Where in this world is your soul best able to breathe? More popularly put: What is your happy place on the planet? For me, it’s the ocean. Every late spring, my family travels for our collective soul’s respiration and rehabilitation to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Our pilgrimage to the sea reintroduces us to some of the world’s profoundest pleasures. It also reminds us of some of its deepest pains.

My family’s typical beach landing goes something like this: we find a good spot to drop our gear, then I promptly sprint like mad toward the sea, literally leaving my family in the dust (but cherishing them in my heart the whole way). My flight honors a family rule: Daddy goes in first. The water is cold that time of year, but I don’t care. I charge toward the welcoming menace of those mighty waves and undignifiedly crash right into them. And then I scream. As I said, the water is cold! But mostly my shouts are for joy. I hit higher pitches than my four-year-old daughter can. (And her cries can crack windows in the neighboring county!) After I’m pleasantly pummeled back toward the shore, I gain my sea legs and take in my surroundings: my family to one side (getting rather impatient) and a panorama of boundless sky and sea to the other. My most beloved people with me in one of the world’s loveliest locales, my soul breathes deeply, and I am free. But I’m not at all carefree.

As my youngest children happily, nervously approach the swirling sea, I’m acutely aware that my happy place could suddenly become hostile. An unseen rip current could pull any of us offshore and beyond help. The churning depths would pity neither parent nor child. How strange that the waters that soothe the human soul can turn deadly and swallow us whole! The sea can swell to the size of a small mountain and destroy an entire island civilization. When God finished His work of creation, He said that it was all very good. But there is something very not good about creation becoming a killer, sometimes on a massive scale. So, what in the world happened? And why do we have such vital affection for places that can treat us with such violent indifference? Scripture explains.

Genesis 1 and 2 tell us that humanity was the climax and crown of God’s creation. Bearing God’s image and likeness as our essential identity, we were to rule the world in God’s name as His beloved companions. But Genesis 3 tells us that we were not content to represent God; we wanted to replace Him. Under the serpent’s tutelage, we struck at our Creator’s character and sovereignty. We committed cosmic treason, and everything in our stewardship suffered. The good, pliant earth brought forth hurtful thorns. Nature felt the new and terrible need to defend itself.

There’s always been a symbiotic relationship between the condition of our personhood, body and soul, and the condition of the world. When we sin in word, thought, and deed, our hostility toward the Creator continues to harm His creation. The Old Testament prophet Hosea laments: “The Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land; there is only swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery; they break all bounds. . . . Therefore the land mourns, and all who dwell in it languish, and also the beasts of the field and the birds of the heavens, and even the fish of the sea are taken away” (Hosea 4:1–3).

Bearing God’s image and likeness as our essential identity, we were to rule the world in God’s name as His beloved companions.

As God’s world, creation retains a fundamental integrity, what theologian Herman Bavinck calls its “unfathomable interrelationship.”1 Romans 8 tells us that creation feels its undesired futility. Wouldn’t it make sense that we would feel it, too? After all, nature’s futility is our fault. So, if you feel these days as if anxiety is literally in the air, you might be right. At the very least, Scripture tells us that we are far more personally connected to the rest of creation than we often realize or dare to believe. This is heartening news in a time of pandemic, human loneliness, and disconnection.

Feeling pain in this world, and feeling this world’s pain, means we’re in relationship to it. We should allow ourselves to feel nature’s joys as well. We should take into our pores the paradoxes of life in a fallen world that was also created as a fundamentally good world. These paradoxes point to a deeper, unfulfilled totality, a moral character to the universe currently frustrated and intertwined with sin’s parasitic perversions. Bavinck again says, “The gravity and the vanity of life seize on us in turn. . . . Man weeping is constantly giving way to man laughing. . . . Curse and blessing are so singularly interdependent that the one sometimes seems to become the other.”2

The cosmic struggle for holiness and wholeness finds its primary front in fallen humanity. The world’s wild swings between peaceful paradise and tempestuous terror echo the violent oscillations of our hearts. We can be other people’s shelter in the storms of life, yet in a split second we can suddenly become the storm itself, driving them to refuge far away from us. The paradox that is fallen man echoes sweetly and savagely in the natural world. The pain of the cosmos is, most essentially, a human tragedy. Missiologist Johan Herman Bavinck (Herman’s nephew) writes, “Hidden in this . . . process of degeneration and regeneration, of sinking away, and of climbing up again, is a pitiful lament, a lament over a mankind which is unable to stand up and to come to life.”3

