Sensory Systems

By: Jim Virkler; ©2014

The approach of warm weather in spring and summer heightens awareness of the body’s auditory system. One could cite spring and summer sounds of birds, mammals, a few amphibians, and insects to augment frequent sounds of rain, wind, and thunder. The sense of hearing is a gift for which we offer God our humble thanks.

Our auditory system is but one of six major sensory systems. The systems are visual (sight), auditory (hearing), somatic sensation (touch), taste (gustatory), smell (olfactory), and balance (vestibular). To one degree or another, most of these sensory systems are present in all animals. They are more highly developed in some; less highly developed in others. For example, vision is highly developed in hawks; smell is more developed in animals such as turkey vultures. Hearing is highly acute in owls and bats. In lower animals, sensory systems are present but may be more primitive.

We rejoice in references to the wonder of bodily senses from the church pulpit. Such awareness is part of our recognition that God’s grace is manifest in multiple ways each moment of the day, each day of our lives. In his most recent sermon our pastor quizzed his congregation, “What is the correct response to the breath you just exhaled? to the chair you are sitting in? to the roof over our heads? the fact that you are able to hear and comprehend? Those are all examples of grace given to us.” Several years ago we were blessed by a missionary speaker in our church pulpit. He uttered a similar exultation: “As you’re sitting down there you’re breathing, you can see, you can walk.” After that sermon, my personal commentary in a post entitled “Mundane Miracles” was, “Understanding the grace of God in the complexities of respiration, vision, and motion as well as dozens of other bodily systems, is an occasion to worship the God of creation just as surely as understanding the grace of God manifest in his plan for man’s redemption.”

Sensory systems in the bodies of all living creatures are Creator-provided gifts of grace. They were conceived in the mind of God long before living things were created on our planet, and later incorporated into their physical bodies at the moment of their creation. We apply the term grace in describing bodily sensory systems as treasured gifts from God. Preachers more often use the term in connection with God’s gift of salvation of sinners. However, grace defined as “the free and unmerited favor of God” was in the pre-creation mind of God as he waited to physically create living things. Later when man’s need for redemption became apparent, grace became operative in another context. Some theologians distinguish between common grace and special grace. Common grace is the grace shown by the Creator to and for his creation. Special grace is bestowed upon those who enter a redemptive relationship with Jesus Christ.

Highlighting the wonders of bodily sensory systems from the pulpit may strike some as a substitution of scientific knowledge for more familiar and traditional spiritual truths. Writers on the subject of the science/faith interface find these references entirely appropriate. If grace is a theological concept, we urge pastors to reference topics of biological science (or other sciences) from their pulpits whenever appropriate to strengthen the imagery of the multidimensional majesty of God and his gifts of grace.

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