I remember the day Metallica came to church.
It was late Saturday night when I got the call from a representative of Warner Music. “Lars Ulrich [the band’s drummer] heard about your upcoming worship service. He’s intrigued that you’re not slamming the band and wondered if he could send a camera crew to record the event. Would that be OK?” she asked. “He’d come himself, but he’s just left town on tour.”
“Ah . . . sure,” I stammered, “everyone’s welcome at our church.”
Sure enough, the next morning the crew arrived, along with 200 first-time visitors, heavy-metal fans who’d heard about the service on an “upcoming concerts segment” of the local rock radio station’s news.
The gospel as news—what a concept!
And that Sunday morning it was preached via the graphically raw lives and lyrics of a monster metal band. Through the parable of Metallica, God spoke.
Yes, God spoke.
Who else could have created these musically gifted image-bearers? Whose Spirit would have inspired them to cry out against the injustices of religious manipulation, deceptive consumerism, and relational brokenness? And whose love is now graciously guiding and keeping them as they slowly realize that they can’t drink, drug, or scream their anger away, that they need to forgive instead?
To whom does Metallica belong, anyway?
Yeah, they’re sinners—just like you and me—but that doesn’t squelch the Spirit, does it? The Holy Spirit is sovereign and blows wherever it wills, inside and outside the church, through sinful preachers as well as errant heavy-metal band members.
John Calvin once wrote, “If we regard the Spirit of God as the sole fountain of all truth, we shall neither reject the truth itself, nor despise wherever it shall appear, unless we wish to dishonor the Spirit of God. For by holding the gifts of the Spirit in slight esteem, we contemn [show contempt for] and reproach the Spirit himself” (Institutes II.ii.15).
Struggling with the very honest question of the source of the profound truths he was encountering in the writings of his non-Christian contemporaries, Calvin had no option but to name and claim that truth as God’s. Who else can author truth?
Augustine, too, saw that truth potential everywhere. He noted that there “cannot be a nature in which there is no good” (quoted by Niebuhr, Christ and Culture, p. 211).
Think about that. Everything, no matter how twisted and perverted by sin, still has some of God’s original goodness in it. So if all truth really is God’s and everything has some of God’s good truth still in it, how do we treat that truth when we encounter it in our lives, movies, sports, science, and songs?
Do we see it as even faintly authoritative or revelatory?
Perhaps we’re standing on holier ground than we think.
From Van Gogh to U2
The work of the Spirit is not an abstract, inanimate theological concept. It’s real, personal, alive today. It proceeds from the heart of the Father, emanates from the mind of his Son. Right now Christ’s Spirit is personally holding all of creation together (Col. 1:15-17).
And if he authored it all and now holds it all and is—even as we read—making it all new, is that not something we should be able to perceive?
Yes, there’s mystery in all of this, “for now we see though a glass darkly” (1 Cor. 13:12), but why wouldn’t the movements of God’s Spirit be perceivable? Wearing the glasses of faith, why shouldn’t we expect to see and know God more in every moment, on every street corner, in all spheres of his creation?
In architecture we discover that it’s God’s spacious goodness that we experience in that “just right” physical place. It’s God’s grace in that perfectly designed environment—a reminder of a garden we once knew and a foreshadowing of a flawless future city.
An oil-industry entrepreneur describes, with a sense of co-creative pride, aerial photographs of a recent billion-dollar idea. Reflecting the image of his Maker, it’s almost as though he’s created something out of nothing, putting things together in a way no one could have imagined, saving huge amounts of energy and reducing environmental degradation.
Contemplate in a Van Gogh painting the vibrant beauty and creativity of God in both artwork and artist. Vincent himself wrote that when he painted the color yellow he was painting the presence of the Divine, and that when he painted the sun he was painting Christ. The color yellow! It’s all around you.
Consider physicist-theologian John Polkinghorne’s assertion that a scientist, in undertaking her nature-altering experimentation, is one of the best arguments for the possibility of a God who providentially intervenes in our naturally ordered world.
Stunned by the profoundly mysterious spirit animating a honey-bee hive, 20th-century entomologist Maurice Maeterlinck likened it to the Holy Spirit holding all things, keeping all things. And Jan Swammerdam, a 17th-century scientist, once wrote, “I present you the omnipotent finger of God in the anatomy of the louse.”
God speaking via the glory of a Super Bowl victory, the unrelenting pursuit of beauty and perfection in the world of fashion, the prophetically piercing lesson of a global current event, or the latest U2 song—could it really be?
What if all creation is meant to be seen as an icon, not so much looked at but looked through?
Perhaps God always intended for us to know him via both world and Word, two revelatory books meant to be read in concert. They illumine one another, protecting us from the extremes of bibliolatry and nature worship, synergistically revealing more than either book could alone.
Creation, after all, teaches me things the Bible can’t (a firsthand view of God’s infinite, omnipotent power). And the Bible teaches me things creation can’t (especially in relation to Christ and the gospel). But together we find the fullest picture of who God is.
Learn to Discern
So how do we do it then? How do we learn to discern the Spirit’s movements in our daily lives?
We begin by letting our theology—providence, common grace, and a huge view of God’s sovereignty—not only give us permission to look but the imperative to.
Consider the state of your heart as well. Kierkegaard, in his commentary on Paul’s phrase “Love believes all things,” talks of a knowing that only a heart filled with love can know. It’s the kind of love a parent has for her child, that God has for his creation—a love that is able to see the greater good, a larger truth, in spite of an ever-present sinful frailty, a love that doesn’t lose sight of the beauty of an earlier, pre-Fall time.
And ponder the fact that God created you with a prophetic imagination. We are “made in the image of the imagination of God” (George MacDonald). To know God in all of his creation seems almost unfathomable. Yet if we have the faith to see, to trust God’s Spirit, we’ll realize he’s speaking all over the place.
Before the incarnate Jesus left his distraught followers, he made a promise: “Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. . . . When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come” (John 16:7, 13).
Or as Cormac McCarthy pens it via a conversation between a dying father and his young son in his poignant book on filial love, The Road:
“You said you wouldn’t ever leave me.”
“I know. I’m sorry. You have my whole heart. You always did. You’re the best guy. You always were. If I’m not here you can still talk to me. You can talk to me and I’ll talk to you. You’ll see.”
“Will I hear you?”
“Yes, you will. You have to make it like talk that you imagine. And you’ll hear me. You have to practice. Just don’t give up. Okay?”
- Where do you see signs of the Holy Spirit leading us into God’s truth in your everyday life and in the world today?
- What are your criteria for rightly discerning the signs of the Spirit?
- What thought in Van Sloten’s article spoke to your own faith experience?
- Is there anything you question in Van Sloten’s article? If so, what?
- What gives you comfort and hope as you live your faith in our rapidly changing world?