Psalm 148, the third of the alleluia psalms that end the Psalter, is a simple song of praise to God found in creation, paralleling the creation story of Genesis. All creation is called upon to praise God, starting with the heavens, sun & moon, then moving to the earth, the animals, and finally humans.
The writer starts by calling upon the celestial choir of angels to join in the hymn of praise. “Praise the Lord from the heavens, praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels, praise him, all his host.” (1b-2) This choir includes the saints, those who have gone before us in faith and have been purified in the refining fires of purgatory. Their song is purer having been freed from the stain of sin and join in perfect harmony being completely in line with God’s will.
The sun and moon are called upon to join in this song. “Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars! Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!” (3-4) They have no earthly voice, yet they are part of the celestial choir. God created them and established boundaries, a natural law that cannot pass away. “Let them praise the name of the Lord! For he commanded and they were created. And he established them for ever and ever; he fixed their bounds which cannot be passed.” (5-6)
Then the writer calls upon all the earth to join in the great song: “Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!” (7-8) The mountains, hills and trees and all animals: “Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Beasts and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!” (9-10) And finally people are called to join in this chorus: “Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! Young men and maidens together, old men and children.
I’m writing this while sitting on the deck at my brother’s cottage, enjoying the beauty of creation all around me. But not everyone in this vacation area is able to enjoy the peace I am experiencing. There is a serious problem with crystal meth in the area. Drug addiction is a curse. It captures our very soul and lures us away from all that benefits us with its promise of a cheap fix. It destroys relationships and lives. While under its influence they are unable to enjoy the simple pleasures of life, such as a walk in the woods or the healing benefit of nature. They are unable to recognize God’s presence in the beautiful earth God has given us. They find it difficult to offer praise.
When sitting under a tree by the side of a lake with the sun shining, blue skies and the sound of geese in the distance, like I am today, it can be easy to praise God found in nature. The earth is full of majesty and mystery, full of beauty from the delicate web of a spider, to snow topped mountain peaks, from the intricate veins of a leaf to the billowing clouds.
But what of the other side of nature? What of tornadoes and cyclones, volcanoes and earthquakes, torrential rains bringing destruction and devastation in its wake as happened recently in Louisiana? If all of these are under God’s command, was it God who swallowed up hundreds of thousands lives during the tsunami of 2004? Is the God of nature a devouring God demanding human sacrifice like the gods of contemporaries of the early Hebrews? Some would say that the flooding we experience this year was brought on by global warming, thus it was the result of human folly, not God’s displeasure. But the people of Pompeii were swallowed by molten lava long before there was any thought of global warming.
How do we equate the God of nature with the God of love?
We don’t. It’s not possible. That’s why we need people; that’s why we need Jesus, the human face of God. God in nature is majestic and awe-inspiring and full of mystery. There is so much we do not understand. But God in nature can’t reach out and wrap us in a loving embrace. We need people for that. The addict needs people to break through their wall of isolation and draw them out of their prison. Only then can they praise the Lord.
So praise the Lord, all you God’s creation, but just as God places boundaries on the stars, there are limits to how far this image of God can extend. God is found in nature, but God is more than nature, more than all creation. All the more reason to praise our God.
Does the image of God in nature speak to you?