Creation and new creation

One of the somewhat puzzling things about many of the Psalms meditating on creation (e.g. Psa 8 ; 139) is that they all have what is known as an imprecatory section in them – a section that refers to the judment and destruction of the wicked. In Psa 104, it comes right at the end, in v35: May sinners vanish from the earth and the wicked be no more .

While this may seem a somewhat rude and out of place insertion in a Psalm meditating on the beauty and delight of creation, as if some dour editor has decided to put wet towel on the whole thing at the end, in actual fact, this is the very point of it being there. There is a rude interruption to the flow of joy between God and his creation, a direct opposition to the delightful plans and purposes of God for his world, a rejection of the creator and his sovereignty and wisdom: sin.

Because we are so used to living in a world full of sin, that has trivialised the word into meaning something like fun but a bit naughty , we can forget the exceeding sinfulness of sin . But sin, as the Bible defines it – rejecting the Creator and attempting to rule our lives in his place – is the problem in the world. Psalm 104 makes this stand out even starker in relief – each part of the world lies an an interconnected web of total dependence on the wisdom of its Creator. When the world turns away from God, then, the result cannot be anything but darkness, death and decay, an inability to fulfil the glorious purposes for which it was made. Sin – turning away from God’s self-giving love and faithfulness to his creation – becomes a sledgehammer that rips apart the world.

A World Broken

This world, as we know it, is full of signs that things are not right, that things are a far cry from the picture of Psalm 104. We see homes and relationships painfully broken apart. We see millions starve while the world’s resources go to waste. We see precious human lives oppressed and destroyed. But, ultimately, these are all merely symptoms: as it has famously been put, the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart.

It is faithlessness that breaks homes and relationships. It is indifference that sees millions starve and the world’s resources wasted. And it is selfishness and greed that oppresses and destroys lives. all these expose that the core problem with the world is not education, or poor wealth distribution, or equal opportunity. It is sin, in whose God-denying, self-seeking, life-destroying shackles we are helplessly and hopelessly bound.

As the apostle Paul puts it in Rom 1, 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. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles .

In this light, it is perfectly fitting that the Psalm ends with its urgent, passionate plea for sin, and for everyone who sets themselves against God, his people and his creation, to be done away with. Far from a mean-spirited, sub-Christian impulse, it is the heartfelt cry of one who perceives accurately that until sin is done away with, the world can never know the true, life-giving freedom of the unhindered joy of God over his creation. But such a solution cannot come from the world itself, lost as we all are in darkness. It must come from God himself.

Thus the Psalm of creation, ultimately testifies to the gospel. That creation is saved through Christ’s death and resurrection only makes sense because this is entirely consistent with the character of its creator and his plans for his creation: The world, created to receive and reflect the love and faithfulness of God, now bound in the self-centred darkness of its inhabitants, can only be freed by the one who, in the words of the apostle John, became flesh and dwelt among us. We have seen his glory, glory as of the only One from the Father, full of grace and truth [or love and faithfulness] .

The creator has entered his darkened creation and, in the person and work of his Son on the cross, made his grace (in forgiving sin) and truth (in judging it) known. It is only through the gospel that the wonderful goal of creation expressed in Psalm 104 is brought to pass, and the great, sure hope of the Christian is that the salvation Christ won for us – begun in our lives even in this broken world – will be completed on the day of his return, when every obstacle to the Creator delighting in his creation is finally removed.

Implications

In light of Psalm 104 and its fulfilment in the gospel of Jesus Christ, let me close with some summary implications for our lives.

  • We are to delight in creation

Despite the pervasive effects of sin, it has not compromised his sovereignty over creation, nor has it completely hindered his goodness continuing to fill the world. We are still able to experience and enjoy the goodness of God in what he has made, even though these experiences are limited and, because of sin, often fleeting or mingled with pain or sorrow. The greeting cry of my 1½ year old son as I come home from work, the rush of pride and love that fills my heart as he stumbles into my arms and leans into my chest. The serenity and stillness of sitting on my favourite jetty, fishing rod in hand, chatting aimlessly with a mate while we wait (endlessly) for the elusive thrill of a tug on the line. The satisfying ache and exhaustion of tired muscles and sweat running down into my eyes, the sweetness of a drink of cold water after a hard game of touch footy. These are all small, hinting, fleeting – but real – signs of the continuing, generous love of the Creator whose glory it is to be determined to do good to his creatures, who continue to need him and his provision. If his gifts are received as such, and used (as far as possible) in accordance with and proportion to his revealed purposes, then they lead us to honour and glorify him, as they should.

  • We are to delight in the Creator

As such, enjoying the creation of God should never be an end in and of itself. As the American Revival preacher and theologian Jonathan Edwards said, God is the highest good of the reasonable creature, and the enjoyment of him is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven – fully to enjoy God – is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows. But the enjoyment of God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams, but God is the fountain. These are but drops, but God is the ocean […] Why should we labor for, or set our hearts on anything else, but that which is our proper end, and true happiness?

Our enjoyment of creation should cause us to look beyond it to its source; the hints and tastes that earthly pleasure gives should cause us to seek our ultimate satisfaction only in our relationship with God. Indeed, we must, because as the theologian Augustine once wrote, You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our souls are restless until they find their rest in you. When we try to find this satisfaction in anything created, we burden it with an impossible weight it was never meant to bear, and end up twisting, distorting and destroying it and ourselves. The partner we think will fulfil our longings, is crushed under the disappointed expectations we hold over them. The quick fix that numbs us to our problems momentarily, over time leads us to an oppressive dependence that robs us of the very freedom we had hoped for. It is only by coming into the glorious freedom of the children of God (Rom 8:21), by binding ourselves in dependence upon the one for whom we were made, the only one who can give us satisfaction in himself, that true delight can be had, and true life found.

  • We are to delight in bringing God’s delight to others

Finally, once freed and filled by God in the gospel, the way is opened for us to live as Psalm 104 calls us to live – to bring delight to God, by bringing his delight to others, so that creation may be healed of it darkened, terminal condition and filled with God’s joyful purposes. As we seek to do this, Psalm 104 reminds us that creation -type issues – social and ecological, for example – are of great importance. Our place as bearers of God’s image in the world mean that our relationships with our fellow humans, and our rule of God’s earth under him, are critical concerns for us, and warrant more thought and action on the part of (at least) contemporary Western Christians. I am thankful that there has been of late a growth in resources from an Evangelical perspective to help us think through and take up the rebuke and challenge of more deliberately reflecting God’s character in our actions towards each other and his world.

However, as we have seen, the Psalm pushes us to see that there is a prior, and primary need even beyond these: the need for sinful people to be reconciled to God through the gospel. In fact, Psalm 104 helps us to see that the two issues (evangelistic and social/ecological) are intimately related as cause and symptoms; much like an underlying disease has physical symptoms. The symptoms may be more immediately felt and apparent, but the real need is to be cured of the disease that causes them. There will be an important place for the relief of the symptoms. But focussing on dealing with the symptoms alone can never bring the desired healing. It is only when the disease itself is treated and overcome that wholeness can be restored.

Commenting on Peter’s healing of the lame man in Acts 3, David Gooding notes that Peter’s explanation of the healing quickly moves to Jesus atoning death on the cross, and that making this man whole – physically and temporarily – pointed to the more fundamental wholeness of being made right with God through Jesus, and the hope of eternal restoration at his return. Gooding concludes:

We still need to listen to Peter’s exposition of the Christian gospel. The world around us is still a broken world and calls for the church’s compassion. We Christians must give it all we can; for if a man has enough to live on, and yet, when he sees his brother in need, shuts up his heart against him, how can it be said that the divine love dwells in him? (1 Jn 3:17, NEB). What we must not do is make the mistake of supposing that our Christian care is the gospel, or of allowing our social works to get out of proportion and swamp the preaching of the gospel […]

[For] our earth is not a self-created machine which just happens to have gone a little wrong but which we with our increasing know-how and technology can put right, granted only international co-operation and a sincere effort on the part of everyone. Behind our earth and universe stands a personal Creator and personal Saviour. Not all the technological engineering, medical treatment, social aid, economic strategy, political prudence, and education of the masses could finally solve them and produce a paradise, so long as the world remains at odds with its Creator and rejects its appointed Saviour […]

[So] let us not quit preaching. The world’s pain is immense: but its prime and pressing need is to repent and be reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:20) [1]

New Creation Joy

Psalm 104 is a wonderful exposition of God’s glorious purposes for his creation and for each one of us within it. Although the world, and our experience of it, is painfully marred by the effects of sin, it is still sustained and shot through with tastes, hints and experiences of its good and sovereign Creator. But there will come a day when all that hinders God from delighting completely in his creation, and his creation delighting in him, will be removed, and the tantalising, frustratingly brief tastes and hints will come to their soul-satifying, eternal fulfilment. The day that the Lord Jesus Christ returns to complete the victory he won over sin and death at the cross will be, for those who put their lives in his hands, the day of joy without end in the new creation. As God says through the apostle John:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

As God’s people, then, let us by faith revel in our created life now, long for the new creation, and all the while delight ourselves in bringing God’s delight to others, by proclaiming and living out the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to all.

Dan Wu

Dan is lectures in Old Testament and biblical languages at Moore Theological College.


[1] Gooding, David, True to the Faith: Charting the Course through the Acts of the Apostles (West Port Colborne: Gospel Folio Press, 1995), 74-75.

Gospel

‘What is the Gospel?’, Vine Journal 1 (2015): 23–31.

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