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Common Grace, Culture, and Worship

Culture as prompt to worship?

The Foundation of Culture (6)

Praise the L
Praise the L
ORD from the heavens;
Praise Him in the heights!
Praise Him, all His angels;
Praise Him, all His hosts!
Psalm 148.1, 2

The goal of common grace
As we saw in Psalm 104, as well as in the poem, “Pied Beauty,” the common grace of God leads those who observe it to worship and praise the Lord. This is precisely as God intends. And this means that, since common grace is the foundation of culture, culture in all its forms can speak to us of the Lord and summon us to worship Him. The end for which God does anything, including pervade the world with common grace and enable people to make and use culture, is to glorify and bring glory to Him.

By the glory of God we understand the Presence of God as it comes to light in our midst, so that we know Him and are drawn into the experience of His Presence, majesty, and might. This can be a crushing experience, as we might imagine. That’s why God’s glory is often described as a kind of “weight”, as Paul expressed it in 2 Corinthians 4.17: “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory…” In Scripture, whenever people are confronted with the glory of God, they fall on their faces in fear and trembling, as though some great weight had suddenly fallen upon them, and their lives were in danger (cf. Rev. 1.9-17).

But very often those same people, cowering before the Presence of God, will give God praise and thanks and say strange things like, “It’s good for us to be here” (cf. Matt. 17.1-4).

The glory of God is what the world and everything in it is made for—including we ourselves and all our culture. To know God in His glory is to know ultimate reality, the very definition of beauty, goodness, and truth. It is to enter the heart of reality itself and to glimpse eternity in a most personal, intimate, and loving way. This is what God desires for us, that our hearts might soar within His glory and rejoice in things too wonderful to express.

God’s common grace is designed to bring out His glory, until the knowledge of the glory of the Lord covers the earth as the waters cover the sea (Hab. 2.14). We may doubt that culture can aid us in this high and holy calling, but this is only because we habitually fail to acknowledge the common grace foundation of all culture.

Psalm 148
In Psalm 148 all the creatures outlined in Psalm 104 are represented as praising God. Angels and heavenly hosts (v. 2); the sun, moon, and stars (v. 3); sea creatures (v. 7); the weather (v. 8); mountains and hills and fruit-bearing trees (v. 9); all creatures on or in the earth (v. 10); and all human beings of every rank and status (vv. 11, 12).

These, we recognize, are the same creatures mentioned in Psalm 104 as having been created by God and sustained by Him. All creatures are the beneficiaries of God’s common grace; thus, we should expect that, in some way, they are intended for His praise, Who made and cares so lovingly for them.

But how does this happen? And how does the culture we human beings make glorify God and bring Him praise? The heavens declare the glory of God, as we’ve seen, but very few people seem to be paying attention. The evolutionist looks at the creation and sees pointlessness, purposelessness, death, and ultimate oblivion. How does creation, which is founded on God’s common grace, fulfill its God-given purpose of bringing glory and honor to Him?

This is where we come in.

A people near to God
Psalm 148.14 describes the redeemed people of the Lord as “exalted” in the earth yet “near to Him.” By virtue of our being “near” to God we come to know Him in His glory. We experience His beauty, are infused with His Presence and power, know what it’s like to be in the presence of goodness, wisdom, uprightness, and love, and thus are we filled with joy and holy pleasures.

We know what glory looks like. What it feels like. How it can affect and transform us. By virtue of our being “exalted” in the earth we stand over all the creatures in ways that allow us, like Gerard Manley Hopkins, to observe and celebrate the common grace of God in every creature and all of culture, and to point out His glory, “fathering-forth” in all the many and varied ways it does every day.

Milton Friedman wrote an influential economic tome by meditating on a pencil. William Cowper wrote perhaps the most vividly descriptive and glory-filled poem about English country life by contemplating a sofa. There is wonder and glory abounding in all kinds of culture, enough to lead us to praise the Lord and encourage others to do so as well.

In other words, as the common grace of God works within creation and culture, and as He reveals His glory in so doing, our calling, who know God in His glory, is to give voice to creation and culture, to observe, explain, and celebrate the glory of the Lord, as far as His common grace reaches and as often as we see His glory, coming to light.

Certainly we won’t all become poets. But we all have a calling from God to “glorify” Him in every situation and in everything we do (1 Cor. 10.31). As we become more conscious of the common grace of God—His wondrous and unfailing steadfast love—let us, like the psalmists, give glory and praise and worship to Him, thus bringing His common grace to its full and proper conclusion (2 Cor. 4.15).

And thus we fulfill our calling, and the purpose of culture, to love God and our neighbor.

For reflection
1. What are the implications of us being both “near” to Him and “exalted” over the creation and culture?

2. How do you expect to function as an interpreter of creation and culture, to bring out the witness of common grace therein?

3. What can keep you from becoming more active and consistent as interpreters of the creation, giving the creation a voice to worship God? How can you overcome these hindrances?

Next steps—Transformation: Begin today looking for reasons to give thanks to God in the culture that fills your life. Share your observations and praises with another believer.

T. M. Moore

Two books on culture are available to accompany this series on “A Christian Approach to Culture.” Christians on the Front Lines of the Culture Wars shows how important it is that we consider culture as a way of bringing glory to God. Order your copy by clicking here. Redeeming Pop Culture examines the nature of pop culture and some ways we can make good use of it for God’s glory. Order your copy by clicking here.

Support for ReVision comes from our faithful and generous God, who moves our readers to share financially in our work. If this article was helpful, please give Him thanks and praise.

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Except as indicated, all Scriptures are taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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