We got a little preview of summer a few weeks ago here in West Michigan. Teased by a few days over 80 degrees, the flowers started to grow, the trees began to bud, and the brown lawns and hay fields became so, so green – especially by the light of a brilliant sunset.
Surrounded as we are by fields, with a patch of woods to the west out our kitchen window, our neighborhood is privy to the kind of sunsets people drive for – views fit for a calendar or a postcard. It’s not unusual for my wife or I to call the household to that window and look at the sunset that God made for us to enjoy – an audience to His Glory and creative power.
One of the most amazing things about sunsets is that they happen whether anyone sees them or not. Visit Lake Michigan or the Gulf of Mexico, or the West Coast, and at dusk a crowd will gather to see the natural glory of it. Oftentimes, however, the clouds sit on the horizon, a curtain between the heavenly beauty and the earthly audience, and the crowds go home disappointed. But the beauty is still happening behind the veil. Sometimes a gleam breaks through to remind us what we’re missing.
This isn’t something we often think about, but who is that for?
Psalm 19 tells us, “The Heavens declare the glory of God,” but sometimes God is the only one observing that declaration. This shouldn’t surprise us. “For from Him, and through and to Him are all things,” Romans 11:36 reminds us. In other words, everything that exists came from God, it continues to exist by way of His effort, and it continues to exist for His purpose and pleasure.
And we know it brings Him pleasure, because when He was done creating all of it, Genesis tells us He said, “very good.” That’s a short little phrase that’s used to summarize a lot of things, but how often do we think about the particulars that were included in that judgment?
One of the simple pleasures in my life is when my little flock of free-range chickens and ducks makes its way around the house every morning. The longer you watch them, the more fascinating they become. The chickens can’t see their feet, so they scratch in the dirt for seeds and grubs, take a few steps back to see what they uncovered, peck, and repeat. God calls this “very good.” My ducks throw their weight from side to side while they walk, with their chests puffed out way beyond their webbed feet, their wings tucked up like an old Victorian gentleman carrying his walking stick, and the little dark markings that curl up on the side of their bills, looking for all the world like a smile. They look so self-important marching around the yard, always on the hunt for better snacks. My rooster, who has never read a children’s book, still somehow knows it’s his duty to march around the house at 5AM, jump up on the porch, look through our window, and crow at the top of his lungs to let us know that the sun will be up sometime in the next few hours. This is not good, in my opinion, but God disagrees, so I guess we’ll give it to Him.
My birds exist for Him and through Him and to Him, as do the grubs they eat, as do the roots and bits of leaves the grubs eat, and so on. Every little critter fighting its way through towering forests of our yards that we squash without a moment’s remorse is a manifestation of God’s imagination, made by His carefully chosen Word to be right there, right then.
All of this came to mind when I came across a devotional by the seventeenth century Puritan, Ezekiel Hopkins. My introduction to Mr. Hopkins was unfortunate in that it happened by way of a line of thought I took issue with, which from what I understand of his legacy must be rare. I agreed even with the ultimate point he was trying to make, but the way he took to get there I found did a disservice to the creative genius and majesty of God. Here’s what Mr Hopkins had to say: “What is gold and silver, but diversified earth, and hard and shining clay? The richest perfumes are but the clammy sweat of trees. The softest silks are but the excrement of a vile worm. The most expensive wines are but puddle-water strained through a vine. Our choicest delicacies are but dirt, cooked and served up to us. Fancy and custom have conspired together to cheat us. The truth is, the world is much better in show than in substance.”
All of this, Ezekiel Hopkins used towards his purpose of reminding us to take care against allowing ourselves to fall into idolatry of these things, and that is a reminder which we all need to hear. Constantly.
So much so that I share his purpose in my writing this piece of criticism: Is it not more glorious to turn his points on their head? Or, I would argue, to place them back on their feet.
It is not the humility of the gold and silver and perfume and silk and wine and delicacies that magnify God’s name, but the fact that He makes such glorious things from such humble beginnings. How can we be tempted to worship the glorious gifts of this world when we walk humbly with the Maker and Giver of those gifts? In fact, those wondrous works are the least of His transformations, for He can even take sinful men and make them saints.
God is glorified when we receive His gifts with humility and wonder, in the knowledge that we deserve none of it, but in recognition that none of His gifts are measly. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change,” James 1:17 tells us. And He is not stingy with His gifts.
This, too, is a reminder we all need in times like these. Let us live thankful lives unto the Lord.
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