Hardwood in Winter, a Red-Headed Woodpecker, & Jonathan Edwards: A Theological Snapshot

Anyone who knows me likely knows I’m a tree aficionado. I go few days, regardless of season, without photographing trees. Today during a jog, the one above captivated my attention each time I rounded the track. Towering above a white picket fence, with magnolias and myriad oaks behind it, and with the sidewalk meandering beneath, I found myself staring in appreciation.

How one views scenes like this reveals clues to one’s theology. In a universe devoid of a sovereign Creator, why would such a scene exist? Why would men have designed the fence such and such a way? And why would streetlights be placed a certain thought-out number of meters apart? And why would we manicure our lawns and plant shrubs and cultivate them for aesthetic appreciation if the universe is a cosmic accident? It seems clear that intention and design–divine and human–pervade the universe and all creatures. Why would cosmic accidents entertain themselves via intricate design? After all, animals don’t design fences, plan the architecture of a running track, place streetlights, and plant and preserve timber. No, those are intentional acts by intelligent creatures who owe their own particular giftings to their Builder, too.

I jogged a bit more and returned eventually to my car and drank the remainder of a gallon of water I’d kept on the floorboard. Something caught my eye. I looked up on a pine telephone pole. A red-headed woodpecker was circling the pole and pecking away. His colors were magnificently bright. I could have named him “Patriot” because he was red, white, and blue. He ascended and descended the pole, pecking away at the pole, that red head moving faster than I could capture with my eye. Amazing. LIke the tree, the bird captivated me. Why such beauty? Why the eyes to see it? Why the sun to provide light? Why the ability to sense beauty and want to appreciate it and share it?

Later I returned to my place, tired and hungry. While I prepared my supper, I returned to a book I’m reading this week, Stephen Nichols’ Heaven on Earth: Capturing Jonathan Edwards’s Vision of Living in Between.

Nichols, an Edwards scholar, writes in plain language about the theological giant that was Jonathan Edwards, and it struck me how much I was reading about Edwards reflected what I’d seen earlier during my jog:

Just because this world will burn does not mean that we should leave it rotting on the vine. God put Adam and Eve in the garden to cultivate it. As they did, the garden would reveal the presence and the glory of its Creator at every turn, displayed with the dawn of every new day. Though this world is fallen and sin-cursed, it remains God’s world. He desires that we cultivate it, and even that we enjoy it (48).

Since we find that we live in an intelligible world, and we have the means not only to apprehend it, but also the abilities to cultivate, shepherd, and tend it, do not all these realities clearly suggest and imply not only the existence of a Creator, but also that He delights in beauty, and in making it for us to enjoy? Why? It is possible that He intends beauty as a conduit for our delight in its Author? And sometimes that could be as simple and yet spectacular as a hardwood in winter, a red-headed woodpecker, and a theological worldview that acknowledges the masterpiece we tread upon.

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