November 27, 2014

Creation Is a Many-Splendored Thing (5): Delighting in Creation’s Goodness

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O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.

• Psalm 104: 24, NRSV

• • •

It has been awhile since we’ve returned to our series from William P. Brown’s fascinating book on the many ways the Bible teaches about creation: The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder. But Thanksgiving Day here in the U.S. seems like a perfect day to look at the most extensive creation psalm in Scripture, Psalm 104, for as Brown says, in this psalm “creation is seen not from the creator’s perspective but from the creature’s, specifically from the standpoint of Homo laudans, ‘the praising human.'”

As with many psalms, Psalm 104 does not readily divulge its historical context. It is pure poetry, setting its focus on the world of nature, not on Israel’s history, and in a strikingly novel way. It offers an unabashedly positive view of the natural world that includes the wilderness, traditionally considered dangerous and chaotic. Instead of “Lions and tigers and bears, O my!” we have “Lions and tigers and bears, Amen!” (along with the coneys, onagers, and mountain goats). The psalmist celebrates the world of the wild and the God who sustains it all. (p. 144).

This psalm is an extended meditation about God’s repeated pronouncements in Genesis 1: “And God saw that it was good.” The psalmist agrees.

  • Verses 1-4 — the transcendent glory of the heavens: good
  • Verse 5 — the eternal stability of the earth: good
  • Verses 6-9 — the seas that fill the places God appointed for them: good
  • Verses 10-13 — the fresh waters that satisfy the thirst of God’s wild creatures: good
  • Verses 14-15 — the abundant food that God brings from the earth to feed his creatures: good
  • Verses 16-23 — the many and varied earthscapes in which God’s creatures find a home: good

The world so conceived by the psalmist is not so much a free range as a spacious home, and its inhabitants all share the earth as their common habitat. Psalm 104, in short, is a fanfare for the common creature. (p. 147).

. . . Place and provision, according to Psalm 104, are the fundamental features of creation that ensure the continuance of life. (p. 151).

Blue-WhaleAs the psalmist praises God and relishes the vastness, complexity, and beneficence of God’s creation and the astonishing creatures who find a home there, he even mentions Leviathan. Leviathan was the mythic sea creature who represented the forces of chaos. But rather than portraying this sea monster in terms of cosmic warfare and opposition to God, he says, There [in the sea] go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it (v. 26). So good is God’s creation deemed to be in Psalm 104 that even its most feared creature is described as frolicking amid the waves by God’s design!

Furthermore, and most significantly for our understanding of the world, even the death of God’s creatures is depicted, not as a curse, but as part of the natural life cycle of rebirth and renewal in the earth (vv. 27-30):

These all look to you
to give them their food in due season;
when you give to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.
When you send forth your spirit, they are created;
and you renew the face of the ground.

p00rwzp9This reinforces the perspective I shared last week: that creation did not change in its nature, properties, or “laws” as a result of a “fall” or “curse” in Genesis 3. It was deemed “very good” by God in the beginning, and in this poem, the psalmist affirms that it remains “very good.” This does not change the fact that God acts in both judgment and salvation in the world. But God does that because of what we read at the very end of Psalm 104, not because creation itself has been placed under a curse that transformed it from “good” to “not good.”

So let’s look at the way this psalm ends. The one decidedly minor note in this symphony of praise proclaims that a single part of God’s creation threatens its goodness. Verse 35, an imprecation on the wicked, at first glance seems profoundly out of place: “Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more.” To this point, there has been barely any mention of human beings, much less talk of sin and wickedness. Why does the psalmist include this appeal for judgment at the end of Psalm 104?

