Psalm 8 and Psalm 121 both open by recognizing God as Creator. In Psalm 8 the author considers the majesty of the night sky, the moon and stars. In Psalm 121 the psalmist gazes at the mountain tops and praises God as the Maker of heaven and earth.
The psalms then diverge as they consider a human response to the power, majesty and beauty of God.
The author of Psalm 8 focuses upon humility. “God, since you you created the great heavenly bodies, why do you even think about us? We’re so small and insignificant.” The author describes the relationship between God and humanity in terms of power and authority. The remainder of the psalm continues in this vein as the writer compares humans to angels and animals before closing by praising God once more.
This perspective of our relationship with God contains merit. It promotes the virtues of humility and reverence before God. It can remind us that God has given humanity the responsibility of overseeing and caring for creation. God is the Creator and we are its stewards.
Yet there are risks if we depend upon Psalm 8 as our primary prism for relating to God. God’s great power and authority can overwhelm us. Our humility and reverence for God contains the potential that we come to see God as distant and unapproachable. God is maintaining the universe and He’s entrusted us to maintain our piece of earth. He’ll do His thing and He expects us to do ours. Who are we to bother God?
The author of Psalm 121 takes a different tack. When he looks at the mountaintops and the sky beyond them he too praises God as Creator. However, the next words out of his mouth don’t dwell upon the distance between God and humanity. This psalmist regards creation as emphasising how qualified the Creator is to help his creation.
The Creator will help, not just in big ways, but in smaller troubles we face also. As he lists God’s care for humanity be begins with the line, “He will not let your foot slip“. Of course he can protect you from lions, he can smooth over that workplace conflict, and he can strengthen your marriage, but he’ll also not let your foot slip. In the face of grandeur, God cares about us scraping a knee, spraining an ankle, breaking a hip, or falling off a cliff. “He will not let your foot slip”
Of course, the very premise that we need to call out for help assumes that we will encounter troubles in our lives. This psalm doesn’t guarantee a trouble-free life. It teaches us that God is always with us. He who watches over you will not slumber.
This psalm reminds us that none of our problems and worries are too small for a great God.
Psalm 8 contains an important lesson about God. Humility and reverence before God need to be part of our faith. But we shouldn’t camp out in Psalm 8 as though it’s the end of the story. Our faith needs to grow to a place where we look at the majesty of God and praise Him because he cares about us. In all our relative weakness, He loves us, individually.
After preaching on this topic, I heard this song on the radio as I drove home immediately afterwards. I think it’s a great summary and I’m sure the artists had psalms like these in mind when they wrote it.
Somewhere in the list of “100 Bible passages Christians know best” you will find Romans 1:20.
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
Christians often point to the grand elements of nature and say, “there must be a God”. At other times we will highlight the intricacy of nature and say, “there must be a God”. One statement expresses awe at enormity and grandeur, the other expresses awe at delicacy and intricacy. At either end of the scale what we really ask is, “How could anyone look at this and deny the existence of a God?” We then point to Romans 1:20 and say, “See, people (atheists, remote tribes, scientists…) are without excuse for rejecting God.”
Unfortunately, we often fail to notice the details in this verse. Paul doesn’t claim that Creation tells us about Jesus. He doesn’t claim that nature informs us about the church. He simply says that nature reveals two aspects of God: Eternal power; and Divine nature. Basically, nature tells us that a divine God exists, and God is powerful.
Nature by itself does not enlighten us to the goodness of God. It doesn’t reveal the grace, or mercy, or love of the divine God.
It is true that at times we may see glimpses of goodness and tenderness in a sunset, a flower, or the way animals interact with each other. It is also true that carnivores feeding on other animals, earthquakes, droughts, diseases, and death may justifiably give a very different impression of God. This second view still sees God as divine and powerful, but adopts a very different view of His character.
Although Creation has a voice that speaks of God, God’s people still have a vital responsibility to use our voices to fill the many silences of creation.
If creation speaks of God, then I wonder if the way we treat creation speaks of the way we value God?
Harking all the way back to Genesis 1 God has given humanity the responsibility of caring for Creation. In the beginning this was the only responsibility God gave the people he created in his image. Don’t eat of one tree. Care for everything in the garden.
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Genesis 1:28
In my experience many people have taken the directive to “subdue and rule” as an opportunity to consume and exploit resources. We have taken our place at the top of the biological pecking order and acted as though everything else on the planet exists for our benefit alone.
