“It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High.” Psalms 92:1
It probably won’t come as much of a surprise to you that many of my favorite hymns are songs that praise God as Creator. Some of my personal favorites are “This is My Father’s World,” “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” “For the Beauty of the Earth,” “Worthy of Worship,” and “Morning Has Broken.” Some of my favorite contemporary Christian songs are likewise focused on God as Creator. These include “Indescribable” and “All Things Well,” both by Chris Tomlin, and “Creation Song” by Fernando Ortega.
This past week I was reminded of the importance of singing songs connecting God and Creation. Matthew Sleeth, in his newest book, The Gospel According to the Earth, has a chapter on the Book of Psalms he calls “The First Environmental Music.” In this chapter he claims that singing songs connecting God and Creation can actually make a difference in how we look at and treat the earth. He says, “Singing songs in praise of creation inspires us to appreciate God’s gifts. Appreciation leads to a desire to be better stewards. Better stewardship at home, church, work, and beyond leads to less waste. Less waste demonstrates respect for God, resulting in a cleaner, more beautiful world in which to sing his praises.” I like Sleeth’s thinking, as well as his conclusion to the chapter: “With God as the conductor, maybe music can also save a planet.”
A couple of days ago I got my latest edition of Orion in the mail. This is an environmental magazine that Rob Sheppard introduced me to last year. In it there is an article by Erik Reese about how a group of country musicians are using their talents to combat mountaintop removal in Appalachia. Toward the end of the article Reese writes: “Can music save mountains? Certainly not by itself. But there is a reason Walter Pater said that all art aspires toward the condition of music. More than any other art form, music can connect the head to the heart, the self to the social whole. After all, the fiddle tunes that began in the mountains of Appalachia were never meant for an ‘audience.’ That music was intended to draw people together, to involve them in something communal and collective. Now a new collective conscience must be mobilized in order to preserve the mountains where this music was born.”
It would seem that there truly is a connection between music and Creation Care—a connection worth noting and celebrating. God told Job that when He created the world “the morning stars sang together.” (38:7) It seems to me that it’s now our job to continue the song.
(The images above were taken at a lavender field near Port Angeles, Washington.)
I am currently reading Matthew Sleeth’s newest book, The Gospel According to the Earth: Why the Good Book is a Green Book. Overall, it seems to do a good job of showing the biblical basis for Creation Care. For that reason I commend it to you.
In a chapter called “God the Creator” Sleeth says “We need to become nature lovers—because God is one.” He goes on to ask, “Does God concern himself with an endangered species or desert grass being bulldozed into extinction?” Sleeth answers “most definitely” and as proof asks us to consider God’s word to Job: “Who has cut a channel for the torrents of rain and a way for the thunderbolt, to bring rain on a land where no one lives, on the desert, which is empty of human life, to satisfy the waste and desolate land, and to make the ground put forth grass?” (38:25-27)
Sleeth feels this passage offers proof that “humanity is not the be-all and end-all of the entire universe. We are not the center of everything.” Even though this is a message Rob and I have echoed numerous times in our blog I had not thought to include God’s words to Job as evidence. This truly is a passage worthy of our contemplation.
The words found in Job 38 have added relevance for me following the journey Rob and I took to the Mojave Desert last month. The area may no longer be “empty of human life” but it remains true that few people live in this desert region. That has not, however, stopped God from providing for the plants and animals that live there. There is much life in the desert and this life is sustained by the One who created it. Apparently this provision has nothing to do with man at all. God does what He does simply out of love for His Creation.
Matthew Sleeth is right. There is good reason for us to be nature lovers—“God is one.”
(The images above were taken last month in the Mojave Desert of California. Both scenes show evidence of God’s love.)
In the course of writing this blog I have indicated numerous times that the world we live in should be viewed as a marvelous gift from God. Today I thought of a couple more reasons why Creation is such a wonderful gift. First, it helps move us to worship. I often share with my congregation that worshipping God is the most important thing we can do as humans. Looking at and studying the natural world helps us realize the greatness of God. This, ideally, will lead us to worship Him.
