The world is full of good things. Those words adorn the back cover of a book by Joe Rigney, who is a professor at Bethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis. In his 2015 work, The Things of Earth, Rigney sets out to display the goodness of God’s creation and how enjoying that goodness brings us into closer relationship with the One who made it. In his introduction, Rigney gives a glimpse at his objective by asking, “Why did God make a world full of good friends, sizzling bacon, the laughter of children, West Texas sunsets, Dr. Pepper, college football, marital love, and the warmth of wool socks? This is the tension we experience, and I hope that this book can go some of the way in resolving it.”
The tension Rigney is referring to is the balance the Christian must find as they live in light of eternity while presently abiding in a fallen world. The opening chapters to The Things of Earth provide some assistance and context to this problem. Rigney sets the stage by defining and discussing the sovereignty of the Triune God, what it means that we as humans were created in His image and are responsible for how we live day-to-day, and how God (as Creator) and us (as creatures) relate to and interact with one another.
From there, Rigney systematically explores creation and its ability to serve as a revelation to who God is. This process begins broadly at first, pointing to nature and how awesome events like the rising and setting of the sun communicate to us the glory of God. Rigney, quoting C.S. Lewis, says, “We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito.” Rigney then begins to narrow his focus and give a more practical vision for how we enjoy earthly things in a way that honors the Lord, providing examples from marriage, parenting, and dealing with the suffering inherent to this world. The Things of Earth then finishes with a charge: to embrace being a creature in the world of the Creator, to rejoice over the gifts that we have received, and to relish in the opportunities we have to taste and see that the Lord is good.
How Things Help
I appreciated The Things of Earth for numerous reasons. It was helpful in its practical exhortations and personal (especially chapter 8) in its examples and encouragements. From the outset of the book, Rigney frames his argument for why and how we enjoy the world we inhabit around the triune nature of God and the way we, as His image-bearers, are able to experience and enjoy Him throughout our lives. The chapters are saturated with Scripture and encourage the reader to “Let your imagination be shaped, molded, corralled, and harassed by the living Word of the living God.” Coming from Bethlehem College and Seminary, Rigney is well-versed in the idea of Christian hedonism that was made popular through John Piper’s Desiring God (ie. “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him”). Rigney honors that legacy by helping us to understand how we can best apply that Christian hedonism as we laugh with friends, eat pumpkin crunch cake, and watch the rain fall from the sky.
If you were to just skim The Things of Earth or only read a synopsis of what it’s about, you might walk away thinking you've been encouraged to simply love stuff better or to be more appreciative of a pretty sunset. That’s a start but it comes up short. Reading this book will make you want to enjoy those aspects of life more, but it will take you “further up and further in” and help you to see that every good gift that we get to experience is from our gracious Father and as you grow in your awareness of that fact, your desire to glorify God, by living responsively and responsibly, will be enhanced.
Another reason I enjoyed this book is because I enjoy things. I like watching movies and reading stories and playing sports. I like listening to music and dancing. I enjoy food, especially the good kind. I’ve also been fortunate enough to experience the affection and camaraderie that comes through friendships and the love and joy that comes through being married. I’ve always taken a delight in these things but this book freed me up to enjoy those things in a new way. Rather than being ends in and of themselves, these things can be avenues that lead me to a deeper relationship with the Lord. They’re breadcrumbs that I get to follow back the One who is the Bread of Life. I encourage you to pick up a copy for yourself so you can learn to better treasure God by enjoying His gifts.