Theme: Our Response to Creation
In this week’s lessons, we learn to praise and thank the Lord for his goodness to us.
Scripture: Psalm 136:1-26
As we concluded yesterday’s study, we noted that what we find in Genesis is God’s declaration that everything he made is “good” (vv. 3, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). So not only is God good (Ps. 136:1), everything he makes is good also. This has certain consequences for how we are to regard nature.
1. We should be thankful for it. That is what Psalm 136 is doing. In some expressions of Christian thought, only the soul or other invisible things have value. But although it is true that the invisible is more valuable than the visible—all things visible will pass away (2 Cor. 4:18)—this does not mean that the things we see have no value now. The Christian understanding of creation is that God has made everything and that it therefore has value and should be valued by us because of its origin in God. We should be thankful for it.
2. We should delight in it. This is related to being thankful, but it is a step beyond it. It is a step that many Christians do not seem to have taken. Frequently Christians have looked at nature only as one of the classic proofs of God’s existence: there must be a God, because nothing but God can account for the universe we see. This is true, but although it is true, the believer also needs to go beyond it and really enjoy what he sees. This is because God has been good in what he has created for us. Can we delight in creation? Of course, even more than the non-Christian, more even than so-called “nature worshipers,” because we have knowledge of the God who stands behind everything.
3. We should treat it responsibly. This does not mean that nature cannot still be used in a proper way. A tree can still be cut down to make wood for a home. But it will not be cut down simply for the pleasure of cutting it down or because it is the easiest way to increase the value of our land. In such matters there must be a careful thinking through of the value and purpose of the created object, and there must be a Christian, rather than a purely utilitarian, approach to it.
The next section of Psalm 136 (vv. 10-24) thanks God for his specific good acts toward Israel: 1) his deliverance of the people from bondage in Egypt (vv. 10-15); 2) his leading them through the desert to the borders of the promised land (v. 17); 3) his defeat of Israel’s enemies, specifically, Sihon king of the Amorites and Og king of Bashan, who opposed them (vv. 18-20); and 4) his final settling of the people in their land (vv. 21-24). Our equivalent is thanks to God for delivering us from the bondage of sin through the work of Jesus Christ.
I said earlier that there is a parallel between the way this psalm is written and our confession of faith by the Apostles’ Creed. The first part of the psalm corresponds to the first words of the creed. It tells about God’s acts in creation. But here the next words of the creed come in. For having praised God the Father as creator, the confession goes on to say:
And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord;
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary;
Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried;
He descended into hell [realm of the dead];
The third day he rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
From thence he shall come to judge the quick [living] and the dead.
The third and final section of the creed tells how we have benefited from Christ’s work by the application of that work to us by the Holy Spirit. It consists in “the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”
As I say, this is our equivalent to the second major section of Psalm 136, in which the worshiping congregation praised God for their deliverance from Egypt, victory over enemies, and for those powerful acts of God that eventually saw them established in their own land.
This basic core of Christian teaching, this gospel, needs to be at the heart of our worship, too. And the very essence of it is its focus on what God has done for his people, not on what we have experienced necessarily. What God has done affects us. We acknowledge that with thanksgiving. But the gospel, the very center of our worship, is not about what has happened to us but rather about what God accomplished by Jesus Christ two thousand years ago when Jesus died for our sin and then rose again from the dead for our justification. Our worship must be God-centered rather than man-centered, if it is to be worship that actually pleases God.
What gives created things their value?
Compare Psalm 136 with the Apostles’ Creed.
Identify what is at the center of worship.
Reflection: Christians have widely different opinions concerning the environment. How does seeing God as creator shape your thinking?
Prayer: Thank God for the beauty of his creation.
Key Point: The gospel, the very center of our worship, is not about what has happened to us but rather about what God accomplished by Jesus Christ two thousand years ago when Jesus died for our sin and then rose again from the dead for our justification.