Second, and this is directly related to the first reason, it helps to keep us humble. When we look at God’s gift of Creation and contemplate the wisdom, power and love that are revealed in it we recognize our true position before God. All of a sudden we don’t seem so big or in control of things.
In most of the Book of Job we find Job pretty confident that he understands how everything works (or should work) and that he has control over his own life, but in chapter 38 God finally speaks and asks “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge?” God goes on to ask Job a lot of questions that reveal to Job that his understanding is lacking and that he is definitely not in control of things.
If you’ll take time to read Job 38-41 you’ll discover that most of God’s questions to Job pertain to the natural world. Here are a few examples. “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” “Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?” “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or seen the storehouses of the hail…?” “Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades? Can you loose the cords of Orion?”
By the time Job responds in chapter 42 he is a humbled man and is ready to offer God worship. He says “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.”
Like Job, in nature I find “things too wonderful for me to know” and this both humbles me and leads me to want to worship the Creator more.
(The image above was taken at Mt. Rainier National Park a number of years ago. Before this great mountain I definitely felt humbled!)
I recently finished reading Wendell Berry’s latest collection of poems, called Leavings. Typical of most of Berry’s poem collections, the majority of the entries are tied to the land or Creation. I enjoy reading this author’s poems and commend them to you.
One of the poems I’d like to share with you. It has caused me to do a lot of thinking. It reads:
“Learn by little the desire for all things
which perhaps is not desire at all but undying love
which perhaps is not love at all but gratitude for the being of all things
which perhaps is not gratitude at all but the maker’s joy in what is made,
the joy in which we come to rest.”
I have to admit I had to read this poem a number of times before it began to make sense to me. What Berry seems to be saying is that behind all desire, all love, and all gratitude is God’s joy in His Creation and that our joy is made complete when we, too, find our joy there.
In each refrain of “and God saw that it was good” in Genesis 1 we see God’s joy in Creation. When God speaks to Job he talks about how at Creation “the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy.” (38:7) The Psalmist prayed “May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works.” (104:31) It would appear that “in the beginning” God found much joy in His Creation and does to this very day. The question is, do we?
If God’s Creation is a great source of joy to Him, should it not be for us as well? I have a feeling that if we did focus more on nature that we would experience what Berry called “the joy in which we come to rest.” In the process we would experience more gratitude and love. In the process we would experience the “desires of our heart.” What do we miss when we separate ourselves from God’s Creation? A lot!
(The image above was taken at Fishpond Lake in Letcher County, Kentucky.)
A severe thunderstorm rolled through southeast Kentucky a few nights ago about the time my wife and I were going to bed. Our dog, Sierra, is absolutely terrified of storms and it became quickly apparent I’d not be going to sleep soon as she paced back and forth on the bed. I decided to get back up and try to photograph the lightning. This is one of the images I captured.
Lightning is an amazing natural phenomenon. It can be both terrifying and beautiful. The biblical writers saw God as the source of lightning. In the Book of Job, chapter 37, Elihu asks Job, “Do you know how God controls the clouds and makes his lightning flash?” (v. 15) In the very next chapter God asks Job “What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed…?” (v. 24) I have a feeling that Job didn’t have an answer for Elihu or God.
Today we have a better understanding of the cause or source of lightning. Science has taught us much. Still, as Christians we cannot help but see in lightning a manifestation of God’s enormous power. There is much in nature that reminds us that our God is an awesome God.
When it storms I often recall the words to the familiar hymn, “How Great Thou Art,” that say “O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder consider all the works Thy hands have made, I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, Thy power throughout the universe displayed! Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee: How great Thou art! How great Thou art!” Sometimes I even sing this song (which only gives Sierra another reason to get upset!). When confronted by God’s beauty and power in nature, how can you not sing?