Words From Outer Space, Psalm 19: 1-14, March 11, 2012
The good Lord didn't create anything without a purpose, but the fly comes close.
--Mark Twain, quoted in More Holy Humor.
There is a wonderful Chasidic story about the child of a rabbi who used to wander in the woods. At first his father let him wander, but over time he became concerned. The woods were dangerous. The father did not know what lurked there.
He decided to discuss the matter with his child. One day he took him aside and said, "You know, I have noticed that each day you walk into the woods. I wonder, why do you go there?"
The boy said to his father, "I go there to find God."
"That is a very good thing," the father replied gently. "I am glad you are searching for God. But, my child, don't you know that God is the same everywhere?"
"Yes," the boy answered, "but I'm not."
Psalm 19 outline: v.1-6, Creation; v. 7- 11, Torah; v. 12- 14, Prayer
CREATION: The heavens do not simply reflect God, but the creation “day to day pours forth speech” (v.2). The heavens speak in words, specific communications, declaring God’s glory to humankind. Heaven and earth communicate the character of God, but Torah (God’s law) ministers to the human person.
The knowledge of God comes to us through different channels. Scientific discovery is one form, natural revelation (Creation) is another, written revelation (Torah/Scripture) yet another. One God, One Truth.
Quite often, the faith vs. science conflict erupts when the subject of Creation is mentioned in certain circles. Recently, a scientist, who is also a leader in his congregation, prepared a devotional for his local church board based upon a reading from Genesis 1. His comments were prompted by an essay in The Washington Post by Henry Brinton, a Presbyterian pastor and a regular contributor to Homiletics, on the debate within his congregation between proponents of Intelligent Design and Evolution.
The scientist began by describing himself as a scientist and a Christian. He went on to explain the difference between a scientific theory and a hypothesis: The first is proven by a rigorous testing of hypotheses; the second is not provable by a set of repeated tests and so it remains a hypothesis. Theory is not the same as hypothesis.
Then he stated his own conviction regarding creation. “God did it. The Genesis stories of creation, while different in detail, agree that God did it. This theme runs throughout the Bible.
That God did it does not suggest how God created us, and I find it somewhere between amusing/annoying/irritating/maddening that people might have the temerity to insist that God did it in a way that is pleasing to them. I feel that God has given us the intelligence to explore the world around us and to do our best to understand it.”
This approach, combining the pursuit of truth through scientific discovery while humbly acknowledging that there are some things known only to God, allows for an embrace of science and faith. It allows for one to pursue the data that science reveals, including data about the origins of life, while praising God as the magnificent author of all that is.
This, in fact, was the approach of many of the great scientists of history, including Galileo, Kepler and Einstein. The pursuit of truth is what animated them. If one believes that God is the author of all truth, then the pursuit of scientific truth is not to be feared but rather pursued with joy and delight in the discoveries that will render the manifold splendor of God’s truth.
Truth is truth, therefore, scientific truth need not be held in opposition to revealed, or religious, truth; They are different aspects of the truth that leads us to a knowledge of God.
The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge (Psalm 19:1-2).
Psalm 19 - moves from Creation to Torah and then to Prayer
The psalmist gazes at the beauty of creation and gives praise to God, the sovereign author of it all. This praise-offering comes from a truth born of faith. Science will never be able to tell us — based on empirical evidence — that there’s a God or there isn’t a God. Only faith can make such a declaration.
Peoples of other ancient Near Eastern cultures worshiped the sun; but, in Psalm 19 as in Genesis, God created and controls the movements of the sun and moon and stars — “He has set ...” The sun has great power and majesty, but even the sun is God’s.
While other peoples may praise the creation, the Psalmist declares that the creation sings the Creator’s praise in this Psalm.
The knowledge of God comes to us through different channels. Natural revelation is one, written revelation is another, and scientific discovery is yet another. One God, One Truth.
Psalm 19 outline: v.1-6, Creation; v. 7- 11, Torah; v. 12- 14, Prayer
TORAH / LAW / Scriptures: “The knowledge of God,” as the editors of Christian Century recently stated, “cannot be gleaned simply by looking at nature.” The knowledge of nature comes by looking at nature, and even then there are mysteries that remain beyond our understanding.
