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I once heard pastor-scholar Eugene Peterson reminisce about an eccentric woman named Sister Lychen. Almost every week, in the church of Peterson's childhood—which encouraged words of prophecy—this frail old woman would stand up and say something like this: "The Lord has revealed that I will not see death before the Lord himself returns in glory to catch me up to meet him in the air."

One day, to Eugene's dismay, his mother asked him to take some homemade cookies to Sister Lychen's house. Trembling, Eugene knocked on the door. Sister Lychen herself, with pale, veiny skin and a bony face, invited him in to share the cookies. She served him a glass of milk, and the little boy nervously ate his cookies in near total darkness—Sister Lychen kept her blinds drawn all day long.

Later, Peterson said, he had a fantasy. He saw himself rushing into Sister Lychen's home and yanking open all the blinds. "Look outside!" he cried. "See, there's an aspen tree, and an osprey on the top branch! And a white-tailed deer. Sister Lychen, there's a whole good world outside!"

It was this whole good world outside as much as anything that brought me back to Christian faith. I emerged from childhood with a distorted image of God: a frowning Supercop looking to squash anyone who might be having a good time. I have since come to know God as a whimsical artist who fills the world with creatures like the porcupine and skunk and warthog, who lavishes the world with wildflowers and tropical fish more beautiful than any design on display in an art museum.

Francis Collins, former director of the Human Genome Project, sees God's hand in the magnificent coding of the DNA double helix. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Dillard sees it in the creatures ...

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