Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Nonnatural Praise

This was written one evening in June from a hotel room in Chattanooga.

“I love nature.” That's my five-year-old daughter's serene statement upon seeing some piece of the environment, even if it's as small as a wildflower. I tend to agree with her. Whether it's strolling through a greenway in my hometown or taking a hike in the Smoky Mountains or watching the surf on one of my once-a-decade trips to the beach, I enjoy God's creation, and I'm thankful for it.

There are no shortage of psalms and poems and songs echoing this sentiment, from contemporary songs like Steve Green's “Symphony of Praise” and Satellite Soul's “Equal to the Fall” to classic hymns like “Fairest Lord Jesus” and “How Great Thou Art” and all the way back to ancient psalms like Psalm 104 and Psalm 148. However, as C.S. Lewis points out in Reflections on the Psalms, there's a difference between the ancient nature poetry of the Psalms and our more contemporary expressions of our appreciation of nature. When we talk about nature, we're talking about it in contrast to the urban lives that most of us lead; when the ancients talk about nature, they're talking about their world, like a fish in water.

There is, in fact, very little material that I'm aware of that expresses appreciation for the nonnatural world of cities and civilizations – the work of humans, as opposed to the natural world of Creation around us. This is even a bit of a false dichotomy; humans are a part of Creation, and cities and civilization and culture are a carrying out of God's first commandment (Gen. 1:28), so surely God can be praised for humanity and its works just as he can be praised for the mountains, oceans, plants, and animals.

What would such praise look like, I wonder?

Praise God for the strength of the steel and concrete that towers above me and that can support me as solidly as the ground.

Praise God for the God-given ingenuity and skill that went into every aspect of my car, from the hundreds of tiny explosions a second that propel it down the road to the cupholder that gives me a place to keep my coffee while I drive.

Praise God for the splashes of nature that we've placed to brighten our cities: the trees, the parks, the birds singing overhead.

Praise God for the music that spills out into the streets from restaurants and performers. (Except maybe for the country music in the bar I walked past tonight. I have trouble praising God for country music.)

Praise God for the hundreds of people that I pass, each one made in God's image, each one either my brother or sister or a soul desperately needing Christ.

Praise God for the thousands of office and apartment and hotel windows and the thousands of tales behind them, each one as important to God as my own.

Praise God for the beauty which we can create, which we scatter across city as statues and architecture and murals, as a tiny reflection of God's littering the universe with beauty and creativity and wonder.

Praise God for the dozens of businesses that I pass; although business is often distorted by greed or reduced to drudgery, it is, at its core, all about serving other people's needs, and serving each other is a big part of why we are on earth.

Praise God for our ability, in spite of the Fall, to fill the earth and subdue it, so that I am blessed to live the lifestyle that I do. (I'm particularly thankful for the Internet and indoor plumbing.)

Praise God for the glow of mercury and phosphor and tungsten that banishes darkness.

Praise God for the incredible variety of culture of a city – Thai cuisine and Italian ice cream and sushi and symphonies and used bookstores and art museums – and the knowledge that this is just a small fraction of what we'll be able to enjoy in heaven, where “every tribe and language and people and nation” will live forever (Rev 5:9).

“All creation, come praise the name of the Lord” (Psalm 148:13, CEV).