Psalms: Nature and Worship

We live in a world that in some respects is becoming more and more detached from nature—from God’s created world. Certainly, humanity is called by God to make new stuff from what God has already created (Gen. 1:28) and we’ve made some amazing things. However, while we have harnessed the earth for our benefit, we have forgotten that God also calls us to care for it and its creatures. The book of Psalms corrects this misunderstanding and implicitly calls humanity to do just that—care for God’s world.

The Psalms are packed full of imagery from the natural world. Often this imagery is used in a context of worship. For instance, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the sky displays his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1 NET) or “Praise him, O sun and moon! Praise him, all you shiny stars!… Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea creatures and all you ocean depths, O fire and hail, snow and clouds, O stormy wind that carries out his orders, you mountains and all you hills, you fruit trees and all you cedars, you animals and all you cattle, you creeping things and birds!” (Psalm 19:3, 7-10 NET) The natural world proclaims God’s glory—it worships Him!

John Calvin refers to the natural world as a theatre that displays God’s glory, unfortunately most of us walk around this beautiful theatre blindfolded (Institutes Book 1, V.8). The boook of Psalms call us to take this blindfold off— to see God’s world in order to see God. The creation points to the Creator. As Eugene Peterson notes,

[The world] is quite definitely a theatre in which we behold the glory, not a junk yard of cosmic garbage in which we are bag ladies sorting through the debris, picking out items on which to survive. (72)

Peterson, Eugene H. Answering God : The Psalms As Tools for Prayer. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989.

God, knowing and graciously wanting to communicate Himself to humanity, created a world that did specifically that—revealed His character and redemptive action. God didn’t create the world and then realize He could use the created world to describe Himself to us. He created the world for the purpose of describing Himself to us.

If this is true, then I think the Psalmists are calling us to do two things. First, take off the blindfold and behold God’s glory all around you. Take a walk next to the creek. Go hike in the mountains. Swim in the lake. Go to the park. Study biology and zoology. Stare at clouds and stars and the moon. Learn about ecology. Notice all of the animals and plants around you. Watch the rain from your window or better yet, go play in the mud. Enjoy the world God has created and think about the Creator while you do. And second, take care of God’s world. It is special. So special that it will be eternal (Revelation 21:1). Terence Fretheim powerfully concludes,

The natural order provides raw material for human praise. Without the nonhuman creatures, the praising metaphors at the disposal of the human would be far fewer in number. Without the praise of nature, secondary human forms of praise would be much more meager; we would be without much praise-full painting, music, and literature. Human beings give voice to nonhuman praise, to a world highly charged with wonder and praise. On the other hand, our sinfulness may adversely affect the ability of the world of nature to voice their praise in being themselves… In other words, our environmental activity is directly related to the praise possibilities of nature. We can enhance or inhibit the vocation to which it has been called. (179)

Fretheim, Terence E. God and World in the Old Testament : A Relational Theology of Creation. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2010.
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