Monday, August 20, 2012

Psalm 104: A Meditation on the Greatness of God

Reading: Psalm 104  
Last week I was hiking with my family in the mountains of north Georgia paying attention to a small stream beside us. All of a sudden the water volume in the stream more than doubled. I looked for a tributary, or some other source of this water, but all I could see was water coming out of the ground at the edge of the stream, evidently from a spring. My soul rejoiced in the greatness of God who waters the earth. According to Psalm 104 that is exactly what my soul should do in response to this spring of water. (See Psalm 104:10-12)
Psalm 104 is a meditation in the greatness of God with the goal that we worship God. It begins, “My soul, praise Yahweh! LORD my God, You are very great...”, and then begins considering evidences of God's greatness. I counted over 30 references in this psalm to God's activity reminding us of the greatness of God—how active God is in our everyday lives, how active He is in ways that often go unnoticed. That isn't to say we don't reap the benefit of His activity; we do. However, it often remains unacknowledged. We often do not stop to consider and return praise to God for the many ways He sustains us. Psalm 104 is given to help us consider God's activity and return appropriate credit to God for what He does.
Some key verses that help summarize this activity of God are:
He waters the mountains from his upper chambers; the land is satisfied by the fruit of his work. (Psalm 104:13)
Man goes out to his work and to his labor until evening. How countless are Your works, LORD! In wisdom You have made them all; the earth is full of Your creatures.(Psalm 104:23-34)
The land, or the earth, is satisfied by the fruit, the effect, of God's work. Man can labor for a day but must rest, but God's labor, God's work is unending; it is countless. Our work is only productive because God's work is constantly active. Do you think of God as active? Do you think of God as working? Often times, I think our view of God is that he made the world in six days and has been resting ever since. However, the scriptures indicate that he rested on the seventh day. He has been working ever since upholding all things by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3).
Part of what robs God of the praise that is due His name in our day is the same thing that robbed Him of the praise due His name in Biblical times: idolatry. Both now and then, people in rebellion against God attribute the works of God to inanimate objects (idols). Then they made statues which represented various gods (of the sun, or the moon, etc.). Each of these 'gods' were really personifications of created things. They were not the worship of the Creator (Romans 1:25). Today we do the same thing in our naturalistic, materialistic1 culture. We attribute the works of God who sustains all things to inanimate objects, such as “nature” or “the laws of science”. People refuse to acknowledge a personal God who created all things, but constantly attribute rational, personal attributes to inanimate things like nature (“mother nature”) because we can't escape the rational nature of the way the world operates.
Christians are subtly being influenced by this worldly culture. (At least I am; I need the reminder of Psalm 104!) One of the ways this might be seen is in a common definition used for “a miracle.” A miracle, some say, is an interruption in the normal or natural course of events. This definition seems to imply that it requires no activity of God for the “normal course of events” to continue as they do. That could not be further from the truth. James K. A. Smith describes Augustine's understanding of a miracle:
Augustine describes them as “extraordinary” actions that are meant to refocus our semiotic attention on the “miraculous” nature of the ordinary. A “miracle” is not an event that “breaks” any “laws” of nature, since nature does not have such a reified [material, embodied] character; rather, a miracle is a manifestation of the Spirit’s presence that is “out of the ordinary”; but even the ordinary is a manifestation of the Spirit’s presence. Augustine enjoins us to see nature as miracle.2
In our materialistic culture, whenever we see a rational, constant working that seems intelligent in its working and can be counted on we call it “a law”. But we can't see the law, we can't find the law, we can only say that it must exist because it is always there, always present. We credit an inanimate thing (a law) with what only an animate (in the sense of living and active), faithful Person (Lawgiver) can do.3
Though many are content to credit idols (nature, or other inanimate things) with the works of God, this usually changes when God ceases His works on their behalf.
When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. (Psalm 104:29 NIV)
The moment God hides his face—ceases to provide His faithful works on our behalf which sustain us in all of life—terror strikes us. No one in the middle of the ocean pleads with nature to save them and give them one more chance. No one in the proverbial foxhole prays to nature to protect them and get them home to their family. When we are angry about how things turn out, no one blames nature. They are quick to blame God for the bad, while not crediting Him for the good (Proverbs 19:3). Hypocrisy isn't confined to believers.
May Psalm 104 remind us of the many ways God is constantly working on our behalf and result in praise, glory and honor being given to Him through Jesus Christ.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,
1By materialistic I am referencing the idea that all that exists is the material, or matter. It is the denial of the spiritual.
2Smith, James K. A. (2010-06-15). Thinking in Tongues: Pentecostal Contributions to Christian Philosophy (Pentecostal Manifestos) (pp. 104-105). Eerdmans Publishing Co.
3For a much more eloquent discussion of this subject see Redeeming Science, by Vern Poythress, Chapter 1, Why Scientists Must Believe in God: Divine Attributes of Scientific Law. Crossway Books.