The ‘Three Books of God’ and What They Can Teach Us

By: Brian Harris

If you’re into theology there is a fair chance that you’ve heard about the ‘two books of God’.

There is the ‘book’ of nature, where creation points to the creativity, power and majesty of God, and then there is the Bible, which records hundreds of “God turned up” events and helps us to understand what they mean and how they teach us about God.

Ps 19 is often used as an example of these two sources of knowledge about God. It starts: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge,” before shifting focus in v7, “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.” Here we learn about God through both nature and Scripture.

A Third ‘Book’

Is the title of this post then a typo – a slightly awkward error in suggesting three books of God instead of the tried and trusted two? And if a third, which book is it?

Can I suggest that the third book is us – people. Don’t object too quickly. Remember, this is how it was meant to be. After all, people are made in the image of God. They are meant to represent God in the world. They carry God’s image within them. When we see people in action we should learn something about God.

“Ah yes,” you say, “but haven’t you heard of the fall? People are no longer who they are meant to be.” Some might go yet further. “Haven’t you heard of the total depravity of man? Sin permeates every part of our being. The fall was not simply a 15% reduction in the goodness of people – it was the entire loss of our intended humanity. Every aspect of life has been devastated by the fall.”

Hmmm. Perhaps. But then again, perhaps not.

Think about the wonderfully nuanced way Jesus spoke about people. According to Jesus, Samaritans could be good and genuine neighbours. In the parable of the prodigal son Jesus compares God to an anxious father waiting for the return of his wayward son. He does not seem to think that God was diminished by the comparison. In Matt 7:9-12 he asks if earthly fathers would give their children stones if they asked for bread, or a snake if they asked for fish. His line of reasoning is, if human fathers are too good to do this, how much more can we trust the goodness of God? Perhaps Jesus hadn’t been told of our total depravity when he made these daring comparisons. To be sure, he is reminding us that God’s enactment of these virtues is greater than ours, but he still works from the assumption that ours are in the right ballpark.

God Teaches us Through One Another

What’s this to do with the third book of God? Simply this. We sometimes don’t notice how much God teaches us through one another. Jesus didn’t make this mistake. The majority of his parables are taken from daily life. As he observes people juggling the joys and stresses of life, Jesus finds pointers back to God. Simply put, Jesus was an astute observer of life, and if we want to be like Jesus, we should aim to be close observers as well.

How do the three books work together?

Perhaps we can view them as conversation partners. The heavens declare the glory of God – indeed they do… but what are they saying in drought, flood or famine? The scriptures remind us of the many different things God could be saying through this – is this warning, judgment, or an invitation to steward the earth better? Or perhaps it’s simply a cycle to which we creatively adapt. Or perhaps it’s a reminder that while so much lies within our hands, so much also lies outside of them. The third conversation partner (people) might then join in. We might name those who have been impacted by drought, flood or famine, and challenge each other to step up and respond with compassion and kindness – to be like Christ to one another. That’s what image bearers should do.

In the C.S.Lewis Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan the lion serves as a picture of what God is like. Lucy asks Mr Beaver if Aslan is a safe lion, to which Mr Beaver indignantly replies, “Course he isn’t safe. But he is good. He is not a tame lion.” Now it is true that when we quote C.S.Lewis it can feel as though we are quoting scripture, but we aren’t. We are listening to our own conversation about God and learning from it. And the idea that God is not safe but that God is good is one that resonates with most of us.

What am I saying?

If it be through art, literature, an overheard conversation, angry voices at the supermarket, the latest figures on anxiety, or a random act of kindness – let it join in the conversation of helping to spot where God is working and what God is saying. For when we listen closely to all three books of God, we start to spot God in unexpected places. Sometimes that is more stretching than we might imagine, for as Mr Beaver so emphatically declares, “Course he isn’t safe. But he is good.”

Article supplied with thanks to Brian Harris.

About the Author: Brian is a speaker, teacher, leader, writer, author and respected theologian who is founding director of the AVENIR Leadership Institute, fostering leaders who will make a positive impact on the world.

Feature image: Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash