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Review by Cassie Watson
Over the past week, I’ve attended church and heard a sermon from Exodus, met with a group of women to study the Bible and pray, led at youth group, and spent time alone in the Word and prayer. I’ve also cuddled my niece, worked at my job, had dinner with a friend, scrolled through Instagram, and watched a rom-com on Netflix.
Is one of these lists better or more pleasing to God? Should I be striving to replace as many of the activities in the second list as possible with more “spiritual” activities? Joe Rigney’s book Strangely Bright: Can You Love God and Enjoy This World? helps to answer these questions.
Rigney fleshes out the doctrine of Christian hedonism (“God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him”) by exploring how our enjoyment of created things fits in with our enjoyment of the Creator. Key to Rigney’s argument is that joy is not a zero-sum game. To grow in enjoying God, our goal is not to love the things of the world less, but rather to love God more through the things of the world. God intentionally created a world full of wonders to teach us about himself: “Made things make invisible attributes visible. Created things make eternal things perceivable” (19).
To help us think rightly about creation, this book outlines two biblical approaches. In the comparative approach, God and his gifts are paired up on a scale, and of course God is shown to be infinitely more valuable. In the integrated approach, the Creator and creation are enjoyed together rather than set up as rivals. Rigney suggests that we seek to live integrated lives, but keep the comparative paradigm handy as an essential test to ensure we aren’t falling into idolatry.
Lest we conclude that having more and more good things is the key to enjoying God, Rigney spends two chapters unpacking the joy we find in God through the lack of gifts—whether this is voluntary because of self-denial or generosity, or a result of unchosen suffering. For example, on self-denial Rigney writes, “Self-restraint and self-control serve our joy in God's gifts. If you drown yourself in lemonade, you lose the true and proper enjoyment of lemonade” (76). Rigney also points out that to truly enjoy God in his gifts, we must enjoy them the way he wants us to, so we cannot justify sins like gluttony or lust or greed by claiming we’re enjoying God’s gifts.
Strangely Bright is a short book at just over 100 pages, so it’s an accessible and quick read. I recommend it to anyone who’s ever had a sneaking suspicion that they’re doing something wrong by enjoying the beauty of God’s creation.
There’s a lot of insight packed into this little volume, but Rigney also provides counsel on where to start:
“Whatever good and perfect gifts are coming down to you now from the Father of lights, begin with them. Receive them with gratitude. Savour them with gladness. Study them with delight. Share them with others. And refuse to stop with the gifts. Follow them back to the giver. See them as declarations of his glory. Know them as images of divine things. And then turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in his wonderful face. And the things of this earth will grow strangely bright, in the light of his glory and grace.” (110)