All Creation Sings!

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All Creation Sings!
In Praise of the God of Creation (Psalm 104)

I believe in God the Father, maker of heaven and earth.

The ancient creed begins in this way for a reason. A rich and robust understanding of creation is foundational to Christian faith and practice.

However, creation has become a controversial topic in our culture. Simply consider this: What is the first thing that comes to mind when you consider the topic of creation? If you are like most moderns, the first issue that arises is the creation versus evolution debate. Unfortunately, many people assume that belief in divine creation and the theory of evolution are incompatible. They approach the debate like a zero-sum game, assuming that either creation is true or evolution is true.

But this is a reactionary response. It reduces the discussion to the mechanics of creation rather than the meaning of creation. It limits the topic to either physics or metaphysics. Owen Gingerich, Professor Emeritus of Astronomy and of the History of Science at Harvard University and a senior astronomer emeritus at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, refuses to reduce the issue in this way. Gingerich believes "that the universe has been created with intention and purpose, and that this belief does not interfere with the scientific enterprise."[1] The reason: science works well in the domain of physics, but it possesses no authority in the field of metaphysics. He writes,

Science works within a constrained framework in creating its brilliant picture of nature. But reality goes much deeper than this. Scientists work with physics, but (perhaps unwittingly) they also have a broader system of beliefs, metaphysics, a term that literally means "beyond physics."[2]

Put simply, science is uniquely suited to explain how things work (efficient causes), though not necessarily why they work (final causes).[3] Science and religion are not necessarily at odds. They are more compatible than our popular culture lets on. Thus, we waste our time if the topic of evolution versus creation consumes our attention when it comes to our attempts to construct a robust theology of creation. Focus on the debate obscures what the Bible actually teaches. 

And the Bible teaches that belief in divine creation is a matter of faith. Creation itself may point to God but it doesn't prove God. Like a piece of art silently speaks of its creator, so God's divine artistry in creation teaches us of God: "The heavens declare the glory of God, the earth declares his handiwork" (Psalm 19:1). It stands as a mute witness of glory for those with eyes to see (see Psalm 19:3-4). As Pascal observed, there is enough evidence of God's existence in creation for those who want to believe; there will never be enough evidence for those who do not want to believe. It is for this reason that we confess the words of the ancient creed as a matter of faith: "I believe in God the Father, maker of heaven and earth." The author of Hebrews concurs: "By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible" (Hebrews 11:3).

Gingerich expresses this faith in the context of his scientific work: "I am personally persuaded that a superintelligent Creator exists beyond and within the cosmos, and that the rich context of congeniality shown by our universe, permitting and encouraging the existence of self-conscious life, is part of the Creator's design and purpose." (39)

The main question concerning creation is not the how question, but the why creation. The sacred scriptures do not address the topic of how - the mechanics of creation - but they are clear about the why, that is, the meaning of creation. Creation reveals truths about God, truths that are obscured by focusing solely on the modern debate between creation and evolution - a debate that generally allows no middle way.

Put more boldly: An unbiblical view of creation will lead us to wrong living. Our theology affects our practice. Only a robust view of creation guides us in how we should live in God's world. A robust view keeps us from two errors: (1) Discarding creation as irrelevant to God's saving purpose (e.g. God is only out to save souls and deliver us from this evil world) or, (2) Capitulating to modern materialism and concluding that matter is all that matters.

Since Christians are generally not prone to embrace materialism (matter is all that matters), the common Christian response is often to seek to escape the world rather than to affirm it and seek its transformation. One example of this is found in the popular hymn, "Turn your eyes upon Jesus" in which the poet proclaims, "And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace." A robust view of creation does not lead to this world-denying conclusion, but rather results in full and joyous participation in creation. Things do not become dimmer, but rather, they become clearer in light of God's truth concerning creation.

This is nowhere more evident than in Psalm 104.


Psalm 104

Psalm 104 is a celebration of creation. It begins and ends with a summons to praise. In many ways it is the counterpart to Genesis 1 - the creation account - in which the refrain is constantly repeated: creation is "good, good, good, good, good, good... indeed, it is very good." Praise is the appropriate response because creation reveals that God is truly great and overwhelmingly good (Psalm 104:1).

