“THE heavens are telling the glory of God and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19.1). Indeed so, but many Western minds have been blinded to the fact. How can preachers enable their hearers to embrace the Creator, and acknowledge the fact that “the world is charged with the grandeur of God”, as Gerard Manley Hopkins put it?
First, we surely need to disabuse our hearers of the popular myth that science and religion are incompatible. There is plenty of accessible material available to help us with that, if we are not confident in the realm of science. It makes clear that, rather than opposing faith, science asks us novel and interesting questions in a common search for truth.
As a recent article in New Scientist suggested: “Is it possible that modern cosmology is asking us, not to abandon religion, but to think differently about what gives us life, what it is that’s sacred, where it is we come from — and where we’ll go?”
THAT said, as preachers, we must not confine ourselves to a rational exposition of why faith makes sense. To most of our contemporaries in the West, the world has become disenchanted, and — although faith must be rationally defensible — re-enchantment will not come through rational argument. Preaching, like faith, engages us through our senses and our hearts, as much as our intellect. How could it be otherwise with a God who is love?
One way forward is to encourage our hearers to understand that creation is an ongoing business, not a once-for-all event; and to help them to recognise their experience of the creator God in the here and now.
I believe the best way to do this is to enable them to recover a sense of awe at the wonder of creation for, as Albert Einstein wrote: “Whoever is devoid of wonder, whoever remains unmoved, whoever cannot contemplate or know the deep shudder of the soul in enchantment, might just as well be dead, for he has already closed his eyes upon life.”
Einstein was not a conventional believer, but a sense of awe is very close to worship and, if the worship during which we are preaching is worthy of the name, it will work with our words to enable the Spirit to speak to our hearers at all levels. They might then be able to reassess all their experience to find in it the touch of the creator God.
Then, pray God, they will be more likely to be able to echo the words of the visionary William Blake, who was once asked whether, when he saw the sun setting, he did not see a ball of fire in the sky about the size of a golden guinea.
“Oh, no,” he replied; “Oh, no. I see a multitude of the heavenly host crying ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God almighty.’”
Dr John Inge is the Bishop of Worcester.