Sadly, caring for the environment and other species inhabiting this planet has become a political football. Because the Green Party, or the Democrats or whoever have emphasized this so much, many people want to swing to the opposite extreme. That opposite extreme is to say that economics always trump environmental concerns.
I’m fine if we all have different ideas of what it means to rule over creation, as long as we all have that goal. Our track record as a collective humanity is not great. The World Wildlife Fund maintains a long list of animals that it regards as currently endangered. It doesn’t take very long searching the internet to find even longer lists of recently extinct species.
We can argue around the clock what the reasons are for the loss of biological diversity over the past 100 years or so, but I think most people would agree that humans have contributed to some degree.
We can also argue over definitions, but a key word for me in this conversation is “sustainability”. God wants people to live in a manner that sustains the life of the planet, the plants and the animals. While this charge was given to all humans through Adam and Eve, Christians who believe in the existence of God and the role of nature in revealing God, should take a lead role in promoting environmentally sustainable living.
From the very beginning God challenges us to consider what it means to “subdue and rule”. Humanity well knows the tendency for absolute power to corrupt absolutely. We understand the desire to accumulate power, to assert our will, to pad our nest, all at the expense of others. God calls us to a different manner of ruling.
God calls us to rule as He does: for the benefit of others. Jesus himself provides the ultimate example of this type of leadership. The King of the Jews allowed himself to be nailed to a cross for the benefit of all humans. He calls us to love our neighbours. And ultimately the health of the planet is linked the wellbeing our all people.
As a closing point I want to direct our attention to Hebrews 2:5-9 which quotes Psalm 8. These verses discuss “the world to come”. As I understand this passage, it states first that the world to come will not be subjected to angels, but, in light of Psalm 8, to humans. Christians in eternity will share the same responsibilities to the world we inhabit then as we do today on planet Earth. So we better take this task seriously.
What does the way you think about nature, which reveals God, communicate to those seeking God?
- “The Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of Creation” by Richard Bauckham.
- Chapter 4 in “Old Testament Ethics for the People of God” by Christopher J.H. Wright, (the chapter entitled ‘Ecology and the Earth’).
- Chapter 5 in “Surprised by Scripture” by N.T. Wright, (the chapter entitled ‘Jesus is Coming – Plant a Tree!’). Scot McKnight provides a brief review of Wright’s essay HERE.
- Chapter 21 in “Kingdom Ethics” by Stassen & Gushee (the chapter entitled ‘Care of Creation’).
Each year my church takes our worship service to a local park where we sing, pray, participate in the Lord’s Supper, and I bring a message from Scripture. Each year I try to allow the setting to influence the sermon topic.
Genesis 1-2 describe the Garden of Eden as a natural cathedral. A beautiful place where Adam and Eve could meet God. Talk with God. Walk with God. Work with God, and worship God.
In Genesis 1:28 God gives his created a humans a commission, “Be fruitful and multiply. Populate the earth. I make you trustees of My estate, so care for My creation and rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that roams across the earth.”
If we keep reading we find sin entering the garden and God banishes all humans from His presence in that perfect garden. But it’s not just the people that suffer because of sin. The garden also suffers. I have a hard time imagining what the garden was like before sin, but now it will be different. From this point forward the ground itself is cursed.
God announces in Gen 3:17-19,
cursed is the ground.
For the rest of your life,
You will fight for every crumb of food
from the crusty clump of clay I made you from.
As you labor, the ground will produce thorns and thistles,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
Your brow will sweat for your mouth to taste
even a morsel of bread until the day you return
To the very ground I made you from.
From dust you have come,
And to dust you shall return.
We usually read this and notice the impact we experience in gardening, farming and producing food. We will fight for food. Our produce will compete with weeds. It will be hard work. And in the end the ground wins as we ultimately return to dust.
But notice the impact upon the environment. It seems the earth will be less fertile. And as every gardener knows, if it’s not managed well the ground will soon be overgrown with thorns and thistles.
From this point on the Biblical picture of God’s kingdom routinely describes not just peace between people. Not just peace between people and God. In addition to these images, Scripture also imagines harmony in nature. The prophet Isaiah (11:6) speaks of a day when a wolf will lie next to a lamb, the leopard with the goat, and a lion with a calf. God’s plans for his creation involve bringing peace to all of his creation, not just His people.
The apostle Paul in Romans 8 describes how creation is frustrated, not that it did anything wrong, but because humans sinned. Now creation waits for the children of God to be revealed, so that the planet and universe can taste the same freedom that God’s children experience.
