"How Majestic is Your Name in All the Earth"
Jan.7/07 Psalm 8; Rev.21:1-6
Hurray, it's 2007! Happy New Year - hard to believe another year has slipped by so quickly. Those who are young enjoy celebrating New Year's, while the not-so-young may greet it with reservations (and resolutions). A few more wrinkles show up in the mirror; some graying hairs call for a colour cover-up; that Yuletide feasting has added some pounds to the scale. My son informs me I may become a grandfather this year - I don't feel old enough to be called 'Grampa'! Alas, the sad reality is that it may be a new year out there, but this body is certainly no newer.
We are experiencing what the Bible calls the 'old order of things' in Revelation 21(4) - an order contaminated by tears, death, mourning, crying, and pain. The Christmas season can be especially difficult for survivors trying to cope with that 'first' Christmas without that special someone. In other homes, the festivities make worse tensions that were already there, through disagreements over gifts, or conflicts about when to get together. Police report this season which is supposed to be full of 'peace and goodwill toward men' can be the hardest of the year with regard to domestic disputes and depression.
Then we turn the corner into January: and the previous month's bills have to be paid. Credit card debt escalates the stress level. Having enjoyed some holidays, some people find they don't really want to go back to work, especially if their job isn't very fulfilling. Their career just isn't heading the direction they'd hoped. For high school students, exams loom ahead.
Amidst the bleakness, as we step wearily back onto the treadmill of the routine, there is Good News. The Bible reminds us God's greatness over-arches our mundane-ness; and His care for and commissioning of us gives real purpose to our existence in the light of eternity.
Psalm 8 opens with a heart-felt exclamation at God's greatness. "O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is Your Name in all the earth! You have set Your glory above the heavens..." (8:1) When you're greeted in the morning by a gorgeous sunrise; when a brilliant full moon bathes the landscape; when a pastel sunset catches your attention - you're on your way to admiring God's handiwork, and attributing excellence to the Creator of such beauty. The Hebrew word translated "majestic" here can mean noble, excellent, mighty, famous, glorious. A parallel verse would be Psalm 148:13, "Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his splendour is above the earth and the heavens."
"Your Name" represents God's person or character, the sum total of all His virtues and qualities. In Exodus 34(5-7) Yahweh 'proclaims His name' in front of Moses, announcing: "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin..." The Lord's name encapsules all His excellent nature.
V1 says, "You have set Your glory above the heavens." Not just on earth, or in the first layers of the stratosphere, but above and beyond - even further than the furthest galaxy! One commentator notes this "make[s] it more conspicuous as if earth were too small a theatre for its display." God's majesty deserves a broader stage than this dimension can provide.
David the Psalmist then talks about considering "Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place..." What we see in the sky highlights God's power, creativity, and orderliness. Psalm 19(1): "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands." Paul notes to the early church that what we see in creation are silent witnesses to God's hidden qualities, so people have no excuse for not acknowledging Him: "For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities-- his eternal power and divine nature-- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." (Ro 1:20)
The news website at CBC asked viewers to vote on their favourite photo, from which the corporation chose 26 as "photos of the year". As we look at them, see if you notice a common theme in many of them... [CBC Photos of the year: http://www.cbc.ca/photogallery/news/201]
Out of 26 pictures, 18 had some aspect of creation at the forefront: from breathtaking mountains, to water splashing, to remote galaxies, to northern lights and lightning strikes - there is much in creation that still catches people's attention so they drop their jaw and say, "Wow!" Even a small jungle bird's brilliant plumage echoes God's beauty and is considered truly photo-worthy.
The older I get, and the more science progresses, the easier I find it to believe God put all this here by an act of special creation, rather than evolution 'happening' just by chance. There are the arguments of probability from information theory. There is the irreducible complexity of cells, molecules, organs and organisms. There are embarrassing gaps in the fossil record which Darwin knew nothing about, but research has uncovered over the subsequent decades. There remains a glaring lack of transitional forms, millennia ago and now; you don't see 'missing links' flapping overhead, instead species keep on reproducing "according to their kind". Entropy is on the side of intelligent design: the second law of thermodynamics holds that free energy or randomness in a system is always increasing - things tend to break down rather than become more orderly and complex. Anybody who disagrees with that hasn't cleaned up after Christmas morning under the tree!
