Beach Theology

In the opening of his letter to the Roman church, the apostle Paul writes, “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.”[1] In other words, God created the world and left his fingerprints all over it. We need only to look closely at God’s creation to catch a glimpse of what he is like.

While nature is a valuable way to learn about God, the Bible is and must remain our ultimate authority for understanding God. Consequently, if we think nature teaches us something about God that contradicts the Bible, we must conclude that we have misunderstood nature. The Bible provides authoritative outlines of what God is like and even provides a few colors for our picture of God. Nature’s role, then, is to come alongside scripture and add additional details and colors to the picture that the Bible paints of God’s character and actions.

While on a recent trip to the beach in Florida, I reflected upon the details that the ocean can provide to the Bible’s picture of God. Here are four lessons that the beach teaches us about God.

1.God is creative.

I love sunrises and sunsets even when I’m at home, but beach sunsets are famous for a reason. Combine the reflective ocean water with the massive sky over the beach, and we’ve got a recipe for seeing how creative God can be with the colors of a sunset. Furthermore, God’s creativity surpasses a single day; for, every day’s sunset is unique—no two are identical. However, though they are different, each day’s sunset is just as beautiful as was the previous day’s. God is truly a surpassingly creative being!

We really don’t have to travel to the beach to learn this lesson, however; instead, we need only walk out our back door and pay attention to the world around us. God could have created only one type of tree; instead, I see an innumerable variety of trees every time I step outside. Similarly, God could have created only one breed of dog, one type of flower, or one species of insect. Instead, at every turn, we are confronted with a creation that screams of God’s creativity. Whether it’s a beach sunset or a thumbprint, the world preaches to us that our God is creative.

2. God doesn’t need us.

The ocean’s waves are relentless: Day and night, year after year, holidays and weekends, rain or shine, the ocean’s waves have unceasingly crashed against Florida’s coast for millennia. Now consider the fact that the earliest evidence of humans inhabiting Florida comes from approximately 12,000 years ago.[2] Regardless of how old you think the earth is, we can all agree that ocean waves were crashing against Florida’s coast long before human beings were there to enjoy the sand and the surf.

Since God allowed such a beautiful place to exist without human beings even knowing about it, we can infer that God doesn’t need us, and he feels no need to show off for our benefit. Indeed, theology teaches us that God surpasses us at every turn and there is nothing that we could take from him or give to him. Thus, the cross is made all the more significant; for, there is nothing that I could give to or bring to God that would increase his standing, wealth, or power. Consequently, I do not need to be concerned that God may have saved me with ulterior motives; for, in salvation, he gains nothing but me. The beach, combined with scripture, provides a pleasant reminder of God’s independence from us!

3. God is powerful.

Standing in the ocean is nearly impossible. About once every ten seconds, another wave comes along and will carry you off if you’re not careful. A single human being simply is no match for the power of the waves that crash against the coast.

Now, let’s consider God’s power over the ocean. Speaking to Job, God asks, “who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’?”[3] Through this rhetorical question, God gives Job a glimpse of his power. God is the one who makes the ocean waves, powerful though they are, stop at the coastline. He is the one who told the ocean, “you may come this far, but that’s it!”

While individual waves toss us like a child’s doll, God controls entire oceans merely with the power of his words. Here’s the upshot of this idea: Just how powerful must God be if he controls what we consider uncontrollable without lifting a finger? By fiat, he protects the coastlines of the continents while we’re content not to drown in the enormity of the ocean.

4. God is logical and orderly.

After sitting on the beach for a few days, you realize that the ocean has a rhythm to it. As the day goes on, the waves gradually recede as the tide pulls out. A patch of sand that was covered by water at 8 am is covered by another tourist who’s blocking your view at 2 pm! The next morning, that same patch of sand is under water again. Every day, the rhythm is the same. The tide comes in, and the tide gradually goes back out.

This rhythm is not random or haphazard; instead, it is measurable and predictable. Since God created the ocean and the ocean is orderly, we infer that God gave the ocean its order and regularity. Thus, God must have an order about him, for one cannot give what one does not have. Therefore, from the ocean’s tide, we learn that he does not do things on accident, and he does not make things up as he goes along; instead, our God is a God of order and he has a plan for the future, even for things that surpass us.

Conclusion

Our ultimate guide to religious truth is and must be the Bible. However, like all great artists, God has left his fingerprints on his creation, his signature is all around us if we’ll only pay attention. When we stay within the bounds of scripture, nature can add beautiful details and colors to the picture that the Bible paints of God.

Notes & Sources

[1] Romans 1:20, all scripture quotations are from the NIV.

[2] http://dos.myflorida.com/florida-facts/florida-history/a-brief-history/early-human-inhabitants/

[3] Job 38:8-11.

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