It's an old word, one people don't use much these days. It's surprisingly important to our relationship with our Creator, even our eternal destiny. Contemplation comes from a Latin word meaning "to look at," and the root of that word is "to gaze attentively at, to observe." People now use it other ways, mystically and religiously,1 but inner illumination is not the reason this amazing ability was given to us.
Rather, we are to observe and consider carefully the creation around us. This is how we come to know things of eternal significance. But we must be very attentive to learn these things, as creation teaches its lessons without words. Her classes are unique; you remain unaware of each lesson until you pass its test. What those lessons give is more than knowledge. They are not held in classrooms, nor learned just by walking through the countryside. What each person ponders and thinks deeply about -- the glory he sees in the sky and the sea, the field and the flower -- prepares his heart for the tests that come. Tests always come.
Sometimes classes are held in agony, as when a woman gives birth. Woe to those who skip class! And woe to their children, too, for the tests not passed, the lessons not learned.
Many classes are held in private, such as those attended only by husbands and wives. The tests faced in that close relationship produce things all can see, however.
Daily lessons are given in the fields of sweaty toil and hard labor. Necessity once demanded attendance, and hunger drove most to pass the tests given there. Yet they gained a depth of character in those fields and factories that no other school can give. Today few attend such classes.
Sometimes classes are held on the terrifying fields of battle, when men defend their freedoms and homelands against oppression and invasion.
We attend many such classes and face many such tests during our life. Those who avoid or fail them (as many are doing today) fail to gain what they desperately need to gain in this life. And there is something else we have to hold onto in this life -- the moral nature of our Maker. This is what makes us human. It is most often lost while pursuing vain and selfish pleasures.
But please, know this: no one who sincerely gropes to know the truths of life fails to learn them. The deck is not stacked against us, as the hopeless saying goes. God's heart is toward us; man is His highest creation. His divine attributes are clearly seen in humanity -- but not all humanity. They are seen only in those who face the tests of life without bitterness and complaint.
Nature speaks eloquently of its Creator. This voice makes sensitive people contemplate our Father's creation. Inevitably, they turn and consider the purpose and meaning of life. They look at the limitless universe and somehow know that there is a limitless future, too. This life is not all there is. That is what contemplation leads all men and women to consider: eternity and their place in it. All must stop and consider life in the light of creation, meaning in the knowledge of the goodness of God which all creation proclaims.
Creation is not ashamed of its Creator. Tragically, men often are. The witness of creation teaches all what they must know to be like Him. From the intricate design of the human cell to the majestic strength of mountains, all of God's works testify of His wisdom and power. Nature teaches us something else, too. In the midst of the fall of man and the seeming rule of death, the expectation of an age to come endures.
The ultimate, eternal purposes of God must be in abeyance, temporarily set aside until something is accomplished. The aimless striving of men cannot be the ultimate purpose of God for man! Creation itself cannot teach exactly what that purpose is, no matter how well noble individuals have learned nature's lessons. Such specific knowledge is too high, and must come by hearing. It must come from outside of our human understanding. It must come from revelation.
For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God, for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope; because the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:19-21)
Creation was subjected to futility by its Maker, in hope that one day mankind would be redeemed from all evil desires. Man's fall made necessary that subjection in the first place, and it is the gospel that ends the grip of selfishness in men. Selfishness is the slavery to corruption to which men willingly give themselves.
The will of man must be turned voluntarily from within to do God's will instead of one's own. Men only do this by the revelation of God's love and forgiveness found in the Good News. Those who gain that revelation are the redeemed, the sons of God, because they respond to His voice as sons respond to the father they honor and love.