Praise the Lord, my soul.
Lord my God, you are very great;
you are clothed with splendour and majesty.
The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment;
he stretches out the heavens like a tent
and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters.
He makes the clouds his chariot
and rides on the wings of the wind.
Our garden is nothing special, it’s pretty ordinary. But even in our garden we find a variety of wildlife. There are starlings who have taken up residence in the gutter, a family of daft pigeons, a robin, a blackbird, some chirpy sparrows, the occasional blue tit, some magpies. As well as raucous rooks, there’s sometimes a heron that perches on a neighbour’s roof looking for breakfast. Overhead we see seagulls whirl and have even spotted a kite majestically riding the thermals.
We also see bees and butterflies buzzing round, a slow worm slithering through the grass, the occasional frog, a rabbit (albeit one we’ve inherited from our children), a fox (once), a squirrel (once), the neighbour’s cat, snails.
I’m not much of a gardener but there’s a cherry tree, a plum tree, gooseberry and raspberry bushes, several herbs, daisies, tulips, red hot pokers and lots of flowers whose names I don’t know.
You may be quite envious of that list if you haven’t got a garden, or you may be blessed with badgers and woodpeckers and goldfinches and all sorts of things that I would love to see where I live. The point is simply this: even in ordinary life we can see a great deal of the beauty of creation.
If we can’t see what’s in the garden maybe we can enjoy nature when we go for a walk. If we’re not able to do that then maybe we could switch on the television. David Attenborough and his production team have done so much to open our eyes to the wonders of the natural world.
Psalm 104 is a hymn of praise to the creator. Its magnificent poetry takes in the vast expanses of the universe (v. 2), the sky (v. 3), the earth and the oceans (vv. 6, 7). Christians have disagreed about how God created – whether it was literally as described in Genesis 1, or through the processes modern scientists have uncovered. Yet often these debates have overlooked the point that God didn’t just light the blue touch paper and retire, but is constantly involved with his creation, sustaining it by his grace.
G.K. Chesterton memorably captured this in his biography of St Francis. Emphasising our dependence on God he asks us to imagine an upside-down world with ‘all the trees and flowers hanging head downwards as in a pool.’ He comments that if Francis had seen, in one of his strange dreams, the town of Assisi upside down, it would not have differed in any detail except in being entirely the wrong way round. But ‘whereas to the normal eye the large masonry of its walls or the massive foundations of its watchtowers would make it seem safer and more permanent, the moment it was turned over the very same weight would make it seem more in peril… [St Francis] might see and love every tile on the steep roofs or every bird on the battlements; but he would see them all in a new light. Instead of being merely proud of his strong city because it could not be moved, he would be thankful to God Almighty that it had not been dropped; he would be thankful to God for not dropping the whole cosmos like a vast crystal to be shattered into falling stars.’
Psalm 104 is a firm rebuke to any of us that see this world as just temporary accommodation before we get spirited off to some disembodied paradise which owes more to Plato than St Paul. The poem is a celebration of all that is good, and while we draw benefits from the non-human creation (wine and oil and bread), it is also to be treasured for its own sake. Surely this is a rebuke to the attitude that has brought us teetering on the edge of ecological catastrophe and that says it is just there for us to do with it whatever we like.
Some, whose eyes have been open to the glory of creation, have worshipped it. Others whose eyes have been closed, have ransacked it. For the Christian the splendour of nature leads to worshipping the God who created it, who sustains it and will one day renew us along with the whole of creation (v. 30, Isaiah 65:17–25, Romans 8:19–21, Revelation 21, 22).