The Key to Creation

From “God’s Autograph,” How the World Began (1961)

To understand this we must sit down sometime and read Psalm 104 for ourselves. It speaks of all the glories of the earth just as the creation story does, of light and water, mountains and clouds. And yet there is more here than mere joy in nature. Its utterances are rather in the style of worship: ‘O Lord… who coverest thyself with light as with a garment; … thou makest springs to gush forth in the valleys;… thou has made the moon to mark the seasons;…O Lord how manifold are thy works!” And is it any different in Matthias Claudius’ poem, “The moon has risen”? But how good is the softly shimmering moon to us if we do not know the protecting Hand behind it? Then it would be nothing more than a cold, inanimate light in which the proud children of men perform their silly tricks, in which they vegetate in empty light and only end up farther from the goal.

The moon is therefore not always moon; it depends on whose name we see it shine in. And to him who knows this name, to him who knows the heart behind things, everything becomes a sign, really everything. He sees in the waves of the sea the power of God, in the moon his gentleness and the preserving order that sets the limits of the seasons. He sees in the spring and autumn rains the good, sustaining hand of God and for him death itself will become a homecoming in which he will see what before he believed.

And that brings us to the innermost secret of the creation story. Only as we take seriously the words, “God said,” and understand that here someone is actually speaking, that here a heart is expressing itself, will we have the key to creation in our hand. For the man who is a hearing man all things become new. And I do not hesitate to say that then our enjoyment of nature will take an entirely new form. There really is such a thing as a Christian enjoyment of nature, because for us it becomes the garden of God and thus our native home. Then everything becomes home: the beach and the sickbed, the mountaintop and the old folks’ home. Otherwise the familiar will become an alien country and our home a labyrinth.

But this is not only with nature but also with our life. Here too we are always wanting to see signs and detect the direct working of God in what happens to us.

Long ago I was ill for seven years and I still remember well what it was like. I saw other healthy young people jumping about and here I was chained for a long time to a wheel chair. I asked myself, “Why should this be so?” and I thought if I ever found the answer to that question the worst would be over. For then I would know the meaning.

So I set up a definite theory: perhaps God desires to make me more mature, more obedient, and more agreeable through suffering.

But the theory did not work. For there is a degree of physical suffering that simply prevents any kind of reflection and demands that one expend all his energy merely to endure it and get through it.

Moreover, after a while one begins to think that finally he has been tested and refined enough. Now he has graduated from the school of suffering and secured his certificate of maturity. Then the suffering goes on anyhow. And then there is no meaning at all and even time and endlessness speak against God.

So it is by no means true that affliction teaches us to pray. Just as truly it teaches us to curse. Even suffering does not lead us to God. Otherwise we should see the peace of God on the faces of all who are sick with cancer, of all the insulted and injured, of all who are broken and bankrupt. But who would seriously assert such a thing? No, not even suffering leads to God, any more than does nature. It is just the other way around: for him who has found God, his suffering and his pain will also become his native place, a visitation of God…

And that brings us to the hardest question of all. Do we know our Father? We must know him if we want to feel at home in life, if the rebellion or the hopeless resignation in the face of that which torments us is ever to cease. Isn’t it just cheap clerical clack to say, “In his Word you will learn to know him, in this very Word which at the beginning of the world declared, ‘Let there be,’ or which took form in Jesus Christ”? And you want to bang your fist on the table and say, “I hear the Word all right, but what I can’t do is believe.” In a word, God cannot be had directly, even in the Word he is hidden beneath seven seals and veiled in pure enigma…

Here lies the solution of the problem of why God apparently makes it so hard for us, of why he does not shout down from heaven, “I am the chief of the cosmic general staff; don’t get excited when a tactical situation in your life is incomprehensible!” If that were so, the kingdom of God would be like the apparatus of a welfare state. Everything would click, everything would be taken care of; but then we would not need to bother about the thing that took care of us, because it would only be an anonymous apparatus and an apparatus has no heart. Instead of a lovng heard there would be nothing but a filing cabinet.

But God does not want to be like that. He wants us to be near to his heart and therefore to believe what his heart says. That’s why he became one of us. And because he became one of us in Jesus Christ, he can be mistaken for one of us, and then perhaps we say, “This Jesus really is a noble example of the human species. And the same thing happened to him that usually happens to unselfish people: he got trampled.

And this misunderstanding God has to endure. He takes it upon himself for love’s sake, because he made himself so like us that he can be mistaken for a man. But one who sees him in his brotherliness, sharing our dread, our guilt, our loneliness, and our exposure to God-forsakenness can only fall to his knees beneath the power of that love and say: “My Lord and my God!”

He who comes near to the heart of God at this point really sees the world as it was on the morning of creation. For he has gained as his Lord and Brother the one who uttered the “Let there be” at the beginning. And he who thus extends his sovereign hand above the mountains and the firmament to summon them into being knows me and my needs too.

This great vaulting arch between the creation of the world and the lonely hour on Calvary, between the determination of all history and my little personal lot which I endure in my own little corner, this great arch, which the wise cannot comprehend by their logic, nevertheless has its place in the heart of babes. For a children’s hymn that reechoes from the early morning of our youth sums it all up in a single, unspeakably comforting phrase: The Lord who numbered the stars in the blue vault of heaven and holds the universe in his arms “knows you too and loves you.”

Helmut Thielicke (1908-1986) was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian. An opponent of the Nazi regime, he played an important role in reestablishing religious and intellectual life in postwar Germany, founding the theological faculty at Hamburg while also pastoring the city’s main church, the St. Michaeliskirche. His book How the World Began is based on a series of sermons he preached at the church.


Online Archives