Brown comments:

For many readers, this imprecation is a “damned spot” on an otherwise perfect poem. But for the ancient listener, calling God to exterminate the wicked made sense in a less than perfect world. By cursing the wicked, the psalmist transfers the evil chaos traditionally assigned to mythically monstrous figures such as Leviathan and places it squarely on human shoulders. Conflict in creation, the psalmist acknowledges, is most savage among the distinctly human beasts. (p. 144f)

The danger this good world faces continually is that human beings will corrupt it by “corrupting their way upon the earth” (Genesis 6:12). Humankind, given stewardship over the world, is called to represent the God of Psalm 104 in all the earth. This is the God who sustains creation by his wisdom (v. 24) and by the joy he takes in it (v. 31). Likewise, through humanity’s wise care and use of this amazing planet, and by taking delight in its wonders and never forgetting from Whom they came, we take our rightful place here among the manifold splendors of the cosmos and fulfilling God’s will on earth as in heaven.

So . . .

peaceablekingdomLet us give thanks to God for the divine wisdom and joy displayed in his good creation. Thank him for giving us and all creatures a home and a source of abundant provision.

As we give thanks today, let us confess our sin of bringing corruption into this good world, posing an ongoing threat to its marvelous ecosystems, ourselves, and other creatures by our predatory behaviors.

Let us thank the Creator that though the corruption we bring is profound, God continues to rejoice in the work of his hands and the goodness of creation still shines through, prompting meditation and praise every day.

Let us pray that, like our Creator, we will be wise in tending to the creation, delighting in its wonders and being good stewards of its resources.

And let us anticipate that day when sin and wickedness shall be banished from the earth, and all things will be gathered together and made new in Christ (Ephesians 1:10).

Happy Thanksgiving.

Randy Thompson: Alone with Good Luck?

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Alone with Good Luck? (A Thanksgiving Meditation)
by Randy Thompson

It’s a simple point, really, but one that needs to be made often, and that is, there’s a huge difference between giving thanks and having a good lucky feeling about life.

Having a good lucky feeling about our achievements and about our possessions, which define our achievements, is to be aware that life has gone well, that we are comfortable, and that life is pleasant.  It is to be aware, in a vague sort of way, of all the good things in life. Since the question of why these things were there in the first place hasn’t been raised, they are chalked up to “good luck.”  There are other ways of describing this attitude, of course. There’s “Life’s a bowl of cherries.” Or, “I’m blessed.”  Or, “I’m fortunate.” This attitude can be deeply felt, but it is an attitude where we are left alone in our own, private universes.

The problem is, feeling lucky is not the same thing as giving thanks.  Feeling lucky or fortunate doesn’t relate us to anyone outside ourselves.  Giving thanks joins us to others; it recognizes we live our lives in a web of relationships, that we live giving thanks and receiving thanks.  At the center of this vast web of relationship is the One who created us, God. We are not alone in our own personal universe of well-being.  Gratitude connects us with others, and especially so with God.

This feeling of being lucky is the attitude of a character in one of Jesus’ parables, one whom Jesus called a fool. In fact, the parable is commonly referred to as “The Parable of the Rich Fool” (You’ll find it in Luke 12:13-23).  In it, a rich farmer has had a very good year–a very good year indeed. His harvest has been successful beyond his wildest dreams. So, he decides that what he needs is bigger barns to store his harvest–or, to give it a contemporary spin–to store all his “stuff.”  He feels very lucky indeed; maybe even, somehow, “blessed.”  He says, pointedly, to himself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink, and be merry.”

Raising-a-glass-with-friends-and-family-to-welcome-2010This rich farmer is enjoying his good fortune to the hilt. He is lucky indeed. “Blessed” even! Yet, if you know the story, it all goes south quickly. He is not alone in his universe of good luck. Unfortunately for him, he lives in God’s universe, and he’s oblivious to God, and to the many wonderful gifts that God gives, gifts such as good harvests.  The story ends with God getting the last word, and it turns out this rich farmer wasn’t as lucky as he thought he was: “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”

The point of the parable, of course, is that God intends for harvests–possessions–to be shared.  Ultimately, you will lose all your earthly blessings when you die; why not share them with others before them? Instead of hoarding them in your own private universe, live in God’s universe instead, and expand your heart by transforming your earthly blessings into gifts and blessings for others? Why not invest your heart in loving God by thanking him, and loving your neighbors by sharing with them?