Now think back to God’s original instructions to the people he created. He told them to rule over creation. I suspect that throughout history we’ve read that verse and used it as authority to do whatever we want in the world. But if we think about it for a moment, that’s not really how we like to be ruled and it’s not the way God rules. God acts in our best interests. We would like to think that our elected leaders will also act in our best interests.
So when we have an opportunity to rule creation will we do so asking how much we can extract for our benefit, or what’s best for the world as a whole?
Basically, the question is this… Do we act toward creation as part of its curse or do we contribute to its redemption?
God cursed the earth.
When we contaminate water supplies.
When we build golf courses in the desert.
When we introduce radiation into our atmosphere.
When we over-log old growth forests.
When we dig huge holes in the ground pursuing minerals.
When we act without thought to Creation, we participate in the cursing of the earth.
This is a pertinent conversation because we live in an age when across the globe species are going extinct at a rate not seen since the dinosaurs. I don’t have all the answers for how to balance human needs and the good of nature as a whole, but I’m pretty sure we’re doing a bad job of ruling as long as species are disappearing.
I don’t intend to use this blog to promote particular courses of action. I’m not demanding that everybody drive 4 cylinder cars, or recycle every scrap of paper in their house. I’m not arguing over global warming or how we calculate the benefit of a mine to society versus the environmental damage it causes.
My point in writing this article is to simply highlight that God has given his people a responsibility to serve as “trustees of God’s estate, to care for His creation.” If Christians want to disagree on this topic, the conversation should revolve around how to care for creation, not if we should care for creation.
Jesus describes in Matthew 10:28-31 that God cares for people more that sparrows. But notice that God cares for sparrows. When we care for creation, we’re working with God rather than participating in the curse.
This week I’m following up on last week’s post that you can read HERE.
A friend of mine suggested an additional phase that I agree I need to include. This means we now have “SIX Phases of Transformation”.
The additional phase is “God Initiates“. This phase slots in as the first phase in the cycle.
In Acts 9 we see this phase clearly as Jesus appears to Saul while he travels to Damascus. He doesn’t appear to Saul as a gentle whisper, but in a blinding (literally) light from heaven and with an audible, bodiless voice. “Saul, can you hear me now?”
God had plans for Saul and he wasn’t going to sit around twiddling his thumbs hoping Saul would come to this realisation on his own. No, God stepped in and personally called Saul in a very attention getting fashion.
Not everyone receives such a personal call to discipleship from God. But God works in everyone’s life prior to our acknowledging Him. God Initiates. He Originates. He is the original Cause.
Our lives have always been a reaction to God’s action.
- God created. How would humanity respond? With disobedience.
- God cursed but preserved humanity. How would they respond? Cain kills Able and cycle of violence is initiated.
- God planned a Flood as judgement but gave a means of escape. How would humanity respond? With apathy.
- God promised relationship with Abraham and his descendents.
- God entered a covenant with Israel at Sinai. Will Israel be faithful? Increasingly, no.
- God ultimately sends his Son to Earth. How will his people respond? They kill him.
- God allows Jesus to die as a sacrifice for the world’s sins. Will people respond? Some do, some don’t.
- God raises Jesus from the grave. Will people believe? Some do, some don’t.
On a personal level people respond to the Gospel as a result of asking, “How does God’s gracious act of dying for my sins impact my life? God offers me forgiveness. Do I accept it?”
Even apart from the meta story of creation – cross- redemption, God inserts himself into our lives in a way that opens us up to the need of relationship with Him. I recently talked with a guy who was motivated to pursue relationship with God because he watched The Bible tv series. Hundreds of thousands of people watched that series but only a small percentage were prompted to study the Bible. God was already working in this guy’s life so that he was open to hearing the message of the Gospel. Perhaps six months earlier he would have simply rolled his eyes at another Christian TV show and changed the channel.
I believe that God in providential ways connects His people with those seeking Him. I don’t see God as a grand puppet master for all people all over the earth. But God inserts Himself in people’s lives at moments when they need Him. Sometimes God initiates by placing a person in a Christian family. Sometimes God initiates by exposing a person to a Christian teacher, or neighbour, or friend. Sometimes God initiates because a church in the community offers a ministry that an individual desperately needs. Sometimes God initiates by sending a teacher to the wilderness to meet a man in a chariot. (Acts 8:26-29)
So here’s what the updated diagram looks like:
For an alternative approach you might also appreciate this post by my friend James Wood as he reflects on the book The Tangible Kingdom by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay.
