its head, and see the world as “theomorphic”: rocks exist in order to reveal to us that God is steady, immovable, firm, someone you can build your life upon when all around you is sinking sand. It’s a way of saying that things draws their meaning from God, not the other way around.
Why did Jesus teach his lessons using ordinary illustrations and what should we learn from that pedagogical method?
Andrew Wilson: I think Jesus told people to “consider the lilies,” at least in part, because they make a particular point easy to understand (flowers don’t worry, so you don’t have to either). Visual, everyday illustrations are helpful for all of us, and especially for those who do not primarily engage with the world through reading (like his original audience). But there’s another benefit, which is that you’re prompted to reflect on (say) freedom from anxiety every time you see a lily. They serve as touchpoints, or signposts, that continually remind you of the truth that Jesus was teaching. Using “things” to illustrate theological truths makes the truths clearer, but it also makes them more memorable.
How is your book structured and how would you like people to read your book?
Andrew Wilson: A friend of mine told me he read one of my previous books a chapter at a time, while he was running the bath in the morning. He wanted to encounter the goodness of God at the beginning of his day, so he’d turn on the taps, read a chapter, then have his bath and get on with things afterwards. I love that. I expect most people will read a chapter in a day, and meditate on the “thing” as they go about their business—but no doubt others will use it differently. Whatever works!
What conclusion do you draw when the Bible says that humans are created from the dust of the ground?
Andrew Wilson: Dust speaks of death, and decay, and decomposition. Every time we sweep or hoover (vacuum) or clean behind the radiator, dust proclaims to us: you are made of that. One day, you too will die. As the funeral liturgy puts it: ashes to ashes, dust to dust. And I think it’s vital for us to be confronted by that reality—just as it’s vital for us to remember and celebrate the fact that one day, we’ll no longer be modelled on the man of dust (Adam), but on the man of heaven (Christ), as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15. The new creation will be dust-free.
How do earthquakes show God’s glory?
Andrew Wilson: It seems that “theophanies” in Scripture—appearances of God—are frequently accompanied by earthquakes. God’s glory descends, and the earth shakes. I think that’s because quaking, or shaking, is always what happens when a glorious/heavy entity lands on a flimsy/light one: a divebomber in a swimming pool, a bar of gold in a frozen lake, or whatever. When the weight of God’s glory collides with human transience and lightness, you get displacement. That, I suspect, is what happens when God visits Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and so forth.
Why does the Bible emphasize horns?
Andrew Wilson: Horns are a symbol of strength, as you can see throughout the Psalms. They are animal weaponry, designed to be raised high in battle and then used to crush the enemy. But they also become symbols of fertility, plenty, and abundance—many of us would be familiar with the image of the cornucopia, for instance—as well as receptacles for anointing oil, which is intended to be poured out on the head of those whom God has called. Horns represent all of those things: strength, abundance, anointing, and more besides. It’s a really rich image.
What did Jesus mean that his followers are the salt of the earth?
Andrew Wilson: All sorts of things! It’s one of those very well-known phrases where the meaning is often debated. Does Jesus mean that we’re preservatives in a rotting system? Flavor-bringers to an otherwise bland world? Sacrificial offerings? Fertilizers in unpromising environments, to help life grow? Signs of judgment upon wickedness? I think Scripture as a whole suggests the answer is all of these at once, depending on the contexts we’re in. What a privilege.
How does fruit show God’s kindness?
Andrew Wilson: Yes, I try and do something cheeky in this chapter, by taking the nine fruits that are mentioned in the Bible (see if you can guess what they all are without looking! *), and mapping them onto the nine fruits of the Spirit Paul talks about in Galatians 5. Collectively, I think the sweetness, texture, color, and uncultivated naturalness of fruit is a startling and refreshing picture of the benevolence, or the kindness, of God. A fruitful world suggests a bountiful God.
How can we be more attentive to the idea that everything in creation tells us something about our Creator?
Andrew Wilson: I think it’s helpful to start with things that have very obvious theological significance: trees, water, bread, wine. Then you can step back and consider other created things that appear throughout Scripture, and ask what they symbolize: oil, thunderstorms, cedars, flesh. Having caught the habit, you can then pan back once more, and speculate (within biblical parameters, of course) on the meaning of things which do not even appear in the Bible: penguins, asteroids, llamas, Australia. The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it (Psalm 24:1).
What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?
Andrew Wilson: At the moment it’s Exodus 34:6: “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” I’ve read two books in the last year that showed me how central that text is to the biblical understanding of God, and now I see it everywhere.
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App and Bible Audio App?
Andrew Wilson: Honestly, I’m not just saying this: I use the website all the time. Every time I prepare a sermon, every time I need to look up a reference, I go to Bible Gateway to print the text. It’s a fantastic resource.
[Editor’s note: The nine fruits mentioned in the Bible (and Andrew Wilson’s corresponding fruit of the Spirit for each one) are: pomegranates (love), olives (joy), grapes (peace), dates (patience), figs (goodness), berries (faithfulness), apples (gentleness), melons and cucumbers (self-control). All demonstrate kindness.]
God of All Things is published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway.
Bio: Andrew Wilson is teaching pastor at King’s Church London and has theology degrees from Cambridge (MA), London School of Theology (MTh), and King’s College London (PhD). He is a columnist for Christianity Today and has written several books, including Spirit and Sacrament: An Invitation to Eucharismatic Worship and Echoes of Exodus: Tracing Themes of Redemption through Scripture.
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