Nature and Worship

I’m enjoying a new book on our relationship to the natural world: Living With Other Creatures: Green Exegesis and Theology by Richard Bauckham.  Bauckham, an evangelical Cambridge theologian, is a fellow in the British Academy and the Royal Society of Edinburgh.  Here are some of his thoughts on nature and worship (pp. 12-13) [“Bedtime Prayers” by Mike Ivey Right click to see it larger]:

“Arguably, the most profound and life-changing way in which we can recover our place in the world as creatures alongside our fellow-creatures is through the theme of the worship that all creation offers to God.  There are many passages in the Psalms (e.g. Ps. 19:1-3; 97:6; 98:7-8; and especially 148) that depict all God’s creatures worshipping Him, and the theme is taken up in the New Testament too (Phil. 2:10; Rev. 5:13).

“According to the Bible, all creatures, animate and inanimate, worship God.  This is not, as modern Biblical interpreters have sometimes supposed, merely a poetic fancy or some kind of animism that endows the all creatures with consciousness.  The creation worships God just by being itself, as God made it, existing for God’s glory.  Only humans desist from worshipping God; other creatures, without having to think about it, do so all the time.  A lily does not need to do anything.  Simply by being and growing it praises God.  It is distinctively human to bring praise to conscious expression in words, but the creatures remind us that this distinctively human form of praise is worthless unless, like them, we also live our whole lives to the glory of God. . . .

“This idea of worshipping our Creator along with all the other creatures really has nothing in common with nature worship, of which some modern Christians seem to be pathologically afraid.  It is true that in the biblical tradition nature has been de-divinized.  It is not divine, but God’s creation.  But that does not make it nothing more than material for human use.  Nature has been reduced to stuff that we can do with as we wish, not by the Bible, but by the modern age, with its rejection of God and its instrumentalizing of nature.

“The Bible has de-divinized nature, but it has not de-sacralized nature.  Nature remains sacred in the sense that it belongs to God, exists for the glory of God, even reflects the glory of God, as humans also do.  The respect, even the reverence, that other creatures inspire in us is just as it should be.  It leads us not to worship creation (something that is scarcely a serious danger in the contemporary western world) but to worship with creation.  According to chapter 5 of the book of Revelation, the goal of God’s creative and redemptive work is achieved when every creature in heaven, on earth, under the earth, and in the sea joins in a harmony of praise to God and the Lamb’:

I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Revelation 5:13).