- Read Genesis 2:15-16 here.
- If you missed Sunday’s sermon (11 July), you can listen to it here.
- Follow the rest of this discussion here.
My sermon theme this week is “The Church of Christ should embrace stewardship.” It’s derived from the logic that if the church (the people) belongs to Christ, then our stuff also belongs to Christ.
As I was researching this topic it occurred to me that stewardship is an underlying principle of God’s relationship with humanity. It was established at Creation as described in Genesis 2:15. God created the Garden of Eden for Adam, and then commissioned him to work in it, and care for it. God gave Adam the garden, but God didn’t give up ownership. He also gave Adam responsibilities along with the gift.
Adam was to “take care” of the garden (NIV). The NLT translates the instruction as “watch over it”, while the CEV reads, “and look after it”. No matter how hard he worked, Adam could never claim that he created the Garden. He was caring for God’s property. He was God’s steward of the Garden.
As I thought about this, the importance of this responsibility struck me. Many of the central tenets of the Christian faith only exist because of The Fall. Without sin, there is no need for grace, or mercy. Forgiveness becomes redundant when there’s no offences. Corrective discipline didn’t exist in the Garden. Although these are wonderful blessings that we receive from God, they would be unnecessary in the absence of sin. They were not part of God’s pure Creation.
God’s initial design for Creation included: Creativity; Love; Tenderness; Order; Beauty; Intimacy; Worship; Work; Productivity; and Stewardship.
I’m not sure of all the implications of this distinction. Are elements of God’s original design somehow more holy or sacred than post-Fall blessings?
However, if we regard history as God working to redeem humanity from the consequences of the Fall and to restore His relationship with humanity until it culminates in a new heaven and a new earth, then restoring God’s created order assumes some additional importance. Somewhere close to the core of our relationship with God, we find the principle of stewardship.
The first and obvious application is that God expects humanity to care for creation. That was God’s initial intent for Adam, what makes us exempt from it?
Most discussion I’ve heard concerning stewardship revolve around our personal finances. That’s certainly an appropriate application, but stewardship doesn’t start and stop with finances. When we say “Amen” to James 1:17 “Every good and perfect gift is from above…” then we’re also undertaking to serve as stewards of those gifts. Let me close by listing a few examples:
- Gift: The Gospel Stewardship: Go and make disciples… (Matt 28:19-20)
- Gift: Freedom Stewardship: Do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature… (Gal 5:13)
- Gift: Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38) Stewardship: …keep in step with the Spirit. (Gal. 5:25)
- Gift: Forgiveness Stewardship: Shouldn’t you have had mercy… just as I had on you? (Matt 18:21-35)
I have just two questions for you today:
1. Are values/principles that we see demonstrated pre-Fall, more significant to us than those introduced to us as a consequence of the Fall?
2. Can you add some examples of Gifts & Stewardship to the list I started here?
This week’s sermon made a couple of suggestions about where we can see or experience God’s presence: standing in an open space letting the wind blow around us; sailing a boat a night; watching clouds and imagining them as God’s chariots.
Where do you see or experience God’s presence in the world around you? Share a comment.
Other thoughts coming out of this psalm you might want to comment on are:
1. Verse 23 describes humanity’s natural state as “going out to work”. Was work always part of God’s design for us, or is it just a result of the curse? Should we see God’s presence or Satan’s in our need to work?
2. Should Christians ever pray v35? “Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more.“
3. How is “Creation Stewardship” different or similar to the environmental movement? What is a proper Christian attitude to the natural world?
Songs from the Psalm
A lot of these are just as much tied to Psalms such as 8, 9, 24, 100, etc., but here’s another list [Thanks Brian]. Please add your own suggestions too:
- How Great Is Our God (2nd verse–“He wraps Himself in light?)
- For the Beauty of the Earth
- All Things Praise Thee
- How Great Thou Art
- This Is My Father’s World
- Praise the Lord, ye heav’ns, adore Him!
- Indescribable (Chris Tomlin)
- Let Us With a Gladsome Mind (GSII 433)
- All Creatures of Our God and King
- Praise to the Lord, the Almighty (GSR 45)
- Consider the Lilies (GSII 542)
- Almighty (Wayne Watson)
- All Things Bright and Beautiful (SFP)