(Happy Birthday to the best person I know…my wife…. Jean Marie Browning Hester.)
Nature Is Anything But Natural
Enjoying Creation Through the Psalms
Article by Marshall Segal, Staff writer, desiringGod.org
Some years ago, as I visited my future wife in Southern California, the ocean began teaching me to notice the supernatural in all I had called natural, to widen my eyes to the world God has made, to recover some of the wonder I once had. The ocean quiets me unlike anything else in creation.
I say creation with deep conviction and purpose because it was — all of it everywhere — conceived and performed by a real, divine imagination. As T.M. Moore writes, “One of the central teachings of Scripture is that the natural world is not at all natural. It is the creation of a supernatural God. What we routinely call ‘nature’ is in fact ‘creation’” (Consider the Lilies, 100).
Nothing we encounter is purposeless, or gloryless, or truly “natural.” We may notice the purpose and glory more in the grander aspects of creation, like oceans, lions, or mountains, but as Scripture teaches, even birds and lilies teach us about God.
Has the natural world lost some of its wonder in your eyes? Have you started to take for granted things God himself literally breathed into existence and sustains with his whispers? Does anything God made still quiet you?
We Need Infinity
But we were talking about oceans. Steve DeWitt beautifully captures how oceans have silenced me:
We need infinity. Not that we can understand it. But only with it does life make sense. That’s why I like walking ocean beaches. Because for me, the infinity of the horizon is a glimpse at what the God who made it is like. (Eyes Wide Open, 128)
Almost anyone standing before the Pacific Ocean can feel the mystery in its enormity. Even mountains usually give us some clear glimpse of where they begin and end, but oceans stretch beyond the frail horizons of our humanity, forcing us to admit how small we really are. As the psalms sing, “Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great. There go the ships, and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it” (Psalm 104:25–26) — minnows and manta rays, blue tangs and blue whales, seahorses and great white sharks, all made by God so that we would see God.
The ocean’s mighty and relentless waves wash away our illusions of invincibility, and replace them with honesty, before God, about our own fragility. Its depths, beyond what we can measure, hint at how long and wide are his loving arms (Psalm 33:7). Its shores, where water gently tickles our feet, betray just how wise and sovereign is its architect (Proverbs 8:29). He makes its currents toss and rage, if only so his Son could quiet them (Mark 4:39) — and me (Isaiah 26:3).
Do you still stop to wonder at all God is saying in what he has made? Do you want to start again?
Let the Word Open the World
We can start developing wider eyes for the world God has made by reading nature through what he says all over Scripture — in Psalms and Proverbs, in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, in the Gospels, especially the words of Jesus, and in Revelation. Again, Moore writes,
How often the Scriptures urge us to use our sense to perceive and experience the goodness, greatness, and mercy of God, and to learn something of how we should relate to him. Sparrows, lilies, mountains, rivers; coins, fallen towers, millstones; people marrying, burying their dead, or paying their alms; sounds, tastes, and all manner of sensations — all these and much, much more offer us the opportunity for precious insights into the ways and will of God. But we are too busy, too much in a hurry, or too distracted by the mundaneness of it all to think more deeply about what God may be trying to say to us. (Consider the Lilies, 119)
The Psalms, in particular, are filled with streams and valleys, predators and prey, honeycombs and green pastures, sun and moon and stars. Try removing creation from the Psalms, and ask what is lost from the truth and beauty and depth of what God is saying. If we only saw what the psalmists saw, we would get to behold far more of God than we typically do today.
Walk Through Psalms
When the sun rises each morning, God means for that flaming ball of ferocity, a star the size of one hundred earths and heated to ten thousand degrees, to remind us that he is strong, massive, reliable, and radiating with joy.
He has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat. (Psalm 19:4–6; 84:11)
When we see the stars scattered in a clear night sky, an estimated one hundred billion in our galaxy alone, God wants us to see how detailed and personal he is. “He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names” (Psalm 147:4). Why would he name stars? Not for their sake (they’re stars!), but for ours — so that we would know that he knows and attends to each and every one of us, especially the brokenhearted (Psalm 147:3) and the humble (Psalm 147:6).
When clouds crawl across the sky and over our heads, they are not meant to be massive, miraculous afterthoughts (or depressing inconveniences, for that matter). They should draw our attention into heaven and stretch our imaginations, far beyond them, into the faithfulness of God. “Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds” (Psalm 36:5).
When we make out a mountain in the distance, or drive through them as my family did on vacation earlier this year, we are meant to see enormous shadows of the majesty of God. “Glorious are you,” we sing, “more majestic than the mountains full of prey” (Psalm 76:4). Our God is stronger than the mountains (Psalm 104:32), older than the mountains (Psalm 90:2), and more reliable than the mountains (Psalm 46:2–3).
When we hear the rush of a river or stream, it can inspire us to drink more deeply from all that God is for us in Christ, the well who quenches every thirst forever (John 4:13–14). “They feast on the abundance of your house,” David writes, “and you give them drink from the river of your delights” (Psalm 36:8). The pouring of water between the banks is its own applause to the satisfying goodness of God. “Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together” (Psalm 98:8).
When we come across a rock too heavy to carry and big enough to stand on, its weight and strength anchor a deeper reality. Where does a poet look for language to describe all that God is for him? “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Psalm 18:2).
Even the deer peeking through the trees declares how deeply satisfying God is. “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:1–2). And each deer, some thirty million around the world, tells us how God protects, strengthens, and stabilizes us through treacherous circumstances (Psalm 18:33).
All Creation Is Preaching
All of that is to say nothing of all we see and experience of God in the boom of thunder (Psalm 29:3–4), the ruthlessness of lions (Psalm 7:1–2), the fragility of sheep (Psalm 78:52), the sweetness of honey (Psalm 19:10), the strength of horses (Psalm 20:7), the defenselessness of snails (Psalm 58:8), and the lushness of fields after rain (Psalm 23:2). The heavens and the earth, and all that fills them, are declaring the glory of God to us. What might we hear, and see, and experience if we were willing to stop and look?
“Created reality brings God’s perfections home to us in ways that are visible, concrete, and particular,” writes Joe Rigney. “They keep God’s attributes and characteristics from being mere abstractions, because it’s impossible for us to love a list of qualities” (The Things of Earth, 65). Everything God has made is preaching, with loudspeakers, cranked high and embedded everywhere we turn, and yet we often have our heads down, scrolling on our phones, almost nodding off.
There is hope, always hope, for eyes that have grown dim. Creation will never stop declaring the excellencies of our King, and we will never exhaust all that makes him excellent. So, let yourself stop, and watch, and listen a little longer before something God has made, and expect to see something supernatural.
Marshall Segal (@marshallsegal) is a writer and managing editor at desiringGod.org. He’s the author of Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating. He graduated from Bethlehem College & Seminary. He and his wife, Faye, have a son and live in Minneapolis.