Christians, believing that all creation coheres in Christ, in whom the fullness of God dwells, are free to explore all the wonders of the natural world using the tools of science for learning and more complete understanding.
We can join the psalmist who rejoices in the wonders of creation. Such wonders are not diminished by the work of science, they are illuminated.
The question is whether people who believe in God can live with the truth of scientific data while offering praise and gratitude to God. To live otherwise is to set truth discerned from science against truth discerned from revelation, Scripture and tradition.
That is unnecessary for people of faith. There is only one God, one Truth, and it comes to us through various channels. Psalm 19 and many other Psalms are perfect examples for that.
The How questions are for science. The Why questions are for faith. Did the psalmist ever consider the question of how? Who knows? How many of the millions of believers who joyfully give praise to God at the birth of their child consider the issues of chance, randomness and natural selection? For many, these matters are part of the fabric of life explained by science and affirmed by faith and pose no threat to their theology or to their spiritual practice.
Perhaps, this is where people of faith should let things rest. Matters of science, including the theories of the origins of life, are to be pursued by way of the standard forms of scientific research. Matters of science when in dispute, including theories about the origins of life, cannot be solved by theology, nor can matters of theological dispute be solved by the scientific method. To insist on empirical evidence for the existence of God or the origins of life would be to eviscerate the need for faith at all.
Theology has to do with the pursuit of God and doxological practice that flow from our understanding and experience of God. This is the path of the psalmist and it has been the path of Christians and Jews for generations. Holy Scripture offers a window into the exploration of God and a view into what it means for human beings to live in profound relationship with the Giver of all good gifts. Christians explore the New Testament assertion that God has been revealed in Jesus Christ, who is the One in whom all things hold together (Colossians 1:17).
The knowledge of God comes to us through different channels. Scientific discovery is one form, natural revelation is another, written revelation yet another. One God; One Truth.
As we look at verses 7-9, notice the Hebrew poetic parallelism in these verses, as reflected in the English. In verses 7a, 7b, 8a and 8b, the law, decrees, precepts and commandment of the Lord are perfect, sure, right and clear. And they respectively revive the soul, make wise the simple, rejoice the heart, and enlighten the eyes.
How can we better understand the Psalmists view of Torah, God’s law?
John Calvin’s view of the Law is helpful at this point. He illustrates three uses of the law with three images: a mirror, a fence, and a guide. The law as mirror shows us our sin. It judges us and drives us to Christ for salvation.
Calvin believed that the law also has a civil use, where the law is a fence to corrals human sin in a way that hinders the spread of evil. Civil law w/its fines and penal system deos not make persons more holy, but it does restrain them from unfettered evil.
Calvin called the third use of the law the most important use: as a guide. The law judges the nonbeliever, but to the believer the law is a gift, a pattern to follow and a guide to know how to live life as a Christian.
Heaven and earth communicate the character of God. Heaven and earth disclose God, but Torah (God’s law) ministers to the human person. Scripture was given to guide, comfort, confront and inspire humankind. The law nourishes the soul.
The psalmist first praises Creation, then praises God’s law, and concludes with a prayer for acceptance in light of God’s majesty and grace. The majestic realities of outer space may prepare us to encounter the majestic realities of inner space.
The last few verses of Psalm 19 focus on the Psalmist prayer and petition to the Lord matching the Lenten practices of self-examination and repentance followed by many Christians this time of the church year. Clear me from hidden faults, keep back your servant from sin, let the words of my mouth and thoughts of my heart be acceptable to you.
Ponder the following, in the light of the entirety of Psalm 19: God created human beings (who may be considered the culmination of God’s creation — see Psalm 8, especially v. 5, in the light of Genesis 1:26-31) especially for the purpose of reflecting and expressing God’s glory.
Question 1 of the Westminster Larger Catechism reads, “What is the chief and highest end of man?” The answer: “Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.” Do we who claim to follow Jesus Christ, the one who fully reflects the imago dei, glorify God by our own words, lives and ministries? Clear us from hidden faults, keep back your servants from sin, let the words of our mouths and thoughts of our hearts be acceptable to you, O LORD, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.