Creation reveals God's sovereignty over space, time, and matter. It is God's creation, after all. The psalmist portrays the Lord as a royal figure clothed in honor and majesty, shrouded in light, reigning over all creation (Psalm 104:1b-2a). As a manifestation of sovereignty, this king has built a most resplendent residence in the heavens (Psalm 104:2a-4).

The cosmos is God's cosmic temple. In the opening and closing chapters of the Bible, no physical temple exists. Instead, the whole created order is God's place of residence. Creation is God's holy habitation. God's desire is that God's glory would pervade all creation, in order that God may be "all in all." Through sin, we alienate ourselves from God's original intent for creation. We pervert the purpose of creation, not because creation is sinful - it is good - but because we are.

In the Genesis account, God's creation proceeds from chaos to cosmos. Shape, form, and boundaries are created in order to sustain life. The psalmist celebrates God's shaping of creation. By God's divine word, God has created boundaries to those things which threaten the flourishing of life (Psalm 104:5-9). "Not only has Yahweh bounded the waters, whose chaotic forces traditionally threaten to extinguish life, he has also channeled them to promote life."[4] These limits exist because the Lord reigns. In other words, life in this world depends on the reign of God.

God's world is ordered to sustain life. Psalm 104:10-23 recount God's provision for many diverse creatures. God provides necessities such as food and water to sustain life and materials for the earth's inhabitants to create suitable habitats.


Observations

The psalmist's observation of God's glorious creation and sustaining provision leads him to two responses: He is amazed at the Lord's wisdom demonstrated in the variety of creatures and he recognizes the absolute dependence of all creatures upon the Lord for food and life itself (Psalm 104:24-30).

First, he is amazed at the variety of creatures (Psalm 104:24-26). Those he has listed in Psalm 104:10-23 are just the beginning. The psalmist recognizes that God has "made them all" - the great and small. And each one reveals a facet of God's wisdom. From the immensity of galaxies to the minute wonder of microscopic entities, the universe is a masterpiece of wisdom, order, and beauty.

Second, he recognizes the absolute dependence of all creatures upon the Lord for food (Psalm 104:27-28) and for life itself (Psalm 104:29-30). All creatures, great or small, depend on God's providence. And God provides for all God's creatures. As Jesus taught, God "makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous" (Matthew 5:45). We are finite, contingent, and radically dependent beings, whereas God is infinite, unchanging, and autonomous, the source of all being and life, the one who abundantly provides all that is necessary to sustain the flourishing of life.

Everything in the cosmos owes its existence to God's will. Creation is God's first gracious act - a free act of God that arises from God's good pleasure. And God's will to create arises, not out of necessity, but out of abundance. Paul puts it like this:

The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. (Acts 17:24-25)

There is no outside necessity that compelled God to create, no inner deficiency that God needed to satisfy. The Triune God possesses the property of aseity, that is, God is not dependent on anything outside God for God's being and nature. God did not need to create in order to experience love, joy, fellowship, or communication. All these expressions are experienced in the eternal communion of Father, Son, and Spirit. God did not need to create in order to satisfy some need, but rather, chose to create in order to share the blessed life of Father, Son, and Spirit with all creation. God creates out of fullness, not out of deficiency or necessity.

Thus, creation is an act of grace - a free act of God's good pleasure. The first display of God's grace was not Jesus, nor the calling of Abraham or the salvation of Noah, but the creation of the cosmos and humankind. God is good and gives life and existence to others.

Since creation expresses God's grace and is a complete gift, it should result in gratitude toward God. Thomas Merton writes,

To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us - and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him. Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.

God's Glory

Ultimately, creation reveals the glory of God - a glory that endures forever (Psalm 104:31). Calvin was right when he spoke of creation as "the theater of God's glory." As another psalm puts it, "The heavens declare the glory of God" (Psalm 19:1). The angelic beings around God's throne cry out, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory" (Isaiah 6:3).

Glory refers to God's brilliance, beauty, honor, and weightiness. This glory is evident in creation and extends to the crown of God's creation: humankind. We are "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14), "crowned with glory and majesty" (Psalm 8:5). Everything in God's great cathedral, the cosmic temple, declares God's glory.