How fitting, how beautiful, then, that God would use an image bearer to save the world! This is not just poetic justice; it’s divine justice, real righteousness, because that human Savior is also God. The eternal Word through whom all things were made was made flesh in Jesus, the sinless Man come to redeem what sinful man ruined. Herman Bavinck says that this life’s tangle of blessing and curse points “to the cross which at one and the same time is the highest judgment and the richest grace. And that is why the cross is the mid-point of history and the reconciliation of all antitheses.”4 And in Christ’s resurrection, by the work of the Spirit, a new humanity rises to life.

How fitting, how beautiful that God would use an image bearer to save the world!

The Lord’s saving work is cosmic in scale. Creation’s lapsed caretakers crucified Christ, but the rocks nearly came alive when God incarnate came near. When people were irritated at the loud praise crowds were giving Him, Jesus said, “If these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40). Jesus says He is making all things new (Rev. 21:5), and He begins by making us new. Peter calls us “living stones” (1 Peter 2:5), and Paul calls us “new creations” (2 Cor. 5:17), personified previews of the perfection to come. Paul again: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Rom. 8:19). Our lives as the new humanity herald the world’s coming wholeness. As a new creation, our words, thoughts, and deeds have special cosmic significance.

My daughter’s cries can crack windows in distant places, but when she smiles, it’s like the whole world has been healed. I know I’m biased in my perception of her powers, but there really is something to it. The joy of an image bearer living like an image bearer does help make the world whole. As Christians, we have a view of the world and our work within it that ought to be simultaneously the most sober and the most ecstatic. Sober because of the sin that continues to hurt it and ecstatic because it is our Father’s world, awaiting summation and perfection in His risen Son.

Christ’s world-saving grace deepens and details our Edenic craving for cosmic wholeness. Whenever we sense its semblance or mourn its absence, faith in Christ follows the heart of our heavenly Father in loving His world more fully.

Dostoevsky pictures this pattern in Alyosha, one of the famous Brothers Karamazov. Alyosha’s mentor, Father Zosima, taught him to see all people as responsible for one another’s well-being and all creation as beautifully, inextricably interwoven. After Zosima’s death, Alyosha in his monastery is suddenly and profoundly aware of God’s presence. He steps outside and is overcome by the majestic interconnectedness of the created order.

The vault of heaven, full of soft, shining stars, stretched vast and fathomless above him. . . . The gorgeous autumn flowers in the beds round the house were slumbering till morning. The silence of the earth seemed to melt into the silence of the heavens. . . . Alyosha stood, gazed, and suddenly threw himself down on the earth . . . he kissed it weeping, sobbing, and watering it with his tears and vowed passionately to love it, to love it forever and ever . . . he was not ashamed of that ecstasy. . . . But with every instant he felt clearly and, as it were, tangibly, that something firm and unshakable as that vault of heaven had entered into his soul.5

As new creations, let us take this world very personally. Love it. Know in every scarlet sunset and every ocean breeze the love and fellowship of our heavenly Father. Mourn with every life-taking storm the consequences of our fall. Rejoice as every moment draws us nearer to the new heavens and earth in which unbreakable righteousness dwells unendingly (2 Peter 3).

And every once in a while, may we let out a childlike yell in the visceral joy of being alive in this, our Father’s world of unfathomable interrelationships.


  1. Herman Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1956), 44–45. Cited in Daniel Strange, Their Rock Is Not like Our Rock (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2014), 25. ↩︎
  2. Herman Bavinck, The Wonderful Works of God (1909; Glenside, PA: Westminster Seminary Press, 2019), 28–29. ↩︎
  3. J.H. Bavinck, An Introduction to the Science of Mission, trans. David H. Freeman (Philipsburg, N.J.: P&R, 1960), 243. ↩︎
  4. Herman Bavinck, The Wonderful Works of God (1909; Glenside, PA: Westminster Seminary Press, 2019), 28–29. ↩︎
  5. Fyodor Dostoyevsky, “The Wedding at Cana,” in The Gospel in Dostoyevsky: Selections from His Works, trans. Andrew R. MacAndrew and Constance Garnett (Walden, N.Y.: Plough, 1988) 213–15. ↩︎

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