The God of Life
[Published in Mennonite Weekly Review, 10/25/10]
From Genesis 1 to Isaiah 40–55 to Jonah, the Old Testament proclaims that God is the God of all creation, the maker of heaven and earth, the life giver, the compassionate ruler who brings healing justice to the nations.
From Genesis 12 to Jeremiah to Ezra, the Old Testament proclaims that God is the God of Israel, the covenant-making Lord who has called a particular people as God’s own.
Psalm 66 forcefully affirms both of these central truths. In so doing, it shows them to be complementary elements of God’s work in the world—not contradictory. God’s work for and through God’s chosen people serves God’s work in redeeming all of creation.
To the entire creation: Praise God!
The first word in this psalm repeats the affirmation of Genesis 1: God’s creation is good. And this word bears repeating: “Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth” (66:1); “All the earth worships you” (66:4).
This call to worship, to trust in the loving creativity of the Maker of the Universe, stands at the heart of being human, of finding our way in this world in which we live. Whatever else we learn of God from the biblical story and from our own experience, the starting point is God as the praiseworthy source of life.
Of course, to praise the source and sustainer of life, we must believe that life is good, that what God has made and sustains is worthwhile. Perhaps at this point the entire Book of Psalms (and certainly Psalm 66) challenges our modern sensibilities at their core. We tend to see the universe as either hostile to humaneness or at most as cold and inert.
But the psalms reflect a view along the lines of what Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote in “God’s Grandeur”: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God….Nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things….The Holy Ghost over the bent world broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.”
To God’s people: Witness to God’s deliverance
Still, Hopkins himself notes that the world is “bent.” The psalms, including Psalm 66, show clear awareness of this “bentness”: In this life, we go “through fire and through water” (66:12).
In the midst of this “fire and water,” the creative love of the Maker finds expression in specific acts of liberation and healing. The fundamental act of healing that serves as the model for all other such acts throughout the Bible is the exodus.
Here this is emphasized directly: “God is awesome in God’s deeds among mortals. God turned the sea into dry land; they passed through the river on foot” (66:5-6). God brought God’s people out of Egypt. These particular people, who God called to bless all the families of the earth (Gen 12), required God’s saving acts to free them from slavery. As freed people they might become whole as a community and witness to the entire creation of God’s healing love (see Isa 2;2-4).
So, God be praised as creator of all that is, as the giver of meaning and value and grandeur to all that God touches. And, God be praised as the friend of the dominated and vulnerable, who stands against oppression and in favor of liberation.
And, God still be praised as the giver of on-going life and creativity, “whose eyes keep watch on the nations” (66:7). And let us remember, this source of loving creativity continues to stand against the oppressor and violator: “Let the rebellious not exalt themselves” (66:7).