Noble offers practical steps to preserve the church’s witness in this secular age. Although my generation often includes and sometimes prioritizes more assertive proposals to directly affecting positive cultural change, there is certainly an important need to preserve the witness of the church.
The personal habits of disruption Noble describes were easy for me to resonate with because, as an artist, I recognize the need to be attentive to the beauty that surrounds us everyday and thank God for His creation.
The blue violet of a blooming hydrangea, the way the light falls across the various planes of the homes across the street, the pattern and variation in the bark of eucalyptus trees, or the endless colors and formations of the clouds in the sky are some of the things that daily catch my attention and remind me God has created this world with beauty.
Our home is filled with objects that point to meaning, such as pitchers in the bathroom alluding to purification through Christ, rocks collected from special places alluding to the solid and unchanging nature of God, or the original artwork on the walls alluding to the artist’s expression of creativity as an image-bearer of God. This is part of what Noble means by living allusively.
Noble describes how saying grace before meals in public places is also a personal habit of disruption. He is quite clear that we must not say grace in public to signal our faith but rather to express our gratitude to God for His provision. This simple act alone defies the secular notion that belief in God is only a private preference. The act acknowledges God’s transcendent reality and therefore rejects the notion that our faith must be kept out of the public square.
Noble goes on to describe saying grace as a disruptive witness because it “challenges a materialist account of provision.” He says the materialist view of the food in front of them might, though unlikely, cause one to see “the purely material world as a kind of nearly transcendent gift that requires our admiration,” or cause one to be grateful for the idea of the vast Earth, or cause one to think of the human potential for greatness displayed in the efficient and economical production of such fine food. But, most likely won’t cause any thought at all, as food is simply taken as a given.
“What is uncommon,” Noble states, “is the view that whatever food lies before us is a gift from a personal God who provides for us because he loves us.”
He goes on to say that the more distant we are from the growing of crops the less likely we are to see our food as gift from God.
“If I am thankful to the cook or the restaurant chain or capitalism or modern farming techniques or my job that allows me to afford the food,” Noble writes, “I am still fundamentally accepting that the food before me is completely the result of processes in the material world.”
Instead, we need to be thankful “to a personal God whose common grace provides for us all.”
This is where I believe we must take a deeper look through the lens of the theology of work.
We know God created the world (Gen. 1:1) and then He created human beings in His image to continue the creation of whatever else humans would need for flourishing (Gen. 1:26-28). It was and is God’s created order to have humans participate in creating societies, cultures, and products for the benefit of humans and to His glory.
Of course it’s all been marred by sin (Gen. 3:15-19), but God’s mandate still stands and humans have continued to create cultures and societies throughout the ages.
Let’s take the items Noble uses to show how we may be prone to accept our food as only the result of the material world, and then see how they are each part of God’s created order and His provision for us through other human beings.
We may be thankful to the cook, but we can also be thankful to God for the cook. After all, it was God who gave the cook culinary skills, the desire to combine different flavors creatively, perseverance and stamina to do the work of food preparation, and who brought him to this place at this time to cook our meal.
The restaurant chain, capitalism, and modern farming techniques are testaments to God’s wonderful design of creating image-bearers who would have the ingenuity, insight, creativity, curiosity, drive, and enthusiasm to develop these instruments of human flourishing. These are all instances of human beings bringing about glimpses of God’s glory throughout the world by exercising their image-bearing mandate to fill the earth and subdue it.
These things came about because people were solving problems and finding ways to make life better for themselves and others around them.
Lastly, your job may allow you to pay for your food, but it is much more than that. It is where God has placed you at this time to express your image-bearing, your creativity, and your worship of Him.
It is where He has called you to increase human flourishing, and now, after the Fall, repair what is broken and provide glimpses of the restoration to come.
We can use the products of human creativity as occasions for the “double movement” Noble describes earlier in his book of noticing goodness and beauty and then thanking God for them.
It is not just the natural creation that can inspire our praise of God, but the good works of God through humans that can warrant our thanksgiving to God as well.
So let the cook and the restaurant chain and capitalism and your job be reasons for you to attend to the goodness and creativity of God and be thankful to Him. Let these things be pointers to God as we live “allusively.”
“Practiced regularly, saying grace is a reminder that the way things appear to us as modern people is not the truth of being,” Noble concludes. “Underneath all the packaging and production and procedures remains God’s kind provision and sustaining power.”
Better yet, we must see that it is in the very packaging, production, and procedures we can see God’s provision and sustaining power through the ingenuity and creativity of the humans He created to bring about such marvels of modern human flourishing. In God’s economy, all is gift and should inspire thanksgiving.
Margaret provides operational guidance and designs the spiritual formation curriculum for the Center for Faith + Work Los Angeles. Margaret is also founding president, board member, and studio artist at Destination: Art, a non-profit studios and gallery in Downtown Torrance. Margaret was the founding president of the Pastel Society of Southern California. Both of these art organizations promote the value of fine art and the local artist. Margaret formerly served as a US Air Force Officer, managing satellite systems after receiving a BS and MS in Electrical Engineering from The University of Southern California. Margaret provided extensive support for the education of their two children through a parent participation school, while integrating a biblical worldview. Margaret is also a Colson Fellow with the Colson Center for Christian Worldview.