The Virtue of Starlings

Genesis 1:20 Then God said, “Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the heavens.”

So much wonder packed into so few words.  The colors alone of fish and birds are astonishing and gorgeous.  The feeding, nesting, schooling, mating, in short all the instinctual patterns of each particular species is so varied, creative, unusual and mutually integrated in a whole symphony of ecologies.  He seems to fill every space in creation with beauty, wonder, curiosity, inspiration, and delight.  Beauty and creativity have no limits or bounds, and every creature displays the nature and character of God for those with eyes to see.

The natural world is an expansive illustration of the beauty of God, a beauty which is not only sensual but also moral, “the beauty of holiness.” We often perceive the natural world as amoral since it has no moral will and even the animals are driven by instinct.  But just as human systems take on the characteristics of their creators so that they reflect the same morals of generosity and care or injustice, inhumanity, and neglect, so the natural world at birth reflected its Maker, and it still carries much of that goodness, though now compromised: the self-sacrificing mother instinct, communal affinity within species, and synergistic eco-systems to name a few. 

That is to say, the natural world is not simply illustrative of God’s character (his moral attributes), but actively expresses it.  It is an instrument of his goodness to us, love made active.  The earth is not only physically beautiful, but morally beautiful… or it was once and will be again when all is redeemed.  The natural world is now often cruel, harmful, antagonistic, and untrustworthy, but it was not always so, and its startling beauty still haunts our dreams with its potential for undiluted goodness when the lion and lamb lie down together and the mountains and seas shout praises to their Maker.  If the tattered remnants of this earth’s glory are so breath-taking, imagine it once restored!  We are surrounded daily by the goodness of God, though now diluted.  May we learn to see his face reflected in all that is good.

Lord, the ancient outlines of good in the world are hard to make out through the many fractures that mar its beauty.  The sighs often drown out the songs, and we cry out “how long?”  My faith in your grace seems stuck in my brain without seeping into my heart to do its healing work… or perhaps it is just a much longer process than I had hoped.  Give me new hope today.

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