Charles Darwin loved his scientific studies. They were his “chief enjoyment and sole employment throughout life.” As a young man he made a half-hearted attempt to become a clergyman, but gave it up because beetles and plants and rock formations held far more fascination for him than theology. At age 22, he embarked on his famous five-year voyage aboard “The Beagle” and his career as a naturalist was established. He spent the rest of his life intensely observing things, reducing them to their component parts and theorizing where they came from and why they behaved as they did.
However, as the years passed something very sad happened to him. He described it near the end of his life in his autobiography:
Up to the age of 30 or beyond it, poetry of many kinds…gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare…. Formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great, delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also almost lost any taste for pictures or music.… I retain some taste for fine scenery, but it does not cause me the exquisite delight which it formerly did.… My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts, but why this should have caused the atrophy of that part of the brain alone, on which the higher tastes depend, I cannot conceive.… The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.
What a devastating loss. All that time in his laboratory abstracting theories from facts had conditioned his mind to analyze to such a degree that he could no longer enjoy beauty just for what it was. A symphony, a sunset, or a sonnet was not designed for Darwin to dissect but delight in. Too much dissection robbed him of delight.
We can learn something very valuable from Darwin here. We condition our minds to value whatever we watch and study and contemplate the most. John Piper has taught me to think of it like this: we become what we behold. What absorbs our interest, what we give our attention to most, shapes our thinking and trains our affections.
We must resist the seductive lie that someday in the future we will give up our workaholic habits or our sinful addiction or our trivial time-consuming pursuits and enjoy God and his creation and his purposes like we should. The truth is that if we spend too much time focusing on lesser things someday we will wake up to find that we have lost our ability to find great things delightful or even interesting.
We become what we behold. This is right from the Bible. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18:
We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
This is the transformation that God intends for us: to grow, not decline, in our ability to enjoy glory. We are to fix our eyes on Jesus, the radiance of the glory of God (Heb. 1:2), and in doing so he will reveal increasing degrees of glory to us, which will then shape our thinking and train our affections.
With summer in full swing, and with its unique temptations to draw our attention away from Christ, we want to serve you by pointing you to listen to or read a message by John titled, “Summer Is for Seeing and Showing Christ .” I think you’ll find it refreshing and encouraging.
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This summer take an audit of your affections. Over the last few years has there been an increase or a decrease in your love for God and your awe at his amazing gospel? Do you enjoy his creation, from cell to star, more? Or less? Does that familiar sin have greater or less power over you? What is captivating your interest? Look at what you have been spending your time beholding for the answers.
Let’s learn from Darwin and heed God’s life-giving exhortations: “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2) by “set[ting] your mind on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth” (Colossians 3:2).
Seeking with you to be transformed from glory to glory,
PS. Scott Anderson, our Director of Events, just asked me to remind you that our National Conference will be held September 28-30, here in Minneapolis. Speakers John MacArthur, Jerry Bridges, Randy Alcorn, and Helen Roseveare will be joining John Piper to address the theme of Stand: A Call for the Endurance of the Saints. I expect this event will encourage and refresh both the battle weary and those who are just starting out on the journey. Registration is now open. We’d love to have you join us.
PPS. For further help in training your eye to behold God’s glory in creation, read John’s written sermon titled, “Sky Talk.” It’s one of his earliest messages, preached at an evening service 2 months after becoming pastor of Bethlehem Baptist. It contains some of his poetry and at the very end lists Clyde Kilby’s 10 resolutions for cultivating childlike wonder throughout life—very helpful.