1 Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens.
2 Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.
3 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?
5 You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor.
6 You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet:
7 all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild,
8 the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.
9 Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Most Sundays we look at the Lectionary texts here at Staunton Mennonite Church, and this week is no exception. Though I often focus on the Gospel reading, today I find myself drawn to the Psalm. I’ll just tell you now that I don’t preach often from the Psalms, in large part because it is difficult to preach from the Psalms. The Psalms are essentially lyrics to a song without the music; they are poetry. And I simply don’t understand poetry J. Just look at how this text begins in verse 1, “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Now look at how it ends, “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
Yep, that a song; that’s poetry. And because the Psalms are songs, they use a lot of flowery and figurative language making them hard to really figure out and determine the point. And even if you do figure out the point, someone else might come to a totally different conclusion!
That’s okay. Songs are meant to bring out an emotion from deep within us. Sometimes a song will take us back to a memory that we haven’t considered for years. Sometimes we are reminded of a person, a place, or an event that was meaningful to us. Sometimes these are good memories, and sometimes they are bad memories.
So when we read the Psalms, we must remember that these were songs used by the Hebrew people in their worship. Today’s is attributed to the man who would become King David, and David draws our attention and our emotions to the beauty of creation. Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Today we are going to look at how creation points us toward and reveals who God is. And as is often the case, when I look at a subject one Sunday, I often realize that I can’t just stop there. Because, as we will see, there are some limitations to understanding God through creation alone. What I hope to do through the month of June is to look at different ways that God is revealed to us. Over the next few weeks I want to look at God revealed through creation, God revealed through the Bible, and God revealed through Jesus.
The first thing that I want to say about God revealed through creation is that I am being very intentional in calling the world around us creation. I will also refer to creation as nature in my sermon, and I may talk about nature in regular conversation, but when I’m trying to make a point, I’m going to use the word creation. The word “nature” suggests that this is just the way things are. The trees, the rivers, the mountains, all of that is nature and nature is natural. It just is that way automatically. But to call it “creation” suggests that there is a Creator. I like to say things like, “I’m not that interested in environmentalism, but I am interested in creation care.”
It might sound like I’m splitting hairs a bit, and perhaps I am. But my point is that world around us, the sun, moon, mountains, and ocean, these things aren’t natural. They were created. And all these things point to a Creator.
Let’s pick up our scripture in the second part of verse 1, and then again in verse 3, “You have set your glory in the heavens… I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place.”
It sounds like David is sitting back, looking at the night skies, reflecting upon the Creator. Remember that before he was king, David was a shepherd boy, and there really wasn’t much to do in those days after the sun went down. David wasn’t binge watching Netflix. So as the sheep settled in for a long night’s sleep out on the pasture, David looked to the stars. And in the stars, David sees God’s glory.
What it is about the stars that catches David’s attention, I can’t say. Perhaps it is the beauty. Maybe the vast nature of the skies. But for me, when I think about things like the stars in the heavens, I realize how limited I am.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never made a star or a moon before in my life. I’ve made a son…and a daughter, but never a star. I can’t make a star, and I assume that you can’t either. So who made the star? I think that points us toward the Creator.
When I think about all that human beings have made, I can be really overwhelmed and impressed. We have built tall skyscrapers and giant seaworthy vessels. We have made tiny microchips and computers that we can conveniently slide into our pockets. We can build mansions, empires, and dynasties, but I can’t make a snail or even a simple amoeba. And I certainly can’t make a star, a ball of burning gas, millions or billions, of miles away.
There is an entire area of theology that claims that God and the attributes of God can be understood through observing creation; this area of theology is simply enough called “Natural Theology.” A number of theologians across time and denominations can be described as Natural Theologians: Thomas Aquinas, Paul Tillich, and even CS Lewis have been called Natural Theologians. Natural Theologians will claim that one does not even need to hear about God to come to some basic understanding of the divine. There are things that are the way that they are, and we did not cause them to be that way.
So for instance, I remember reading CS Lewis’s Mere Christianity when I was in college. I didn’t read my text books, but I devoured Mere Christianity! One of the arguments that Lewis uses for the existence of God comes from a position of universal ethics. He says that there are things that are universally considered good and things that are universally considered bad. I don’t remember all of his examples, but one might say that it is universally considered good to help the poor or the sick. Or maybe we universally think that it is wrong to kick babies. One example that I do remember is that Lewis said that we as the human race believe that cannibalism is wrong, that everyone agrees that it is wrong to eat other people. I remember that example because I said to myself, “That’s not true. Cannibals don’t think that cannibalism is wrong.”
That’s when I realized that I might have a career as a theologian, revealing the holes in the great CS Lewis’s arguments. J
The point that Lewis was trying to make is that there are actions that we as human beings recognize as good and actions that we recognize as bad. So why is the vast majority of the world in agreement on these issues? Lewis says that it is because we have one maker who instills this sense of right and wrong within us. I would go further and say it is because we still bear the image of God, even if that image is marred by sin.
Anytime we start with an observation that can be made by anyone and try to deduce something about God from that information, we are doing Natural Theology.