What do you see when you look up at the night sky, the Milky Way, and distant galaxies? Happenstance - or a work of art? The expanse of millions of light-years used to bother me, because Scripture seems to present a young-earth view. But I've come to understand God can create things with the appearance of age - as He did for full-grown Adam and Eve. In the age of computers, and high-tech special effects in movies in which sophisticated artificial realities are created, it no longer seems like a problem for God to create a full-blown universe in an instant of speech. The speed of light may be a constant only in our set of parameters. What do YOU do with a video or DVD when you want to skip the introduction and get to the main plot? You use the fast-forward - 2, 4, 8, even 20X. Perhaps a variable speed of light is God's 'fast forward' button. However He managed creation, it's beautiful! And awe-inspiring.
Dr.Carl Sagan, a famous astronomer and author who professes to have no belief in God or the Bible, has nevertheless recognized the complexity of the design of creation. In his book The Dragons of Eden (New York: Ballantine, 1978) he describes the complexity of a chromosome: "A single human chromosome contains twenty billion bits of information. How much information is twenty billion bits? What would be its equivalent, if it were written down in an ordinary printed book in modern human language? Twenty billion bits are the equivalent of about three billion letters. If there are approximately six letters in an average word, the information content of a human chromosome corresponds to about five hundred million words. If there are about three hundred words on an ordinary page of printed type, this corresponds to about two million pages. If a typical book contains five hundred such pages, the information content of a single human chromosome corresponds to some four thousand volumes. It is clear, then, that the chromosome contains an enormous library of information. It is equally clear that so rich a library is required to specify as exquisitely constructed and intricately functioning an object as a human being."
And that's just a single chromosome: we have 23 pairs altogether! 23x4000 = the equivalent of 92,000 volumes of information in each cell in your body. Truly we are, in the words of the Psalmist (139:14), 'fearfully and wonderfully made'. God has set His glory above the heavens; when we consider the grandeur and complexity of creation, that calls forth praise.
Verse 4 of Psalm 8 introduces a contrast with humans against the backdrop of such an awesome universe: "When I consider Your heavens...what is man that You are mindful of him, the son of man that You care for him?" As a race of creatures, on the whole we fall short of God's glory. When you listen to the news, and look around at society with its flaws and brokenness, you must admit there's much in the human condition that doesn't reflect the qualities of God's name - "compassionate...gracious...slow to anger...abounding in love and faithfulness" etc. We are creatures of appetite, tending to seek not glory but gratification: getting what I want. I was listening to a John Piper broadcast this week in which he argued the North American church is anemic because it is so affluent and materialistic; in Piper's opinion, we live in "Disneyland" compared to so much of the planet. Most people on earth would be shocked by what we consider "needs" and take for granted. Christmas degenerates into an excuse to satisfy our selfishness.
"What is man that You are mindful of him?" Let's re-visit one of the CBC photos. That shot of Saturn taken from deep space. The caption notes earth can be seen as a faint pin-prick of light in the upper-left section; but I couldn't see it at all until I downloaded the full-screen photo and magnified it about 150%. Even then, Earth is just a faint smudge. And that's our whole planet! How small one person is...especially compared to that photo of colliding galaxies, in which the faint bright areas each represent tens of thousands of stars! In the words of Job 25(6): "...man...is but a maggot...only a worm!" We are smaller than atomic in the grand scheme of things; our life is "but a breath" (Ps 39:5,11).
YET, despite our minuteness, God has conferred an astounding degree of glory and privilege upon us. Vv5-6: "You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour.You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet:" Scripture points out that, in this mind-bogglingly-big universe, God cares for us. That was the experience of the Hebrews enslaved in Egypt: Moses came to tell them the Lord was concerned about them and had seen their misery (Ex 4:31). They mattered to God. The Creator raises up these maggots, these worms that we are, and puts us in charge, delegating duties to us encompassing all that moves on the planet. We read in Genesis, "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground...The fear and dread of you will fall upon all the beasts of the earth...they are given into your hands.'" (Ge 1:26; 9:2)
Even more astounding is that God has designed us to be in relationship with Himself. He delights in our worship and obedience, in our communication and companionship. The key feature of the idyllic better order that awaits God's people is this, according to Rev 21(3): "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God." Isn't that amazing? Isn't that exciting? The Lord seeks to be our God, to satisfy us with Himself, to slake our thirst by giving us to drink freely "from the spring of the water of life" (21:6). As one ministry puts it, "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him."
Though the years pass and we're getting older, God is our renewer. Rev 21(1,5a,6) says, "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth...He who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything new!'...'I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.'" He's the God of new beginnings and fresh starts. This divine involvement calls forth both a new Infancy and a new Maturity on our parts.
