Beetles were his passion, the subject of his PhD in entomology, and the focus of his research on Mount Magazine, Arkansas. Teckla and I had seen what looked like billowing sheets tied to trees out by the bluffs that looked over the wooded valleys. He explained that these were his beetle traps. He had been camping on the flat top of the mountain for weeks, gathering specimens and taking notes on their behavior and habitat.
Mount Magazine, he explained, is an ecological island. Because it was the highest point in Arkansas, it contained species of plants and insects found nowhere else in the Midwest. With joy he declared the place a paradise for entomologists.
He invited Teckla and I into his campsite to take a look at the beetles he was studying. Half-apologetically he said, “They are small and not too impressive.” Sure enough, they were just little brown dots in the bottom of a small white box, but a quiet excitement filled his voice. He explained that the larvae of the beetle were completely dependent on certain species of mushrooms, a kind of russula I think, that grew on the Mount Magazine. The mushrooms depended on the rains, so theprogress of his research depended on the weather.
Teckla and I, who were camped in the same State Park, left him to his work, but I loved him for loving his beetles. I have no idea whether he was Christian or not, but I felt we had shared a moment of worship as we looked at his beetles. We shared a child-like delight in the extraordinary world God has created. We experienced a moment of what I would now call “common grace.”
Common grace is the goodness of God still found in people because they, even though fallen, are still beings created in God’s image. We all, believers and unbelievers, have a call to be stewards of God’s creation. Common grace is also expressed in the goodness and wonder God has embedded and embodied in creation itself. Therefore as a believer I have common ground with anyone (biologist, geologist, astrophysicist) who responds to God’s creation with wonder and joy.
This moment of grace regarding beetle-infested mushrooms happened years ago—in the 1980’s–but has stuck in my mind. I have, over the years, learned to value how this concept of common grace enlarges the hearts and the minds of Christians. It gives us room for anything that is truly good and beautiful.
On this high place in Arkansas, we worshiped no false god. We simply joined with God who in Genesis looked at all the “swarming and teeming” creatures He had made and blessed them. With God, we were seeing and declaring “that it is good.”