Monday, October 18, 2010

Sex and singing: creation and creating co-worshippers

Praise YHWH!

Praise YHWH from the heavens;
   praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
   praise him, all his host!

Praise him, sun and moon;
   praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
   and you waters above the heavens!

Let them praise the name of YHWH,
   for he commanded and they were created.
He established them for ever and ever;
   he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.

Praise YHWH from the earth,
   you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost,
   stormy wind fulfilling his command!

Mountains and all hills,
   fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle,
   creeping things and flying birds!

Kings of the earth and all peoples,
   princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike,
   old and young together!

Let them praise the name of YHWH,
   for his name alone is exalted;
   his glory is above earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for his people,
   praise for all his faithful,
   for the people of Israel who are close to him.

Praise YHWH!

- Psalm 148 (NRSV).

We are not alone in the universe. We humans are but one member of the choir that the psalmist exhorts into praise of the Creator. And this isn't just animals; even inanimate creatures are included: astronomical bodies, topographical features and meteorological events.

The theme of creation praising God is part of the theological basis for an ecological ethics. The fact that trees and hills and sun and moon all praise God places us in a relationship to them mediated by our common worship. They are our co-worshippers and so how can we see ourselves in competition or see them as objects to be exploited? We are dependent upon them for our task of praise and so we join with them as one, rather than just standing over against them in privilege and distinction. Of course a parallel socio-economic point can be made from the fact that both kings and babies, princes and paupers are to join together in praise. No one can consider another worshipper irrelevant or expendable.

God's faithfulness will not abandon his worshipping creatures, though it is important to remember that his faithfulness to his Son didn't stop him dying, but took the shape of cross and resurrection. Creation's own liberation from bondage to decay (and the redemption of our bodies) doesn't necessarily mean that we (or the world) are safe from death, only that even destruction and decay cannot thwart God's purposes.

This goodness of creation as the sphere of God's worship is indeed part of the reason why childbearing is good. We rejoice in the abundance and diversity of life and the goodness of being and are free to share that delight with others, including little strangers whom we welcome into the world as our co-worshippers. However, this is also the basis for considering moderation in our procreation (as well as our consumption, discussed elsewhere), since God is not dependent upon us to make more worshippers. If God's original blessing on us to be fruitful and multiply undermines his blessing on other living beings to also be fruitful and multiply, then we have to wonder whether our delight in divine blessing has become too narrow in vision and focus. These complementary perspectives don't determine an obligation one way or the other (we are neither obliged to have children nor to refrain), but are free to act in wisdom and joy under the blessing of God.


Roland and Laura said...

That was truly beautiful.

David McKay said...

Byron I can entertain the idea of a Christian couple deciding to defer having children, but am not so sure about the idea of them deciding not to have children at all.

A few years back, numerous young couples were saying "Actually, we've decided we aren't going to have any children" and I couldn't help wondering if this was entirely altruistic, or whether it was partly motivated by the freedom they were enjoying.

I know some folk are unable to have children, but I think that children are intended to be part of a marriage, unless this is impossible.

byron smith said...

R&L - thanks.

David - Thanks for your important comments.

Note I said "moderation" in procreation, not cessation. I agree that it is very important that marriages are open to welcoming children. That said, I think I've reached a point where I'm not sure this needs to be an openness to biological children, but includes godchildren, adopted children, foster children, nieces and nephews and so on through many possible permutations of helping to raise the new generation and being deeply involved in their lives (seeing them at Christmas or the occasional babysitting is too thin). And wherever the motive is comfort or "freedom", this requires repentance and a renewal of the purposes of marriage.

I also acknowledge this is a topic I am very open to further input on. I'm also acutely aware of the issue of infertility (my father has a senior role in a large fertility clinic) and the complexities and pain this can bring. Covering the anguish of infertility through declaring one's childlessness voluntary is no solution and merely masks the true issues.

byron smith said...

Liz Jakimow posts a prayer of praise by Francis of Assisi that calls upon the creation to praise God.

byron smith said...

Not One Sparrow also reflects on Psalm 148.

In my reply, I reflect upon the extension of our moral community to include not only animals, but all creatures of whatever kind.

byron smith said...

PS A very late addition to my comment to David - see also my more recent posts on population growth and this series of children.