Since creation reveals God's glory, it should result in our praise of God: "I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being" (Psalm 104:33).

This is a common theme throughout the Bible: "Come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker" (Psalm 95:6). In the vision of heavenly worship in Revelation, John the Seer hears these words of praise: "You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created" (Revelation 4:11).

Creation is good, but all is not well with creation because of human sin. The psalmist realizes that we cannot praise the Creator and make peace with wickedness - our own or anyone else's (Psalm 104:35a). The wicked defy the sovereignty of God, deny dependence upon God, and offend and afflict those who praise the Lord. "If we do not react to evil with horror, we will not react to God's goodness and beauty with praise."[5] Our proper place is that of praise and delight, rejoicing in what brings God joy.

After one last summons to praise, the author's final word is "Hallelujah" - the first time this word is found in the Psalms. This is a fitting place for this universal word of praise to God, and a proper conclusion to the psalm.

As beautiful as this psalm is, we Christians would be remiss if we ended here. God has placed an exclamation mark on creation in the person of Christ. The incarnation of Jesus is God's strongest affirmation concerning God's creation. Through Jesus, humankind is assumed into the blessed communion, joy, and love of the Trinity. The union of deity with humanity forever sanctifies creation. Its certain end is the beatification of glorification - forever sharing in the divine life. And thus, God will be all in all, world without end!


Significance

All creation speaks of God to those willing to listen. When its music is heard correctly, it results in a life of worship to God. When creation is a window to God, then it inspires praise. When creation is a understood as a gift from God, then it inspires gratitude. When creation is the stage upon which grace is received, then it inspires love.

God's joy in creation, to the end of participating in it through the person of Jesus, is a reason to enjoy and delight in creation. According to C. S. Lewis, "God likes matter." There is no use trying to be more spiritual than God. God never meant man to be a purely spiritual creature. That is why He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us. We may think this rather crude and unspiritual. God invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it.

We fulfill our created purpose by glorifying God and enjoying God forever. One of the chief ways we do this is by enjoying God's work of art, God's masterpiece, God's creation. We do this by seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching, and adoring God's creation; by relishing the seemingly infinite diversity of colors, smells, tastes, shapes, and textures; by considering the greatness of creation with its mountains, planets, sky, and oceans; by taking in the diversity of creation with all its various plant and animal life; by adoring all the "useless beauty" that fills the cosmos. Franky Schaeffer writes,

We could live in a flat uninteresting world, one that had the bare minimum of gray ingredients to support life, one whose diversity was only enough to provide the minimum of existence. Instead, we live in a riotous explosion of diversity and beauty. We live in a world full of "useless" beauty, we live in a world of millions of species, we live in a word peopled by individuals of infinite variety, talents, abilities, and this is only on our planet.[6]

God delights in diversity, beauty, color, shape, form and order. There is a reason that you love beautiful music, colorful flowers, the sweet taste of fruit, the order of architecture, the grandeur of landscape. You have been created in the image of God, the great Creator who delights in the glorious beauty of heaven and earth.

Creation is so wondrous and beautiful that we are tempted to deify it and worship it. Our challenge, however, is not to stop at creation but to see the Creator behind creation - to glorify and enjoy God through the enjoyment of God's creation which reflects God's glory. Again Lewis is helpful: "Nature never taught me that there exists a God of glory and of infinite majesty. I had to learn that in other ways. But nature gave the word glory a meaning for me. I still do not know where else I could have found one."[7]

Creation is not an end in itself, but a means to true worship of God. When creation is a means to glorifying God, all creation is a cosmic temple and all life is significant. When creation is an end rather than a means, then creation itself is worshipped, and we are trapped in foolish game of idol-making. We become guilty of the great sin of confusing the creature with the Creator (Romans 1:23). We become less than human, slaves of a deified creation.

But we are also less than human when we devalue creation. We must not seek to be more "spiritual" than God. This is to commit the error of Gnosticism, which is a devaluing of creation through a denial of its intrinsic goodness.

True spirituality does not transcend creation, but meets God in the midst of creation. God is found in and through creation because God is for creation. Authentic Christianity is a material spirituality - spirituality rooted in creation and new creation through the eternal unity of Creator and creature in the gift of Jesus Christ!

