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In his recent book “Living with Other Creatures,” British Evangelical theologian Richard Bauckham offers a breathtakingly thorough study of how the Scriptures describe our relationship with the rest of God’s creatures, particularly the animals. He scours everything from Genesis to the Psalms, from the gospels to Revelation, to show that we not only stand over the animals, but with them, as fellow creatures of God.
Just two examples. In the Psalms and in prophets like Isaiah, it is clear that the Scriptures do not teach that the worship of God is only a human endeavor but that every creature is a worshiper alongside us. Most strikingly, Psalm 148 calls for creation’s joyful worship of God. In verse after verse, God’s creatures are called upon to offer their praise. From the heavenly bodies to the ocean depths, from flying birds to wild animals, the refrain shouts: “Let them praise the Lord.”
Only after this myriad of creatures are called to worship does the psalmist invite “kings of the earth and all nations, you princes and all rulers on earth, young men and women, old men and children” to join creation’s praise. According to the psalmist, every creature praises God by being what it is and doing what it was created to do. So when we see tree branches writhing in the wind, we can sing that “the trees of the field clap their hands” in the worship of their Creator. This is more than mere poetic license: it’s the way we ought to think of creation.
Some have suggested it is the human role as vice-regent of creation to give the mute creation a voice of praise. But that’s not the psalm’s message at all. Humans come up at the rear in this procession of praise, and the rest of creation does not need our voice to make their praises known.
Another example comes, surprisingly, from the book of Revelation. As John describes the heavenly worship, at the center, surrounding the throne, are “four living creatures.” “The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, and the fourth was like a flying eagle. Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying, “‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come” (Rev. 4:7-8).
Bauckham, along with most commentators today, understands these four living creatures to be the representatives of all the creatures God has made. The fact that they “surround the throne” indicates the high regard the creator has for all his creatures. God is not truly worshiped and glorified apart from the presence and participation of all his creatures. It is also noteworthy that the human-like living creature has no particular precedence of honor in the heavenly worship but bows alongside the rest of creation.
Throughout the book, Bauckham reminds us of what this should mean for us as human beings, endowed with dominion and stewardship over all God’s creatures. If God holds his nonhuman creatures in such high regard, if God, the Creator, so delights in the praise of all his creatures, if all God’s creatures have been endowed with such importance and dignity, this says something profound about how we relate to all God’s creatures.
Given the importance of creation’s praise, how does God respond when whole species are wantonly destroyed, not by natural events but by human neglect and destruction? Given the dignity afforded to all God’s creatures in the Scriptures, what does that say about our part in changing the earth’s climate that already proves destructive of their habitat and even their existence?
The rest of God’s creatures do not need our help to praise God, but they need our care to continue their voice of praise before their Creator.
About the Author
Len Vander Zee is a retired CRC pastor now serving as interim minister of preaching at Church of the Servant CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich.