Written by Matthew Fitzgerald
"Praise God, sun and moon." - Psalm 148:3
A few months ago I wrote that we shouldn't listen for God's voice in nature.
Karl Barth says our belief that God is speaking through nature sets up a parallel revelation that runs alongside God's self-disclosure in Jesus and makes Christ unnecessary.
And if we insist that our love of creation is the voice of God, we turn God into an idol made in the image of our own appreciation. God then comes under our control. This is the first step toward using God to exclude or harm others.
The feedback was ferocious. One reader wrote, "Your theology makes me feel sorry for your children!" I only get such blowback when I try and tear down an idol. Or when I'm wrong.
In this case it was both. I continue to think some contemporary spirituality conflates creation with Creator. And yet, saying nature has nothing to do with God is absurd.
The psalm says all of creation is made to praise God. When they greet the new day with song, birds sing hymns. When tall grass on the prairie bends in the wind it bows down before God. When Lake Michigan holds you while you're floating, the water holds you in its prayers.
If the sun and the moon are praising God, perhaps the feeling you get when you watch the sun set is the same thing you encounter upon looking up to see an old saint in the next pew with her head down, deep in prayer. Both are sacred! When we see another creature worship we cannot help but get swept up in their praise.
God may not speak through nature. But nature most definitely talks about God. It sings out God's praises.
Fruit trees do it. Cows in the field chewing their cud, mountains and all hills, caterpillars, cardinals and you and me, we are all members of the same congregation, belting out "Alleluia" by dint of our existence. We don't stand outside this choir. We sing in it, we are "nature with a concept of nature" as Susan Griffin says.
Dear God, thank you for placing us in such an intense chorus. Amen.
Matt Fitzgerald is the Senior Pastor of St. Pauls United Church of Christ, Chicago, IL.