However, for our purposes, the point of the parable isn’t the point that Jesus made here. Rather, we’re looking not at God’s judgment, but at the Rich Fool’s attitude that provoked God’s judgment.

The rich man here sees his goods, his success, and his wealth in relation to himself and not in relation to God. We don’t know whether he was literally fat or not – the Lord doesn’t provide that detail – but poetically, we can think of him as “fat and happy.”  All is well in his little universe of good luck, at least temporarily. But, “luck” is as stable as a Hollywood marriage; it doesn’t last. And if you don’t see your life in relation to God, that’s all you’re left with

Late November, of course, is when we celebrate Thanksgiving. (Corporate sponsors:  Butterball, Ocean Spray, and the NFL). Sadly, for many, it will not be a time of giving thanks, but a time of merely feeling lucky or fortunate—and luck doesn’t owe thanks to anyone; it just “happens,” or so it is thought.

The word we use to describe our autumnal foray into gluttony is “Thanksgiving.” But, it is a nonsense word unless there is Someone to thank. We thank people when they give us gifts at Christmas or on our birthday. (At least, we’re supposed to.) We thank people for their help and encouragement. We thank people who have taught us needed skills or given us helpful wisdom. (Again, at least we’re supposed to!)   We’re supposed to thank our Creator, too, for the universe we live in was created by Him, and us along with it. And, if we’re at all honest, His creation is quite a piece of work, despite what we’ve done with it. For that matter, each of our lives is quite a piece of work too, as the Psalmist suggests. We, each of us, are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). Each one of us gifted by God with skills, aptitudes, and interests.

It is no great mystery and no new spiritual wisdom to note that the One to whom we owe thanks most of all is God.  It is God who gave us the skills and abilities to create wealth. It is God who put other people in our lives at just the right time so that we could begin a new, better chapter in life.  It is God who turned our painful dead ends into super highways of promise. And, of course, supremely, it is God who came to earth and gave us an eternal feast of bread and wine that bears the body and blood of His Son, where thanks-giving is fulfilled in communion that is eternal in nature.

Biblical Marriage: BEYOND Traditional

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Song of Songs (1974), Chagall

In last Saturday’s Ramblings we had a story about Rick Warren turning the Vatican into a revival meeting in support of Biblical, traditional marriage. He did so with a scintillating 8-point sermon that followed the alphabet . . . . Well, he followed the alphabet until he got to the last point, and then it seems that Warren just couldn’t remember what follows “G”. (That’s ok, heat of the moment and all, believe me I understand.)

Anyway, Bishop Warren gave an eminently Power-Pointable list of action steps for Christian leaders and churches wanting to promote “Biblical marriage.” This is necessary, he said, because we live in a world in which “marriage is ridiculed, resented, rejected and redefined” (nailed the alliteration, didn’t he?). One of his action steps to solve this problem was that Christians should:

Develop small group courses to support marriage

Now I know Rick Warren is a busy man, so in the spirit of Christian love and cooperation, I thought I’d help him out by writing an explicitly Biblical small group course for him. I call it, “Biblical Marriage: BEYOND Traditional,” because as you’ll see, traditional marriage as many of us see it ain’t got nothin’ on what the Bible actually portrays.

