Scripture: Psalm 148
“Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights!” ~ Psalm 148:1
What is the purpose or meaning of life?
I remember back in high school, my biology teacher used to joke that biologically speaking he was a failure of a human being, that he had not fulfilled his biological purpose, because he had never had children. You see, from a purely biological perspective, the purpose of any creature is merely to continue the existence and thriving of its species beyond its current generation.
Fortunately, biology is not the only lens through which we see human life, we can look at it socially, politically, relationally, emotionally and so much more. Perhaps for some success is the purpose of human life, or the development of relationships, or wealth accumulation, or fame or power. The answers are almost as endless as each human that has walked the earth throughout history.
This question has kept countless philosophers, professors and authors in business since the dawn of humanity. Even as Christians we have grappled with this question, and our answers often vary depending on our particular theological leanings or convictions.
One of these answers, succinctly summed up in the first line of the Westminster Shorter Catechism is that the chief end of human beings is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, in short, the purpose and meaning of life are to praise God.
While we might quibble and disagree with what that praise or glorifying of God might look like, I think that most of us can embrace or at least wrap our heads around the notion of humanity praising God, we are after all doing just that in church this morning! Where we might run into some trouble is when that praise begins to extend to the rest of Creation as well, as it does in our Psalm this morning.
When you get right down to it, we may well find the language of Psalm 148 to be striking if not strikingly odd. In fact, most of the time we likely do not take Psalm 148 literally (or maybe even all that seriously). We assume that the psalmist’s calls for sun, moon, wind, hail, lightning, and so on to praise the Lord is a metaphor. Of COURSE, the sun cannot praise God. Nor cattle nor sea creatures nor flying birds. That’s just sort of, you know, fanciful language. Poetic license. An image, a metaphor, a symbol but not something to be taken at face value.
The problem with that line of interpretation is that as the psalm proceeds, eventually, we get down to this same praise imperative getting directed at kings, rulers, men, women, and children. Then suddenly we toggle off the “Metaphor” switch and flip on the “Take It Literally” switch because now at last we have some people being commanded and they alone are in a position to take this literally and possibly do something with it, like actually praising the Lord.
The language used in the text is no different when the Psalmist uses it for the sun and moon as he does for humans. There are no linguistic differences that indicate the praise imperative is metaphorical in one sense and literal in another. Psalm 148 is all one seamless poetic garment.
Perhaps what we are to take away from that fact is not that the moon has actual ears by which to hear and respond to anyone’s verbal command to praise God. But what we should learn from this and proclaim from this psalm is that in God’s sight and in God’s hearing all of these created wonders, splendours, and creatures do contribute to the Praise Chorus of all creation. These are members of God’s cosmic choir.
So how might this work? Throughout the Bible, from Genesis and God’s declaration that the created order was good to Job and God’s praise of creation in the face of Job’s suffering to Jesus’ use of nature themes and language in his parables and finally to Revelation when all of Creation sings its praises to God: it is clear that God receives praise when creation does what it is supposed or designed to do.
When the moon spins and shines its reflected light upon the earth, God feels gratified, God feels glorified, and God feels blessed. When crickets do their thing, when the fierce beauty of a snowstorm blankets the earth in white, when songbirds sing and eagles soar and mountains stand tall in all their created grandeur, God is praised. God is delighted.
Psalm 148 comes right near the end of the book of Psalms, and it is chock full of praise, full of delight. If you were to read the book of psalms from 1 to 151 you would notice that the compilers of the Jewish Scriptures laid out a definite structure to the book psalms. It begins in Psalm 1 with the two paths open to humanity: the path of righteousness serving God and the path of wickedness for those who don’t.
As the Psalter proceeds, we get more and more indications that a critical calling of the righteous—and more and more of the entire creation—is to praise God. This call to praise rises and rises in intensity until it reaches a kind of crescendo in the final half-dozen poems in the collection even as the Hebrew imperative, hallelujah, gets shouted to more and more people, more and more creatures, and ultimately to the entire cosmos.
Praise is our common vocation, and I don’t just mean the vocation of human beings – every living creature, every tree and mountain, the rushing water of our rivers and streams and even the celestial hum of planets light years away – all of it rings out its chorus of praise when they fulfill the purposes that God designed them for.
The same is true for us as well, when we fulfill our purpose when we do the things we were made to do, that is our praise. Yes, singing, praying and words of adoration and adulation are wonderful, yes they are acts of praise, but the greatest and truest praise that we can offer and which God desires is the praise of you being who you were created to be: living as a beloved Child of God.
When you care for the poor and the oppressed – feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, praying for prisoners and persecuted alike – that is the praise that you were made for as God’s child.
When you care for Creation – safeguarding our environment, finding sustainable alternatives in a world of fast food and fast fashion, ensuring that our children and children’s children will enjoy the fruits and beauty of the world – that is the praise that you were made for as a follower of Jesus.
When you care for your community, your family, or your church – welcoming the stranger in our midst, offering your voice to stand up for justice for all even those who do not look or live like you, offering your time, talents and treasure for the benefits of others – that is the praise you were made for as God’s beloved.
We will undoubtedly stumble and muddle our way through this calling from time to time. Our gaze will momentarily be drawn away by the world’s answers to what the purpose of human life is, by visions of power or fame or wealth or security or entertainment; but because Jesus lived, died and rose again nothing can stop us from fulfilling our calling as Children of God. There is nothing on earth or in heaven that can separate us from the love of God and no power that can stop us from offering praise to God with our very lives.
Far from a metaphor not to be taken too seriously, Psalm 148’s call for all things and creatures to praise God reveals the deepest core of created reality. We came from a loving, exuberant and joyful Creator God, we are made for this Creator God, and we will all together find our truest identity in fulfilling that call.
Therefore, I say to you: “Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights!” Alleluia, Alleluia! Amen.
To watch the sermon instead of reading, it please click here. (Sermon begins around 27:00 mark)