When we think about things like how if the earth was closer to the sun, we would all bake in the heat or die from radiation, which suggests a Creator, we are doing Natural Theology. When we talk about the complexity of an atom, which is still beyond our full comprehension and must be the work of a superior being, we are doing Natural Theology.
Let’s look at verse 3-5 and do a little Natural Theology, or Creation Theology: “I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet.”
David then goes on to list some of the things that are below human beings: the animals, the fish, the earth itself. There is a hierarchy to things here on earth, and it is observable. We call the lion the king of the jungle. The lion is stronger than the antelope, more powerful than the zebra, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. And though I wouldn’t want to get into hand-to-paw combat with a lion, because of human intellect and reason, we are higher than even the king of the jungle. But yet still below the King of kings.
David makes an observation about the stars and the moon in the night sky. He makes an observation about the hierarchies of human beings over animals, plants, and the earth. And from there he asks, “What are human beings that you even care about us? You made all of this, yet you care about us enough to put us in charge of your creation.” David deduces from creation that there is a creator who gave us authority and dominion over what God has made.
So what’s the problem with Natural Theology or doing theology with nothing but what we can observe? I would lift up two concerns: Natural Theology is incomplete and can be interpreted in a number of ways (as if Biblical Theology or Systematic Theology can’t be interpreted in a number of ways J). Let’s start by looking at how incomplete Natural Theology might be.
When I mention theologians who can be considered Natural Theologians, Aquinas, Tillich, and Lewis, none of them would say that God can be understood exclusively by looking at nature or simply using reason. So we often divide how we know God into several categories, like Natural Theology and Divine Revelation. Under Revelation we would list things like Scripture, Preaching/Teaching, and the Incarnation of Jesus Christ—boom, there’s your sermon series! As Steve Wilkens writes in his book Beyond Bumper Sticker Ethics, in summarizing Aquinas, “For Christianity, the way of salvation is found only in Scripture’s witness to Christ. This takes us beyond general revelation to what is called special revelation. We cannot learn that Jesus died for our sins from gazing at the mountains, inspecting the starry heavens or watching a sunset over the ocean. This is known through Scripture” (187).
Natural or Creation Theology is simply incomplete. It is kind of like a compass. Yes, creation can point you to the Creator, but it doesn’t tell you all you need to know about God. Creation itself does not give you all the necessary details. You need the compass and a map.
Then comes the issue of interpretation. Our scripture for today talks about the ordering of the world and how that is interpreted by observing creation: God must have set the stars in the sky and placed the care of the animals and earth upon the shoulders of humanity. Verse five says, “You have made [humanity] a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor.” Some versions even say “a little lower than God.”
So we are somewhere in the hierarchy between God and the angels, but definitely over everything else. So since we are over the animals and the earth, we can do whatever we want with them, right! We have the power and the God-given right to do so! We can kill all the exotic animals for sport and harvest all the oil, coal, and rainforests for our own good. We have dominion!
You could arrive at that conclusion based alone on what we observe. But when we also incorporate Scripture, we see that the earth is the Lord’s, and everything within it. And when we consider the creation narrative from Genesis, we see that we are not placed over the animals and the earth to use them however we want. We are stewards over God’s creation.
This isn’t just an environmental concern. Let’s take this hierarchy we observe in nature one step further. The physical strength, intelligence, and wellbeing of animals, including human animals, allow us to grow and prosper. This is what has been called “the survival of the fittest.” The weak and inferior species either adapt or the die out. That’s just nature. Lions kill off the slower prey. Small fish learn to hide and camouflage their selves or they get eaten by larger fish.
From a Natural Theology perspective, God orders the world in such a way that the stronger members of a society can overtake the weaker members.
This is the line of thinking that was employed by the more-developed nations in the west who invaded African, South America, North America, the Caribbean, India, you name it. God has given us the superior intellect, we have developed superior weapons, so therefore God wants us to have your land. Praise be to God! They often gave it a theological name and called this concept “manifest destiny.”
No! Jesus wipes that all away with one Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Natural Theology is insufficient because it doesn’t give us a clear enough vision of who God is and it can be interpreted in a number of ways. We need more, but it is a great start. It is a compass that points us in the right direction, but we need a map as well.
I truly believe that creation points us toward our Creator. I believe that because I have felt small. I have stood at the edge of the ocean, put my toes into the water, looked out over the seas, and realized how little I am. I’ve flown over the Rockies, climbed (by car) to the top of Pikes Peak, all 14,110 feet, and realized how vast this world is. I’ve looked into a microscope, seen the intricacies of cells, and marveled at the precision involved. I’ve held a baby in my arms, I’ve held a dying man in my arms, and been moved to tears by the beauty of life.
As has been said many times before, I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist. We can talk about Big Bangs and evolution, we can discuss the age of the earth and the rise of humanity, and the more we do, the more I believe. Because regardless of how you want to explain the world around us and how it came into existence, I simply cannot believe that there was not a Creator involved.
Creation Theology is our compass, pointing us to the Creator. Next week we will begin to look at the map of Divine Revelation.