Material and spirituality are not mutually exclusive. Our spirituality must remain rooted in God's creation - it must remain related to the world. For the opposite of spiritual is not materiality or physicality, but death. The truest expression of spirituality is to be alive in the Spirit, to be fully human, to be human like God is human in Christ.

The ancient creed begins in this way: "I believe in God the Father, maker of heaven and earth." Foundational to the Christian faith is a rich and robust understanding of creation. This is where our faith begins. It ends with the complete transformation of creation in new heaven and new earth, a transformation begun in the resurrection of Christ, so that our creed ends with "I believe in the resurrection of the body."

It is this creation - a creation God loves and rejoices in - that is being redeemed. It is this creation which is being saved, for salvation is the full and final beatification of creation. God does not discard creation through salvation but redeems, restores, and transforms it.

All creation sings of God's glory. The question is: Will you?


[1]  Owen Gingerich, God's Universe (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2006), 7.

[2] Gingerich, God's Universe, 6.

[3] Gingerich, God's Universe, 95.

[4] Craig C. Broyles, Psalms: New International Biblical Commentary (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999), 399.

[5] E. Calvin Beisner, Psalms of Promise: Exploring the Majesty and Faithfulness of God (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Navpress, 1988), 22.

[6] Franky Schaeffer, Addicted to Mediocrity: Contemporary Christians and the Arts (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1981), 17.

[7] C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves (New York: HarperCollins, 1960), 20.


© Richard J. Vincent, 2009

3 Comments

Rich, This is a conversation that needs to continue. I find no problem keeping my faith completely intact and seeing the beauty of science. We need to help people see that science and religion are two sides of the same coin. They are not diametrically opposed. That is the big misconception that people tend to believe as truth. The Bible is not meant to teach us science. It tells us WHY God chose to do what He has done, NOT how He did it. It does not make one a bad christian to have questions about how things came to be. The narrative is meant to teach eternal truths about life, not technical information about the physics of creation. I have my faith enriched by seeing the incredible thought and design of the universe. Why can't God cook it up "slow" if He chooses, and let things evolve. Sounds like free-will to me. I would love to see this dialogue continue. It is intelligent conversation. Scott Rich: I'm with you, Scott. And the single best accessible resource I've come across is Owen Gingerich's God's Universe.
Rich, I want to let you know I ordered a paper copy of your book Hide and Seek: Experiencing the Absence and Presence of God and am really look forward to reading it. Regarding Scott Canatsey's comment, I agree and think it a shame that so many people (in the Western world) willingly accept the opposition of science and religion. I really like his lines: "Why can't God cook it up 'slow' if He chooses, and let things evolve. Sounds like free-will to me." Speaking of free-will, why do so many Christians assume God intervenes in their lives (sometimes at the expense of others) because they prayed? For example, a person was interviewed on the news thanking God for saving his house from a tornado that destroyed his neighbors' houses. Reading between the lines, does this mean God had a beef with his neighbors - they were somehow lacking? Worse, many athletes seem to think God helped them catch a touchdown pass, etc. Why can't the average person see this kind of attitude is arrogant? Such constant divine intervention seems more consistent with Greek and Roman mythology than Christianity. If we have freewill, it seems to me God would let us fall and pick ourselves back up to meet the challenges of life. And yes I agree with Scott that the dialogue concerning the false dichotomy between religion and science is a powerful topic and should continue to be discussed. Rich: I was just visiting my friend Scott and we had a great discussion about how God's sovereignty and human free will are not at odds with one another, but God's sovereignty is so great God is able to take the freely chosen acts of human beings - both good and bad - and still bring about God's good purpose. This is the Eastern Orthodox position (and I like it). I look forward to hearing what you think about the book!
Hi Rich, I stumbled onto your website and would love to feature this post on the upcoming Sustainable Traditions blogazine that my wife and I are launching. We would give you credit and a link back here. If you are interested let me know. -shalom! Jason Fowler WISELY WOVEN{Creative Media} www.wiselywoven.com www.sustainabletraditions.com Bedford, Virginia

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