Listening In … with Philip Yancey and Steven Curtis Chapman
- Monday, February 02, 2004
To me, the most obvious thing about God is that He is an artist who loves beauty. I live in the Rocky Mountains and go hiking. There are mountains called “14'ers” (14,000 ft. mountains) — 54 of them. And I’ve climbed 38 of them, so I’ve spent a lot of time up there above the tree lines.
So what do I see? I see a carpet of wildflowers, and I’m thinking, “Why is this here?” At most, 200 people have seen this site or perhaps the Great Barrier Reef, the great tropical reefs. There’s nothing more beautiful on Earth than these unbelievable tropical fish. For most of history we didn’t even know they were there until Jacques Cousteau invented scuba gear, which was in 1950. Nobody even knew the greatest art in the world was already there just swimming around.
Why is that there? Well God didn’t put it there just for our enjoyment, or He would have made it a little more accessible! There’s something about His own enjoyment, His pride in artistic creation: “Look what I can do with hydrogen, carbon and nitrogen.” In a garden, there are things we have to do to get things to grow, and then I go into a forest; and all it is, is the sky, the sun and the rain. No fertilizer, no tilling, and all over the planet God does this. And I think of all that’s involved in the DNA and the chromosomes and all of that in these plants to do that.
That’s the most obvious thing about God: He’s creative, He loves beauty. And the reason I call it "Rumors of Another World" is because it was really those rumors that awakened me. Music was one of them because I started sensing beauty and goodness in the world, and it didn’t match up with this really narrow, kind of scowling, angry God that I grew up with. In the book I quote G. K. Chesterton, and he said, “The worst moment for an atheist is when he has a profound sense of gratitude and has no one to thank.”
Steven: Yeah, I love that quote!
Philip: And that’s exactly how I felt. I said, “Wow, I feel really grateful; but where do I go?” So those were the rumors that awakened me — maybe the problem was my view of God. I thought, “I need to get to know the God who created all of this.”
Steven: What point was that in your life?
Philip: It was in my college days. Ironically, I was attending a Bible college, but I was the campus rebel. People would pray for me and would try to exorcise demons from me, and I had my defenses up. They would say, “God is going to break you one day!” And that was the theology [I was taught]: If you rebel against God, He’s going to smash you and pulverize you.
But that’s not what He did. He came alongside and started gracing me with good things. Romantic love was part of that as well as nature and music. I realized: “God doesn’t want to break people; He wants to seduce them!” God doesn’t have to prove Himself to anybody; but He does want to love people, and He wants them to love Him back. Power doesn’t get you that.
Steven: The last album I wrote was an album of love songs called "All About Love" (Sparrow), and it was a record written to my wife. We’ve been married 19 years. We have had 19 years of, as my pastor says, “holy headlock.” It’s been way harder than we ever imagined and way more glorious and wonderful. You’ve come alongside and walked with me through the journey of the unknown. It was confirming and so encouraging to me because so much of the material of this album that I wrote is that thing you explained. Not that I’m deserving of it at all, but this is a revelation here that I feel like I’m on to. And you stick that in a four or five-minute song. Then you put it on an album called "All About Love," and people go, “Oh that’s a love song album. Aww that’s sweet; Steven wrote that for his wife.” And I’m over here going, “No wait, there’s more… you’ll also realize that God is trying to show you some profound things about Himself!” And I wrote a song on there called “Echoes of Eden” that really is sort of my version after reading the “Designer’s Sex” chapter. This was not the first time I have read your books talking about sex, romance and intimacy; and I remember reading a chapter you wrote about some of these things, about: “It’s not that we’re too naked; it’s that we’re not naked enough.”
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