Everything in creation bears witness to the character and nature of God. Man, made in God’s image, stands unique at the centre of that creation as the visible representation of an invisible God. And the man Jesus Christ is that image made perfect.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). He then goes on to create a three-story universe in six ordinary days (Exodus 20:11).
The first three days are taken up with building the structure—heaven, sky and land. Over the next three days, God puts in the furniture—lights in the heavens, birds and fish to “fly” through their domain, and land-dwelling creatures on the ground floor.
Finally, He makes man.
God could have just created man and had eternal fellowship without the need for any of this, but He didn’t. He brought His invisible attributes to light by creating a world that speaks of God (Psalm 19:1).
In other words, God engraved His own character, nature and divine attributes into the architecture of the house He built. He did the same with all the furniture.
And so, throughout scripture, we discover that God is a rock, a door, a tree, a lion, a lamb, a morning star, a lamp, a fountain, ointment, a hen, a tree, a strong tower, bread, wine, a temple and more.
It is not as though God created the world and then along the way He decided to use “this” bit of creation to describe “that” bit of Himself. Rather, He created everything to deliberately speak of Himself. And so all creation bears witness to God.
Not only has God engraved His attributes into all creation, but He has also revealed His character in Man, made in His image. And so, the God we meet in Genesis, is a God with lips, hands, fingers, a heart, feet, eyes and ears.
Mankind also reflects God’s character as one who feels pain, laughter, desire, grief, anger and joy as well as one who reflects God’s activity as a king, a husband, a builder, a physician, a lawgiver, a judge, a farmer, a shepherd, a father, a gardener, and a warrior.
All creation is therefore symbolic of God in some way. Nothing is without meaning. All of it speaks to man about God. And since Man is made in God’s image, creation is also speaking to man about man.
Job understood this.
But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you, or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you, and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? (Job 12:7-9)
Because God is Spirit, because He is otherwise unseen and unapproachable, God has chosen to manifest Himself through both words and through the things that have been made. Both scripture and symbol. And both are woven into the story.
This not only affects our view of the world but also the way we approach and understand the bible. God does not just come to us with the facts of the matter, with a list of words, but with the beauty of the matter, through all creation.
These symbols in creation and in scripture are important. It’s why men tear down statues, wear a wedding ring and make idols out of stone. All such symbols signify important meaning. And so, reading the Old Testament means reading the symbols as well as the words.
It’s not about cracking a code. It’s about understanding the language of scripture and the way God has chosen to reveal who He is as well as who we are.
In scripture, we learn that men are trees (Isaiah 61:3). Like the trees in the garden of Eden, Adam is made and commissioned to be fruitful. And so, throughout scripture, righteous men are fruitful trees that remain, while the unfruitful are removed (Matthew 3:10).
We see these same symbols applied to war in Deuteronomy 20:19-20. When Israel goes out to war they are not to cut down the fruitful trees as they represent a man’s life. The rest, like Thor’s Oak1, could be cut down.
In Genesis, we meet with a God, who, having built His house, turns His hand to gardening and creates a sanctuary (Genesis 2:8) into which He welcomes a man and a woman to take a seat at His table.
But the man and the women break the house rules and as most of us have experienced, are promptly sent from the table, or worse, uprooted and booted from the house. Such metaphors exist in all of life and are not by accident. They are by design.
When Jesus comes, He comes as the new dwelling place of God and the New Man, the second Adam. He is a Gardener (John 20:15) and a Tree of Life under whose branches fallen man can take refuge.
We live in a world filled with such symbols. Filled with metaphors. Symbols and metaphors carved into the architecture of all creation and representing God’s nature; the pinnacle of which is Man. The head of which is Christ.
And it is our glorious task to understand the words and symbols that make up our world in order to not only understand God but in order to understand who we are and stand amazed at the beauty of our redemption in Christ.
1 Around 723 AD, a missionary named Boniface entered Hesse in Germany. Upon finding a sacred tree named Thor’s Oak, he took an axe to it, cut it down and built a church. Many in the town, believing that the God of Boniface must be greater than Thor, left their paganism behind and converted to Christianity. The remaining pagans later killed Boniface for his efforts.