A NEW INFANCY - As we age, we encounter various experiences, some difficult or discouraging. Life is tough. This order is riddled with hurt because of the consequences of sin. We're tempted to become hardened, cynical, disillusioned, maybe even bitter. We expect more and take much for granted. If we're not careful, our attitude can deteriorate to being like that of a mocker, even the accuser - Satan. In our hearts we become distant from God, perhaps resentful, cool towards Him if not an outright enemy.
Verse 2 talks of a childlike attitude that enables us to keep seeing the positive side and connecting with our Creator: "From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger." (Ps 8:2) An avenger is someone who gets back at another because they've been wronged, they take revenge because they feel they have a 'right' to 'get even'. They feel they have a legitimate complaint because of past hurt. But the Psalmist suggests it's the child-like, infants, who can honestly and most truthfully praise God. Reminds one of the fable "The Emperor's New Clothes" - sometimes it takes somebody who's young and honest to see the real picture, somebody who's free enough from social constraints and pressure to state the obvious.
To acknowledge the Creator requires a certain degree of childlike trust. Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Mt 18:3) An openness to pause and thank our Heavenly Father for the beauty that catches our eye. This week the fuel delivery truck got stuck in our driveway, and they had to call Bill Burkholder's big yellow tow truck to get pulled out. The two neighbour boys, about 10 and 5 in age, ran over to the edge of the road to watch. When the display of impressive power was all finished, the older boy exclaimed to me, "You don't see that every day!" There's that same childlike willingness to focus your attention on what's unusual, to be wowed by God's amazing power finding application right before your eyes.
In Matthew 21(16) Jesus clears the temple, heals the blind and lame, and children start shouting "Hosanna to the Son of David!" The temple officials become indignant, and in a critical tone of voice ask Him, "Do you hear what these children are saying?" Jesus quotes Psalm 8:2 in response. A renewed childlikeness quells a critical spirit. God can reveal things to little children that He hides from the wise and learned (Mt 11:25).
God would grant us a renewed infancy. At the same time, knowing Him calls forth in us a NEW MATURITY. God has made us ruler, and put everything under our feet. Such privilege - to be entrusted with so much - represents at the same time an awesome responsibility.
If we believe God is preparing a "new heaven and a new earth", that this first earth is passing away, there can be a temptation to neglect or write off this order and emotionally detach from involvement on this earthly plain. To become "so heavenly minded we're no earthly good". This seems to have been the case with a few individuals in the Thessalonian church, whom Paul reprimanded for their idleness. He wrote, "We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat. And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right." (2Th 3:11-13) Get that? The imminence of Jesus' return doesn't let us off the hook from acting responsibly in this life.
Christians ought to be the best environmentalists. Not just as peer creatures, fellow inhabitants of this fragile ecosphere, but even more because we will one day have to give answer outside this realm to the Creator who put us in charge of it in the first place.
(http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6502368/) A November 2004 report from the World Conservation Union warned that species are disappearing at an alarming rate. Current extinction rates are at least 100 to 1,000 times higher than natural rates found in the fossil record. The report concluded that humans are the main reason for most species' declines. It said, "Habitat destruction and degradation are the leading threats...but other significant pressures include over-exploitation (for food, pets, and medicine), introduced species, pollution, and disease. Climate change is increasingly recognized as a serious threat." 15,589 species are now considered at risk of extinction -- an increase of 3,330 species over just a year. The Bible insists God has "put everything under [our] feet" in terms of earth's creatures: are we caring for them adequately?
Maturity often involves stepping up to the plate and taking action. Preston Manning, in an article in ChristianWeek, advises believers to be "wise as serpents" but "innocent as doves" while getting involved politically, with federal and provincial elections likely in 2007. Manning writes, "For Christians wanting to positively affect public policy on a particular issue - say, the advancement of environmental stewardship - coalition-building means first identifying potential allies. These may be other faith groups or even secular groups, provided common ground can be identified on which to base cooperative efforts." And he insists if one wants to attack poverty and injustice in the name of Christ, we ought to "first identify personally in concrete ways with the suffering produced by poverty and injustice...This, after all, is the great lesson of the incarnation - the life-giving Word had to become flesh to be effective. Jesus had first to identify with and live among the suffering members of the human race before preaching the Sermon on the Mount."
We serve a great God, whose majesty and glory stretch beyond the heavens. In grace He has chosen to elevate us to be in charge of what He has made. Such responsibility invites us to a new level of appreciation of His greatness, a new thirst for His wisdom, and a new maturity in caring for creation. Let's pray.