Here are some sample lessons. I’m sure you’ll see how practical and helpful they will be in advancing the cause of Biblical marriage that goes BEYOND merely traditional:

iBooks logoLesson One: Garden delights (Genesis 2-3)

Let’s start where the Bible does: with husband and wife frolicking about naked in a garden. If you want your marriage to be Biblical, outdoors nudity is essential. This lesson will give practical suggestions for creating your own private, outdoor retreat where the neighbors can’t spy on you, where you can play au natural to your hearts’ delight. Nothing will free you to express love, devotion, and commitment like walking, talking, eating fruit and gardening with each other in the altogether. Don’t be ashamed. Forsake those fig leaves that have kept your marriage from being all that it can be, and go BEYOND!

iBooks logoLesson Two: But what if I married a Nephilim? (Genesis 6)

No marriage is perfect, but sometimes you wake up and wonder if the person lying next to you is actually some fallen angel with demonic intentions. The Bible affirms that this is indeed possible. Perhaps you think you missed God’s will. You never found your “Noah” even though you dreamed of a righteous and blameless life partner with whom you could weather the storms of life. So you settled for someone who called himself “a son of God,” but now you realize he was really an alien giant with a heart as dark as the depths of the sea. This lesson explores how you can manage those pesky human/alien incompatibility issues. It will also reveal how God wants to flood your life with blessings in spite of the bad match you made.

Boaz wakes and sees Ruth at his feet, Chagall

Boaz wakes and sees Ruth at his feet, Chagall

iBooks logoLesson Three: Creative ways to pass on your heritage (Genesis, Ruth)

God designed marriage to be his chosen method of producing a godly line of descendents. This can challenge a marriage, and sometimes, we have to work extra hard to make that happen. We want to encourage you to get creative, and go BEYOND!

We’ll study Lot, for example, and discuss the daughter-father connection. And then we will look at Tamar, who illustrates the more complex but explicitly commended Biblical principle of “my husband’s dead and my brother-in-law won’t sleep with me and I don’t have kids so I guess I’ll become a prostitute and seduce my father-in-law so I can become a mother.” As a bonus, we’ll discover how we as parents can be like Naomi, and encourage our daughters to go lay naked at the feet of drunk wealthy landowners until they wake up, fear the worst, and agree to marry them. The possibilities are endless!

iBooks logoLesson Four: Developing a way with words (Song of Solomon)

Ladies, ever wish your husband would speak more lovingly to you? That, for example, he would tell you your hair is like a flock of goats, your breasts like towers, your belly like a heap of wheat? Or at least that your feet look great in sandals? And men, wouldn’t you love to hear your wife compliment you for those ivory abs, those alabaster pillar legs you have? Wouldn’t you just love her to praise you as a gay gazelle, leaping over the mountains? Then you won’t want to miss this lesson. We’ll divide up into couples and challenge you to find creative ways of describing your partner’s body parts. Then we’ll come back together and share what we’ve come up with! It’s loads of fun and not embarrassing in the least. Then we’ll send you home to practice naked in your garden.

iBooks logoLesson Five: Marriage as Evangelism (Hosea, Esther)

God may sometimes call you to marry someone you would never naturally consider, just so that you can win them to the Lord and be an example to others. This was Hosea’s calling, and in this lesson we’ll help you men learn how to identify which broken, fallen women are just right for you. We’ll discuss strategies for the ladies too, taking our cues from Queen Esther. You’ll learn how to work up the perfect erotic dance moves so that you can capture the heart of the evil monster you’re eager to reach. Who knows whether some of us will be called to this kind of marriage in “such a time as this”? This is the time to go BEYOND!

• • •

Our crack staff will be hard at work developing other Biblical lessons too. We’ll suggest survival tips for concubines and demonstrate the best use of mandrakes to foil your sister-wife from sleeping with your husband tonight. We’ll show you how to keep a Levitical calendar and checklist to make sure your sex life doesn’t break God’s rules. For those of you forced to live with contentious spouses, we’ll show you how to make a corner of your attic into a proper place where you can hide, as Proverbs instructs. We’ll also study the prophets to see when it is appropriate to talk dirty and examine why Paul would rather stay single than go through all this hassle.

In every way possible, we want to encourage you to go BEYOND in your marriage! So watch for this ground-breaking study at Saddleback Resources in early 2015.

Take a stand for marriages that are BEYOND traditional — Be thoroughly BIBLICAL!

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