Theme: When All Creation Will Praise
In this week’s lessons, we see that all creation is called upon to praise the Lord.
Scripture: Psalm 98:1-9
The final stanza is poetic and in some ways the most unexpected. For in it, in beautiful language, the psalmist calls upon the entire creation to praise God. In the first stanza the appeal is to Israel. In the second stanza the appeal is to the nations of the earth. In this last stanza the call is to creation or, as we would say, the cosmos. The reason for it is that God is coming to “judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity” (v. 9). In other words, the psalm closes by looking ahead to that future day when the ills of this suffering world will be set right. We know this as the day of the return of Jesus Christ.
This joyful, future liberation of the cosmos to join in praise to God is explained further by Paul in the eighth chapter of Romans. He writes, “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (vv. 19-21). In these verses Paul is personifying nature. He does not mean that nature has personal feelings that correspond to ours, only that nature is not yet all that God has predestined it to be and is in a sense waiting for its true fulfillment. It is what the psalmist is suggesting, too.
This understanding of creation is radically different from the way the world looks at nature. The world makes either one of two errors where the cosmos is concerned. Either it deifies nature, virtually worshiping it, which is why some people think it is worse to harm the environment for spotted owls than to abort babies. Or the world regards nature as evolving toward perfection, accompanied by the human race which is also evolving.
Many of us can recall that powerful television image of Carl Sagan on the “Cosmos” series standing before a large screen on which there was a display of the night sky in all its starry splendor and saying in nearly mystical tones, “The cosmos is all that is or that ever was or that ever will be.” Sagan is the image of unbelieving man, standing on the very tips of his toes, peering into the distant heavens as far as his telescopes will allow and declaring with blind arrogance, “The world is all that is.”
Paul gives us a very different picture. He also pictures something staring off into the distance. But it is not man who is on tiptoe looking off into the distance. It is creation itself, and what creation is earnestly looking for, as it looks beyond itself, is the “glorious freedom of the children of God” which it will share. Creation wants to praise God, and will, according to Paul’s teaching and this psalm.
The world makes another error, which is not entirely different from the first error. It sees in nature some kind of perfecting principle, almost like saying: The world is not God yet, but it is on the way. In cosmic terms this is the principle of evolution. In human terms it is the principle of inevitable perfection: “Every day in every way I am getting better and better.” In other words, I may not be God yet, but I will be, given time. Of course, a lot of time has gone by—millions of years according to L. S. B. Leakey and other evolutionists—and man seems to be as much unlike God as he ever was.
The Christian’s perspective is far more balanced and more mature than this or anything the world can devise. The Christian doctrine of creation has three parts.
1. This is God’s world. God made it, and it is his. As a result, we must respect the world and not abuse it. We must treat it responsibly.
2. The world is not what it was created to be. It has been subjected to troubles as the result of God’s judgment on man at the time of the Fall. It has been subjected to frustration, bondage and decay, according to Paul’s teaching in Romans.
3. The world will one day be renewed. I think of the way C. S. Lewis developed this idea in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In the first section of that book, when Narnia was under the power of the wicked White Witch, the land was in a state of perpetual winter. Spring never came. But when Aslan rose from the dead the ice began to melt, flowers bloomed and the trees turned green. It is poetical writing, but it describes something that will happen. The rivers will indeed clap their hands. The mountains will indeed sing. And we will all join in. Hallelujah!
To what is the third stanza directed? How does the psalm close?
How does creation worship God?
What are two ungodly views of nature? Describe the picture Paul gives of nature.
Why can we not achieve perfection?
Reflection: Is your view of nature consistent with what the Bible teaches about it?
Application: What practical things can you do to demonstrate that you believe the world is God’s world and will one day be renewed?
Key Point: Creation wants to praise God, and will, according to Paul’s teaching and this psalm.
For Further Study: To see another example of a great psalm of praise, download and listen for free to James Boice’s message, “Hallelujah: The Last Praise Psalm.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)